The Burning Rag: Le Torchon Brule, 1970-1973

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Detail from the cover of Le Torchon Brule No. 3

 

Le Torchon Brule was one of the most important feminist periodicals published in France in the 1970’s, which was an early and indispensable part of the second wave feminist movement in the country in the aftermath of the events of 1968. Iissue zero was published as an insert in the Libertarian newspaper L’Idiote Liberte, complete with dotted lines so the reader could cut and assemble the first issue.

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Le Torchon Brule, Issue No. 0

The periodical ended with the sixth number, though there was also a special Mother’s Day supplement, which was issued with no. 5 but is not often seen. 

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Le Torchon Brule, Mother’s Day Supplement to No. 5

The title of the periodical, which could be literally translated into English as “the dishcloth burns” is a French euphemism for domestic strife, with the connotation of an ongoing or running battle. Le Torchon Brule was a group project and radical with regards to content and format, with each issue being created by a different group of women.

Claire Duchen’s eloquent appraisal of the periodical is so good it deserves quoting at length:

“The Torchon’s aim was to reflect the MLF’s increased diversity and share opinions and experiences, to break women’s silence, leave an imprint on paper and therefore in history. There was desire to produce polished journalism, but instead to avoid the division between those who can write and those who read and to encourage women to write whether they thought they could or not. Women wrote about themselves, their life histories, their anger and their feelings about the MLF. The texts are often difficult to read, as they lack structure and coherence – thoughts ramble, ideas are repeated, sentences are unfinished. The reader’s expectations are constantly arrested in the process of reading and then suspended; there was no censorship, no editorial policy, no columns on the page, no rubrics; on the page, drawings, pictures, handwriting and typescripts, all in many colours, jostled for space. Articles were written anonymously, both to show that names belonged to fathers and husbands and to avoid the creation of a star system. . . “ Duchen, pp. 11-12.

From a design perspective, Le Torchon Brule is remarkable for the extent to which the lack of a unified graphic design across the numbers seamlessly and successfully became the design itself, always provocative and involving the reader with each line and image – an achievement which has few parallels in the era.

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Le Torchon Brule

 

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Le Torchon Brule

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Le Torchon Brule

Claire Duchen’s book  Feminism in France: From May ’68 to Mitterrand, from which the above quote is taken, is an indispensable account of the milieu out of which Le Torchon Brule emerged, and has been our companion in reading through the periodical.

No. 0: 4to, 24 pages [including covers], offset printed on newsprint with two color cover. Numbers 1-5: Tabloid format, offset printed on newsprint in color. With supplement to No. 5: 4to, [8] pages, folded, unbound sheets offset printed in blue on newsprint.

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