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January 09, 2007


Bad WMD?

Very interesting, and very moving, emptywheel!

I remember when the French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, visiting Praque in 1982 to meet with Charter 77, only to be busted on a drug charge when he was heading back to Paris (the drugs having been planted in his suitcase, of course, by the Czech secret police). Once in prison, Derrida got word to his wife, who got word to Fran├žois Mitterand, who sent word, through the French ambassador to Prague, that France would break off all diplomatic relations with Czechoslovakia if Derrida weren't immediately released. Needless to say, the Czech authorities were perplexed, surprised, and impressed by Derrida's political standing (it seems that they'd never heard of the guy). So they dropped charges, released him, and put him on the first available plane to Paris.

This is not a positive story. When this is what it takes to push back against the secret police, the situation is not very friendly (Derrida mentions, at several points, that he shared a cell with a young gypsy who wasn't as lucky as he was).

AFAIK, the gypsies are still unlucky, to this day.


It seems impossible that there's a comparison between what was happening in Czechoslovakia then and what is happening in the United States today. But it's not. We live in a police state only marginally better than the Czechs.


We're not yet close. The day I have my own interrogator (I just re-read how Vaculik's interrogator was one of the most sympathetic people to him during this time), then we will be.

The problem is we're so damn much more powerful. Which means while we American may have loads more freedom than your average Czech dissident, the little things our country does have much graver repercussions.

Gypsies -- or Roma, as they are correctly called -- are enjoined against speaking of certain traditions and orthodoxies, which makes it very difficult for them to speak out about what's happened to them. Imagine if Jews were enjoined by their faith against writing books, or talking about their traditions.... If such were the case, what would our overall understanding of the Holocaust be? Very different, to be sure.

The ethnic cleansing of Roma during the Yugoslavian civil war is, frankly, a story yet to be told.

EW, do you like spy novels? Have any favorites (Alan Furst)? This culture/history/politics/journalism stuff (sorry, feuilletons) you studied is pretty interesting.

ew - Since we are in the feuilleton subject here, could you expand on them (or are they just what they seem to be when I Wiki the subject?) and why did it become a matter of interest to you? I've been wondering about this for the last 1 1/2 years I have been reading your posts and for the first time saw the word feuilleton. I know you've mentioned in previous posts that you have discussed the subject before. Maybe just a link? Anything would be appreciated. Also, is your dissertation posted somewhere? Thanks.

Great post. What, by the way, is "it" here, since, I take it, it's the holy grail of democracy:

Since the "active minority" as so busy talking about them, the "passive minority," it sparked them to become active, no longer passive.


Haven't read many novels of any kind of late. Gave up fiction, really, when I left academics.


The project started as a comparison of Czech and Argentine literature--the importance of bothin politics, and some similar features, had been compared in post-modern criticisms, but no one really looked at WHY they might be similar (particularly since Argentine/Polish or Chilean/Czech might make more sense). But the feuilleton (or something just like it) plays a similarly important role in both cultures--going back to efforts to instill liberalism in the 19th century and continuing into the 1920s and 30s (as both were marginally members of the "developed" world of the day) and the struggles with authoritarianism in the later 20th century. The function the feuilleton played in each is not unique, but there is arguably a "feuilletonesque" side to the literature of each country.

I threw in the French side of things because the French (unlike the Germans) have (or had, when I was still in the game) really shitty scholarship on the feuilleton. For example, while some contemporaneously attributed much of the political activity leading up to 1848 in France to the serialized novels that appeared in feuilletons, the French divorced that practice from the feuilleton essay that had been a response to Napoleonic censorship (and effectively invented literary modernism as a way to strip literature of its political power). But there can be a real continuity there, which places the serial novels the French now consider shit in the culture of "critique" that they greatly celebrate.

The project was great because it gets into the role of literary (playful) speech in political discourse, the role of media (newspapers) in proliferating certain discursive practices globally, and the role of certain kinds of (common) language in engaging new classes of people into the reading sphere.

There--probably more than you want to know!


THe "it" in this case is probably direct address to the "normal man," an inclusion in the circulation of this discussion, and the imperative to DO something (copy over samizdat). But that's overly simplistic admittedly.

And Ardant

To me, the best example of feuilletonesque literature is Karel Capek's War with the Newts (there's actually an even better Capek novel, Factory of the Absolute, but there is no good English translation). Newts was published in the feuilleton section of the newspaper, but it also replicates the kind of fragmentation and and indirect argumentation and language you see in both feuilleton novels and essays.

Fascinating, EW. Have a jillion questions -- none of which I expect you to answer, purely rhetorical. Why was the feuilleton more popular in some cultures than others? Did the history of pamphleteering in some countries and cultures make the feuilleton unnecessary or redundant for political purposes? Were there any economic factors that encouraged the feuilleton in some cultures? And how much has blogging and internet-mediated self-publishing replaced the feuilleton?

Great stuff, the kind of subject that really needs a couple of beers and a slow evening.

