Daniel Tiffany reactivates and redefines the concept of kitsch by exposing its forgotten relation to poetry. Beginning with the exuberant revival of archaic (and often spurious) ballads in Britain in the early eighteenth century, Tiffany argues that kitsch in verse—animated by fierce debates about poetic diction and resistance to the new supergenre of literature—emerged from a scandalous but seemingly irresistible flirtation with poetic forgery that endures today in the Luciferian ambiguity of the kitsch artifact: a live burial in which kitsch is lodged like a foreign body in the system of art. He traces the genealogy of kitsch in texts ranging from nursery rhymes and melodrama to Gothic verse, peasant poetry, and Baudelaire’s lyric project of “inventing clichés.”
Published by Capsule Editions as a pocket book, this is the second in our series of stand-alone literary essays by leading contemporary thinkers and writers.
How fortunate that Daniel Tiffany gets bees in his bonnet. Much nectar was sucked from the Leibnitzian buds during his dazzling flight through the darkness of Infidel Poetics. Now we enter the Poisonous Candy Factory abuzz with glittering artificial insects, luring us into an unexpected encounter with live burials and foreign bodies. The most authentic is revealed as the purest fakery, reliques as intricate contrivances. The muniments of St Mary Redcliffe, chewed into papier-mâché ballads by Thomas Chatterton, enjoy a mash-up by Keats and Shelley to find their visible apotheosis in the pre-Raphaelite kitsch of the marvellous boy dying in his garret. Ezra Pound, posing as the nemesis of fin-de-siècle decadence, is called out as a secret addict of the sickliest confectionary, and Modernism as a closet filled with gaudy silks and diaphanous veils. The provocation of Daniel Tiffany’s thinking stings: here the sources of kitsch are found in the ballad and the blues, in medievalism and chinoiserie, exactly in modernity’s guilty dreams of the real.
- John Wilkinson
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About the author:
Daniel Tiffany is the author of six previous books of poetry and literary theory, including Toy Medium: Materialism and Modern Lyric and Infidel Poetics: Riddles, Nightlife, Substance. His fourth collection of poetry, Neptune Park, will be published this year by Omnidawn, along with his fourth book of literary criticism, My Silver Planet: A Secret History of Poetry and Kitsch (Johns Hopkins University Press). His poems have appeared in the Paris Review, Poetry, Tin House, Boston Review, Fence, jubilat, Lana Turner, and Intercapillary Space. Tiffany has also published translations of texts by Sophocles and the Italian poet Cesare Pavese, as well as Georges Bataille’s pornographic tale, Madame Edwarda. He is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and has been awarded the Chicago Review Poetry Prize and the Berlin Prize in 2012 by the American Academy.
Author photo © 2012 Annette Hornischer