Making the News: Modernity & the Mass Press in Nineteenth-Century France

Making the News: Modernity & the Mass Press in Nineteenth-Century France

Making the News: Modernity & the Mass Press in Nineteenth-Century France

Making the News: Modernity & the Mass Press in Nineteenth-Century France


Much recent writing on print culture has focused on the social and political implications of the transition from "elite" to "mass" culture in the 1800s. The essays in this volume add significantly to our understanding of the role of the nineteenth-century French press in producing the commodities, consumers, and ideological frameworks that are the hallmarks of this shift. The book also offers an opportunity for useful comparisons with recent scholarship on the rise on the popular press in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany.

The essays address a wide range of topics, from the emergence of commercial daily newspapers during the July Monarchy to the photographic representation of women in the Paris Commune. Together they demonstrate that the French mass press was far more heterogeneous than previously supposed, tapping into an expanding readership composed of a variety of publics -- from affluent bourgeois to disaffected workers to disenfranchised women. It was also relentlessly innovative, using caricature, argot, advertisements, and other attention-grabbing techniques that blurred the lines separating art, politics, and the news.


Modernity and history seem condemned to being linked together in a self-destroying union that threatens the survival of both.

-- Paul de Man, Blindness and Insight

We cannot display the content of such a diffuse formation.

-- Richard Terdiman, Discourse/Counter-Discourse

In recent studies of early mass culture in nineteenth-century France by literary scholars, art historians, historians, and others in the emerging field of cultural studies, the mass press has received surprisingly little systematic scrutiny. Other now canonical sites of modernity--panoramas, department stores, cinema and fashion, the boulevards and their habitual denizens, the flâneur and the prostitute, to name only a few-- continue to hold sway, even as their elaboration often depends upon reconstructing their effects through their appearance in the mass press. One suspects that this is largely due to the view expressed by Richard Terdiman in Discourse/Counter-Discourse: the Theory and Practice of Symbolic Resistance in Nineteenth-Century France (1985) and shared by many, that the mass press represents a stable, dominant discourse against which subversive counter- discursive tactics are deployed, both from within (caricature in the early July Monarchy) and from without (literary texts, like those of Flaubert and Baudelaire). Today the press, along with several other hegemonic systems like objectivity and progress have ironically achieved--or recovered--an invisibility we tend to associate with ideological efficacy. in short, it may well be that the press has not been examined in greater detail precisely because it is taken for granted as dominant. Certainly the press is increasingly ubiquitous as the century unfolds: it serves not only as a source of documentation in secondary literature, but is constituted as a recurrent motif of modernity in primary texts from Balzac to Maupassant, as well as canonical works of modern painting from Monet, Degas, and Cézanne to, most notoriously perhaps, the cubist collages of Picasso and Braque (not to mention the work of middlebrow genre painters like James Tissot).

The contributors to Making the News have taken as a broad, largely un-

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