Friday, December 26, 2008

Things I had to look up: feuilleton

In a piece on Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives, Paul Berman makes a comparison to:
A few years ago, Mario Vargas Llosa published an op-ed newspaper column about how he had given up smoking thanks to some useful tips from Gabriel García Márquez, and I came away thinking that I and 1 million other newspaper readers might very well have gone on following Vargas Llosa's nicotine narrative through another 300 feuilleton installments, if only he had chosen to natter on. It was because of that same confident mix of self-assured relaxation and electric high alert.
WTF? Some sort of 19th century... what? Turns out that it is:
  1. The part of a European newspaper devoted to light literature, criticism, and the like; also something printed in this section.
  2. A novel published in installments.
  3. A short literary piece.
Here's part of the example they give: "Finally, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung offers tongue-in-cheek reading of the situation on the front page of its feuilleton section..."

I see. So the NYT Book Review, or the Insight section of the Chronicle's Sunday paper, are feuilletons (pronounced (FOI-i-ton).

Berman goes on:
In other parts of the world, in regions distant from Latin America—or so my wanton theorizing leads me to suppose—the pitiable champions of literature dwell under oppressive clouds of relentless doubt and irony, and are nervously stimulated by a bleak suspicion that anything they write must surely be a lie, and their own work is merely a game, and their avid readers don't really give a damn, and literature's last remaining purpose is to arch an eyebrow. But not in Latin America. The Latin Americans compose their narratives with a cheerful élan akin to that of the Victorian novelists. They do not think that literature is a lie. They are madly in love with their own inexhaustibly lush and wealthy literary tradition, and they feel a duty to push their tradition forward into the experimental future in the name of every decent hope of mankind and of Latin America; and their piety toward the past and zeal for the future fill their voices with the lovely and seductive vibrato of supreme self-confidence. I don't vouch for the universal explanatory power of my own theory, and yet something like this does seem to account for The Savage Detectives.
What a depressing paragraph that is -- self-hating and hopeless, it embodies the "oppressive clouds of relentless self-doubt" that the writer speaks of. So then I had to look up the writer, Berman. His Wikipedia article makes him sound sort of like Joan Didion, only he seems never to have published any novels.

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