Columbia University Press
Existentialism, the Russian Soul, and the Modern Metropolis
It is hard to imagine a Parisian flaneur in St. Petersburg. This figure of the nineteenth-century urban explorer, popularized by the likes of Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin, embodied a new, detached way of being. The flaneur would drift through the crowds, keeping a low profile, and record small dramas of urban life such as a prostitute negotiating with a client, flirtations in private boxes at the opera, or the bodies of wretched folk pulled daily out of the Seine. Like a detective without a case, the flaneur would stroll down the tree-lined boulevards or sit in cafes, cool and alert, observing the new social relations and the overall waning of affect. Not so in Russia, judging by Alexei Remizov’s 1910 tale, Sisters of the Cross. In Remizov’s novel, Marakulin, an unemployed clerk, finds a reason for living in being present for those around him and witnessing their suffering.