The feuilleton didn't exist in Anglo-American culture. I would argue that that's because the issues often worked out in the feuilleton were worked out in English culture in the 1600s (yes, pamphleteers, but at that point, it was often vague what genre something was). Then, the places that adopted feuilletons per se (most of continental Europe and Latin America) were adopting the French newspaper style. This was partly because France was considered the cultural center of the civilized (European) world at the time, whereas England was the economic/industrial center, so people adopted the French way on cultural issues. But it's also because, as people just started forming newspapers in the 19th C, they went with the successful business model, and in many places, the feuilleton was the thing that drove newspaper sales (and of course this became more true when newspapers serialized novels). One more thing that made the feuilleton important as a source of "liberal" (definite scarequotes here) thought was that in places with repression, the feuilleton offered a place where you could escape censorship or a way to make money in exile.

One more thing--I said there was no feuilleton in Anglo-American culture. Partly because of that and partly because the literary sphere developed differently in England, English serialized novels were done differently than other most countries, at least up until Thackery. The English serialized long chunks in monthly discrete volumes that consisted entirely of cultural content. Whereas the French (and those that followed it) serialized novels in the daily press, right at the bottom of the front page under the "news." FOr novels with a political content at all, of course, this created a dramatically different dynamic.

I don't think blogs have replaced feuilletons. I think this cultural/political/conversational form recurs in culture in forms appropriate to the media age. There are still feuilletons out there (the closest thing in the US was SF's Herb Coen, though the Russians always considered Art Buchwald feuilletonesque). But the blog does serve the same purpose, sure.

Emptywheel, I like what you related about the position taken by Vaculik that everyday people could perform "heroic" acts in small ways, to reinforce their moral and political outlook, and to affect change. In that way, blogs and the responses to blogs are our way of doing the same thing. There is no doubt that blogs helped the Democrats to win this Fall. Now, their work is cut out for them to save the Republic and repair the damage done to the Constitution by the 109th Congress, David Addington, the AT and George Bush.

they went with the successful business model --

This is the reason that I think would have justified English-language papers pursuing the feuilleton, but as you said, perhaps the kinds of social issues in question had been addressed earlier in English-language countries (this will make me crack open Guns, Germs and Steel, along with The Power of Babel in regard to the dependency of movement of ideas by language).

No wonder at all you have had such a field day with research on the Plame outing. You were equipped and trained far better than the average bear!!

ew - thank you for your comments. You are so sweet.


Only it wasn't dependent on language. I've had friends who work in Japanese literature argue that the Japanese adopted the French model (though perhaps via the Germans). Ditto slavicists.

One other difference, though, between the Anglo-American and the rest: taxation and censorship laws. It'd be hard to do the differences justice in short form, but such things had really concrete effects on teh form of the newspaper.

Definitely more than two beers and a comments forum needed to address this.

We're having a form of chicken-or-the-egg discussion. The concept I've been studying for several years now is memetics; there is knowledge that appears to disperse differently in both rate and uptake based on the culture and in turn language in which the knowledge is generated and conveyed. I'm thinking of The Geography of Thought, in particular; some philosophies and ideologies succeed in some cultures, with culture also differentiated by language (hence a probable factor in Middle Eastern response to American/English democracy).

Purely rhetorical questions again: Are English-language countries, possibly some Germanic, Nordic as well, more likely to create a society in which the kind of taxation and censorship laws are conducive to a particular kind of expression, because of the manner in which the concepts are understood and implemented? Is there a shift again across countries and cultures that have a more matriarchal hierarchy of power or more egalitarian power structure -- for instance, the Finnish-Swedish cultures and their early adoption of Freedom of Information Laws. Adam Smith wrote of similar concepts in regards to FOI as his predecesor Anders Chydenius of Finland; Chydenius may have been influenced culturally by concepts that originated much earlier in Asia. Did FOI as a meme "skip" Russia and Slavic countries? Did western emphasis on mercantilism pervert the use of language and ideas evolved through language, in such a way that information became owned rather than shared? Did the feuilleton thrive where it was not only needed to subvert authority that did not subscribe to FOI, but where it could not be fully co-opted as a commercial enterprise?

Gonna' need a case of beer. Maybe a pony keg.

OT - EW, do you think that David Corn could be the guy that Novak gave his infamous "Wilson's an asshole" speech to?

The VF article mentions in passing that Corn knew Wilson.

Not that it matters in the great scheme of things, just one extra brushstroke on the canvas.

But the new iPod phone is coming out!

Our culture has become so sidetracked on "cool stuff" that it is a wonder so many people still talk and act politics. (At least some of them use cool stuff to do it.)

Great post, ew.

Kim: Find the novels of Charles McCarry. "The Last Supper" is a great Cold War spy novel. For Vietnam, "The Tears of Autumn" is the best spy novel ever written, period.

Thanks mimikatz, they sound good. I'll look 'em up!

ew did you see Waas' at National Journal today; he has some Grand Jury testimony supposedly. As usual, I think this must be Libby's lawyers doing the leaking. Go get em.

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