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• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


 

Why “Feuilleton”?

A number of people have asked this question, perhaps inevitably. Aside from liking the sound of the word and enjoying obscure words in general, there’s some vague justification in applying the term to an online journal. The 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica has this to say:

FEUILLETON (a diminutive of the Fr. feuillet, the leaf of a book), originally a kind of supplement attached to the political portion of French newspapers. Its inventor was Bertin the Elder, editor of Les Débuts. It was not usually printed on a separate sheet, but merely separated from the political part of the newspaper by a line, and printed in smaller type. In French newspapers it consists chiefly of non-political news and gossip, literature and art criticism, a chronicle of the fashions, and epigrams, charades and other literary trifles; and its general characteristics are lightness, grace and sparkle. The feuilleton in its French sense has never been adopted by English newspapers, though in various modern journals (in the United States especially) the sort of matter represented by it is now included. But the term itself has come into English use to indicate the instalment of a serial story printed in one part of a newspaper.

…which I’m sure lends this page unintended pretensions; it’s only a blog, after all. The equivalent in British papers would probably be the “diary” section. One of my favourite writers, Walter Benjamin, was fascinated by les feuilletons, as by many other products of French cultural life:

These books consist of individual sketches which, as it were, reproduce the plastic foreground of these panoramas with their anecdotal form and the extensive background of the panoramas with their store of information. Numerous authors contributed to these volumes. Thus these anthologies are products of the same belletristic collective work for which Girardin had procured an outlet in the feuilleton. They were the salon attire of a literature which fundamentally was designed to be sold in the streets. In this literature, the modest-looking, paperbound, pocket-sized volumes called ‘physiologies’ had pride of place. They investigated types that might be encountered by a person taking a look at the marketplace. From the itinerant street vendor of the boulevards to the dandy in the foyer of the opera-house, there was not a figure of Paris life that was not sketched by a physiologue. The great period of the genre came in the early forties. It was the haute ecolé of the feuilleton

The feuilleton provided a market for belles-lettres in the daily newspaper. The introduction of this section summed up the changes which the July Revolution had brought to the press…In 1824 there were 47,000 subscribers to newpapers in Paris…in 1846, 200,000. …informative items required little space. They and not the political editorials or the serialised novels enabled a newspaper to have a different look every day, an appearance that was cleverly varied when the pages were made up and constituted part of the paper’s attractiveness. These items had to be constantly replenished. City gossip, theatrical intrigues and ‘things worth knowing’ were their most popular sources. Their intrinsic cheap elegance, a quality that became so characteristic of the feuilleton section, was in evidence from the beginning.

So there you have it. Blog is a convenient neologism but its convenience doesn’t make it indispensible.

 


 

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7 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by Yvonne

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    Oh, I thought it was a reference to Herman Hesse’s “Glass Bead Game”, in which there is much reference to the Age of the Feuilleton.

  2. #2 posted by John

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    Ah, interesting…didn’t know about that, thanks. I’ve only read Hesse’s Steppenwolf (typically). The Glass Bead Game is one of those books that’s always intrigued but which I’ve never quite got round to.

  3. #3 posted by Cody Furguson

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    Please add me to your list of gay artists. Thanks. – Cody Furguson
    http://www.adonisnudes.com

  4. #4 posted by marte

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    John, Are you familiar with the SF magazine McSweeney’s?

  5. #5 posted by John

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    I know McSweeney’s mainly from its website. I’ve seen the magazines online but not any of the physical copies.

  6. #6 posted by Nathan K

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    The main book of Hesse’s Glass Bead Game is not worth bothering with in my opinion. A satirical exercise, at best, and otherwise a word slog that may prove better with newer translations. Unfortunately I only know of one. In contrast, the three stories he tacked on the end are brilliant and overshadow the weaknesses of the title work.

  7. #7 posted by Martin

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    German language broadsheet newspapers tend to have a section called Feuilleton in them, usually musings by journalists and other public personalities on topical issues of the day – hence Hesse’s ironic coining of the ‘Age of The Feuilleton’. Good name for a blog though.

 




 

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