Shaj Mathew is Assistant Professor of English at Trinity University. He studies literature and film in Persian, Turkish, Spanish, and English. His scholarship also appears in New Literary History, MLQ, and PMLA.
He is a walking paradox: a loner who desires the crowd, “a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito,” a spectator who casts off his air of detachment, a skeptic who can experience states of childlike wonder, “an ‘I’ with an insatiable appetite for the ‘non-I.’” More gaze than body, he is a phantom of the arcade, “a mirror as vast as the crowd itself . . . a kaleidoscope gifted with consciousness” (Baudelaire, “Painter,” 9). Who is this person? “Observer, philosopher . . . —call him what you will,” the flâneur is the modern man par excellence, an urban stroller who will always be encountered, en passant, in the act of capturing “the ephemeral, the fugitive, the contingent”—that is, the contradictory, enigmatic, and elusive condition otherwise known as modernity (13).