Infidel Poetics: Riddles, Nightlife, Substance

University of Chicago Press
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Poetry has long been regarded as the least accessible of literary genres. But how much does the obscurity that confounds readers of a poem differ from, say, the slang that seduces listeners of hip-hop? Infidel Poetics examines not only the shared incomprensibilities of poetry and slang, but poetry's genetic relation to the spectacle of underground culture.

Charting connections between vernacular poetry, lyric obscurity, and types of social relations—networks of darkened streets in preindustrial cities, the historical underworld of taverns and clubs, the subcultures of the avant-garde—Daniel Tiffany shows that obscurity in poetry has functioned for hundreds of years as a medium of alternative societies. For example, he discovers in the submerged tradition of canting poetry and its eccentric genres—thieves’ carols, drinking songs, beggars’ chants—a genealogy of modern nightlife, but also a visible underworld of social and verbal substance, a demimonde for sale.

Ranging from Anglo-Saxon riddles to Emily Dickinson, from the icy logos of Parmenides to the monadology of Leibniz, from Mother Goose to Mallarmé, Infidel Poetics offers an exhilarating account of the subversive power of obscurity in word, substance, and deed.
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About the author

Daniel Tiffany is the author of five books of poetry and literary criticism, including Toy Medium: Materialism and Modern Lyric (named one of the "Best Books of 2000" by the Los Angeles Times) and the forthcoming Dandelion Clock. In addition, he has published translations of works from French, Greek, and Italian. His poems have appeared in Tin House, Boston Review, and the Paris Review, and his critical essays on poetry and poetics have been published in Critical Inquiry, PMLA, and Modernism/Modernity. He has held residencies at the MacDowell Colony and the Karolyi Foundation in France and been the recipient of a Whiting Fellowship. He teaches at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles.

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Additional Information

Publisher
University of Chicago Press
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Published on
Oct 15, 2009
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Pages
240
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ISBN
9780226803111
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / American / General
Literary Criticism / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Literary Criticism / General
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This content is DRM protected.
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My Silver Planet (taking its title from John Keats) contends that the problem of elite poetry’s relation to popular culture bears the indelible mark of its turbulent incorporation of vernacular poetry—a legacy shaped by nostalgia, contempt, and fraudulence. Daniel Tiffany reactivates and fundamentally redefines the concept of kitsch, freeing it from modernist misapprehension and ridicule, by tracing its origin to poetry’s alienation from the emergent category of literature. He excavates the forgotten history of poetry’s relation to kitsch, beginning with the exuberant revival of archaic (and often spurious) ballads in Britain in the early eighteenth century. In these controversial events of poetic imposture, Tiffany identifies a submerged pact—in opposition to the bourgeois values of literature—between elite and vernacular poetries.

Tiffany argues that the ballad revival—the earliest explicit formation of what we now call popular culture—sparked a dubious but seemingly irresistible flirtation (among elite audiences) with poetic forgery that endures today in the ambiguity of the kitsch artifact: Is it real or fake, art or kitsch? He goes on to trace the genealogy of kitsch in texts ranging from nursery rhymes and poetic melodrama to the lyric commodities of Baudelaire. He scrutinizes the fascist "paradise" inscribed in Ezra Pound’s Cantos, as well as the avant-garde poetry of the New York School and its debt to pop and "plastic" art. By exposing and elaborating the historical poetics of kitsch, My Silver Planet transforms our sense of kitsch as a category of material culture.

-- Helen Deutsch, University of California, Los Angeles
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