Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Pedaller/Peddler in and of Places

Share |

Anik See's Saudade (Coach House Books) reminds me of the work of another writer of place: the German-Jewish writer Walter Benjamin. In one of his posthumous anthologies of writings, Illuminations, Benjamin muses about the differences of history and memory, and elaborates his notion of the flaneur. See, in her contemplations and meditations about various places in Canada, Holland, Sri Lanka, Australia and the United States, reminds me of Benjamin's flaneur and the acts of flanerie.

The flaneur strolled, promenaded, experienced, and relished the changing urban spaces of 19th century Paris. He (for, given the gendered ideologies of the day, a female flaneuse, perhaps translated as a streetwalker, evoked prostitution rather than "gentlemanly" philosophical and aesthetic contemplation), was an idler, perhaps not exactly employed or employable in an industrializing, commercializing society and marked by the ambivalence of the erosion of the old and the prospect of the new. The flaneur takes the time to relish time-in-place, to not merely pass through the urban sights and sounds and smells, but to unravel and create stories for them, to treat places as artifacts through which we can unpack and contemplate a history of a constantly changing present. He is the anti-tourist.

The flaneur walked. See, instead, uses her bicycle. As a cyclist, she pedals in and about places, peddling their stories, noticing their traits, being invited by these places to meditate on her own life experiences, and like the flaneur of more than a century ago, captures the depth and richness of their aura and their ability to allow her to re-savour her own life. While the flaneur was resolutely urban, See's pedalling and peddling are often rural. In fact, a running thread in Saudade is the forgetting of the rural in our urban-centric, global culture. Hence, See uses her journeys to meditate on the loss of the quietness and slowness in our fast-paced culture, our fatal busyness. In and around these places, she rediscovers herself and also redeems herself, and perhaps all of us. For See makes us aware of what is being lost in the global-integrated, commercialized culture, and what can and does exist in the margins of this culture that we fly over on our travels and overlook in the mass-packaged itineraries of expeditions, cruises, and other forms of touristy jaunts.

Perhaps most of all she redeems our urge to travel, as not merely a self-indulgent, privileged activity, but to uncover, discover, recover our being-in-the-world.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Related item from our archives

Nitin Deckha

Nitin Deckha is the author of Shopping for Sabzi (TSAR Publications, 2008) and a contributor to Once Upon a Time in Bollywood (TSAR Publications, 2007) and several other publications.

Go to Nitin Deckha ’s Author Page