The Female Flâneur

Jessa Crispin, the founder of Bookslut, interviewed Kate Zambreno about her new novel Green Girl. This interesting tidbit didn’t make it into the final version of the interview published on the Kirkus Review site.

The epigraphs are very revealing, both of your thought process and of your character, in a strange way. It reveals the contents of her head from a different angle. They also seem very important to the progress of the story, the way they are sequenced, so that occasionally they seem like they are commenting on the story, and at other times like Ruth is doodling them in the margins of her notebook. How did you choose them, and what did you want them to do for the novel?

I think of this novel as an Arcades Project of the ingénue, and there are several quotes from Walter Benjamin’s catalogue/collage of the 19th century Paris arcades scattered throughout Green Girl (also because I was engaging and interrogating his section on the flâneur, or urban walker, in Arcades Project, wondering and resurrecting a flâneuse in a contemporary urban space). I also wanted the epigraphs to have the feel of a girl at her locker pasting up quotes or, to be more contemporary, a girl’s Tumblr. I like to think that there is little distance between what Benjamin and these girls are doing. Also, I wanted to pay tribute to the novels and works that inspired GG, sort of foregrounding it as an essay—the consideration of the girl in Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star or Rainer Maria Rilke’s Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, or quotes from New Wave films or The Smiths. The process of placing the quotes came after the major stuff of the novel was written — it was rhythmic, intuitive, chaotic.

Zambreno isn’t the first person to wonder what a female flâneur would look like. Gender studies scholars have thoroughly examined the gender politics of this quintessentially male figure. The flâneur is both spectacle and spectre, at one with the crowd and set off from it. For the female flâneur the dynamics of the gaze get shifted, but the shifting pleasures of flâneurie are (almost) equally available to women.

If you read Green Girl before I do, let me know if the main character has the louche quality of the flâneur. Something else to consider: in the Arcades Project the flâneur is closely related to the prostitute.

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