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Fey- ye – TON?

The Art of the Feuilleton

Dusting off the feuilleton

Que-ce que c’est un feuilleton?

What the F*** is a Feuilleton?


Fey- ye – TÔN?


The name feuilleton didn’t narrow it down much for us either, hence the question mark.

La feuille is a sheet of paper and le feuilleton is a small sheet of paper. From the name, we deduced that these things are writings and that they are brief--Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” at 4800 pages isn’t one of them. Interesting to note, though, that the two extremes—the absolute longest and some of the very shortest literary objects -- are of French origin.

The opinions of le monde didn’t help either. In more than 150 years of commentaire we found little consensus about the feuilleton. People can’t even agree if they are good things or bad things. We found both worshippers and villifiers. They definitely arouse passion, but what are they?

So we hired a tomb raider—a cousin of mine—a historian by the name of Paul von W. He went to Europe. He poked his head into nooks and crannies but didn’t seem to ever find one. He wrote a report about rises, golden ages, declines and falls. We filed it under ‘dusty reports.’  We still wouldn’t have known one if we stepped on it.

We hired a second historian—one who ascribed to the Great Man Theory. He also found his way to Europe, talked with all the famous writers of feuilletons, both living and dead. Also filed a report.  Somehow he didn’t think it necessary to bring a feuilleton back to the United States. Instead, his luggage was bursting with portraits of the characters he interviewed, which we dutifully, some day, will frame into a portrait museum. In the end, our knowledge was advanced, albeit imperceptibly.  Historian Two simply confirmed what we’d already suspected--these short written things were imported from the Continent. Of foreign make.

Just by coincidence, we happened to be reading eFeuilleton’s Bible-- The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich -- so for $6 an hour we outsourced the investigation to Gupta from an on line temp agency in Delhi. Gupta dug up everything that could be found on line about what these European feuilletonists themselves had written about their feuilletons. He must have outsourced the European library work to some Pakistani students in Paris, Bratwurst, and Petersburg since the final report had some rare finds. Not many, actually. No surprise, really. After all, the entire metacommentary about writing in general by writers boils down to a handful of books. Helpful nonetheless, Gupta’s report is, so we will file it poindexterously, someday, under eArchiniade, perhaps.

Our curiosity grew into an obsession. The investigation became a hunt. But it was no ordinary whaling trip--we thought only to locate this beast, harpoon, stuff, and display it over the fireplace. But we didn’t even know how to recognize it.  It was like trying to find a sheet of paper in an ocean.

Someone had the bright idea to bring in the entomologists—Norwegian butterfly collectors to be precise.  They finally got us on the right track. The Norwegians went out and captured some actual specimens of feuilletons. They were running all over Europe with nets scooping up every single one they could find. They stuck them to a wall with pins, then spent weeks arranging and rearranging them in onotologic-phylogenetic splendor to show which kingdoms begat which phyla, genera, and species of feuilleton.  The collection was so magnificent that we feel compelled to open a natural history museum just so we will have a place to which to donate it.  They compiled a classification report on feuilletons, entitled “Feuilleton on the Origin of Species.”   We stared for three days and nights at their science, but in the end didn’t feel like the categories captured the essence of this beast.

In a fit, we cleaned house. Swept Gupta, the Norwegians, my cousin Pauleveryoneout.

Only then did we notice that some of these feuilletons were astonishingly beautiful, even alive. We didn’t see them before due to the sheer mass of ordinary ones.

For example, Mikhail Bulgakov’s feuilleton--Moonshine Lake (Samogonnoе ozero). On a leaf of paper, Bulgakov paints the depravity of communal life—in the foregroundon an allusory background of pre revolutionary beauty and sophistication. Using only two words (the title) he juxtaposed the beauty of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (Lebedinoe ozero) with the besotted world (Samogonnoe ozero) of a Moscow kommunalka (communal apartment).  A few more strokes sets the action at Easter and constructs a liturgical bell tower whose faint ringing paces this feuilleton about 24 hours of physical and psychological survival in 1923 Moscow.  A day in the life of the then feuilletonist and playwright Mikhail Afanasyevich Bulgakov.

We had finally found our feuilleton. It is a beautiful thing, humorous, infused with emotion, benevolent, honorable and noble. It loves scintillating metaphors and rebels against logical rationalization stripped of common sense, against clogged sentences, cluttered paragraphs and jargon-stuffed language, against politics of spite. It is a formidable outcry in search of truth through satire, fiction and gamesmanshipput.

Like a Faberge egg, complex and beautiful.


And a Feuilleton is the blog of a feuilletonist.


Like any artform, there are masterpieces and there is drek. We’ve only begun looking at these things. We keep finding them. We will have to open yet another museum--of fine arts--to display them.

So, dear reader, does our introduction deserve to be font-shrunk to fit on a feuille?

We’d love to know. But, if you write us, please don’t fawn. Or flame.

Fey- ye – TÔN!


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