READ ME: BEFORE CONTINUING PLEASE AGREE TO THE FOLLOWING TERMS AND CONDITIONS:
I HEREBY AGREE THAT IN READING THIS ABSTRACT I DO DISALLOW ANY AND ALL ALTERNATE INTERPRETATIONS OF THE MALL OF THE FUTURE. I HEREBY RELINQUISH ALL ENJOYMENT, HUMOR, SELF- DISCOVERY, AND SENSE OF EXPLORATION, AND RENDER ALL ALTERNATE READINGS NULL AND VOID. I UNDERSTAND THAT IN READING THIS ABSTRACT I FIX THE MALL OF THE FUTURE AS A THEORETICALLY HERMETIC ART OBJECT, AND ON THE OFF CHANCE THAT I FIND POSSIBLE ALTERNATE READINGS WITHIN THE MALL OF THE FUTURE I AGREE TO KEEP THEM BURIED DEEP AND SILENT WITHIN MYSELF FOR ALL TIME.
IF YOU AGREE, PLEASE CONTINUE.
At its heart, THE MALL OF THE FUTURE is an evolving analysis of Walter Benjamin's flaneur and his relevance to spectatorship in the 21st century.
The story traces a man's ineffectual attempts to resurrect the flaneur within a postmodern shopping mall. Benjamin, in an analysis of Poe's influential text, "The Man of the Crowd," writes,
"If the arcade is the classical form of the interieur, which is how the flaneur sees the street, the department store is the form of the interieur's decay. The bazaar is the last hangout of the flaneur. If in the beginning the street had become an interieur for him, now this interieur turned into a street, and he roamed through the labyrinth of merchandise as he had once roamed through the labyrinth of the city...The flaneur is someone abandoned in the crowd. In this he shares the situation of the commodity."
The flaneur's decay is located in the department store's gradual replacement of the arcade, and the commodity's rise to prominence within the space of leisure. In his article on urban spectatorship entitled From the Kaleidescope to the X-Ray," Tom Gunning mentions that the draw of the commodity-spectacle, and the department store's replacement of the arcade, gradually turned the flaneur into another character entirely: the gawker, whose gaze represents the complete loss of the self-possession and self-awareness that mark the flaneur. If the flaneur is abandoned in the crowd, the gawker is lost there, pushed forward mindlessly by the movement of the crowd and the spectacle of the commodity. He is the flaneur without detachment, without even the flaneur's most superficial analysis.
Gunning also makes mention of another figure, that of the detective, who maintains the detachment of the flaneur, yet with a sharpened and more penetrating gaze. The detective's gaze pierces deeper than the surface; he is not fooled by appearances. Gunning writes, "[w]hereas the flaneur claimed ability to read the interior of character from the exterior of physiognomy, the detective has discovered the effects of disguise..."(37). Iterating once again the relation between these three figures, he writes, "[w]hile the sharply observing detective who keeps the crowd under surveillance and the manic sensation-seeking gawker who loses himself within the mob have little in common, the flaneur partakes of elements of both (30)." This statement became a sort of starting point for the present state of THE MALL OF THE FUTURE.
Originally intended as a sort of literalization of my thoughts regarding the Internet, THE MALL OF THE FUTURE used the flaneur merely as another vehicle to discuss issues of surveillance, postmodern spaces and consumerism. The structure of the MALL was designed to make visual my conceptualizations of cyberspace as being a hybrid of Foucaultian panopticism and the unmappable postmodern spaces of Frederic Jameson. (Another original starting point was a literalization of the famous Supreme Court quotation that the Internet is the world's largest shopping mall.) The flaneur seemed to map perfectly onto the metapor of the "browser"--he is the perpetual browser, the stroller--skimming the surface of modern life perfectly but always superficially. However, further exploration of the flaneur, as well as my own attempts to write the character, forced me to reexamine my earlier theorizations. The perfect superficial detachment of the character I had created was never sustainable; he was always either overpowered and pulled into the crowd (effectively becoming a gawker), or he was forced into a more substantive interaction with the world (as detective). The former was most often linked to consumption--he is consuming the crowd until he is ultimately consumed by it--while the latter was most often tied to characters who forced him to participate either physically or through some anomaly which required more depth to his gaze. It seemed as well that the Internet spectator could not be said to always maintain the position of the flaneur, but rather to cycle fluidly between all three, sometimes caught up in the flow of information, other times critical, and still others merely skimming the surface (the surfer...). Further, a reading of Walter Benjamin's analysis of the flaneur in Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism uncovered within the flaneur this same fluid motion, and a broadening of our traditional, strict conceptions. The MALL seems then to illustrate the functioning of these three gazes: there are the security forces and THE MEN UPSTAIRS, clearly in the position of detectives. There are the crowds, the shoppers--gawkers. And there is the flaneur, who bridges the gap, moving between the three.
Which brings us nearly up to date. I have tried in THE MALL OF THE FUTURE to give
the character a life which allows this fluid motion, and to drop him into a space which, as
I mentioned, literalizes many of the issues I find central to the Internet and postmodern
spaces, all of this in order to see what kind of behaviors and situations emerge. Perhaps
they can offer a vantage point from which to understand Internet spectatorship specifially,
and postmodern spectatorship in general. These are the issues which have led to THE MALL OF
THE FUTURE in its current state. I have experimented with various formats for these
theoretical issues, unsure of how best to transmit them to the reader, whether through
external fictional texts linked to the MALL (a Flaneur's Bible) or discussion within
the character, or this more awkward format of an abstract. I have settled on presenting this
sort of amalgamation of the two latter in order to explain, but it is in the hope that the
theories and ideas which have led to the creation of the MALL in the first place are apparent
upon a close analysis of the behaviors and situations that arise within the text.
These are the issues which have led to THE MALL OF THE FUTURE in its current state. I have experimented with various formats for these theoretical issues, unsure of how best to transmit them to the reader, whether through external fictional texts linked to the MALL (a Flaneur's Bible) or discussion within the character, or this more awkward format of an abstract. I have settled on presenting this sort of amalgamation of the two latter in order to explain, but it is in the hope that the theories and ideas which have led to the creation of the MALL in the first place are apparent upon a close analysis of the behaviors and situations that arise within the text.