Daniel Tiffany Interview About Kitsch (Part 3)

by on Aug.25, 2010

Here’s the third part of my interview with Daniel Tiffany about KITSCH.

Daniel Tiffany:
“If the verbal origins of kitsch appear to have been lost (or disguised) in transmission, its polarized relation to “serious” poetry looms large in the wake of modernism. For example, to call Ezra Pound’s experimental epic, the Cantos, a monument of literary kitsch would be nothing short of blasphemy. The rubric of kitsch is unthinkable even for poetry directly linked to developments in art with obvious (though perhaps unacknowledged) affinities to kitsch: pop art, especially, and its momentous legacy of simulation, seriality, and appropriation. Despite the apparent immobility of these assumptions, the polarized relation between kitsch and the aesthetic ideology of modernism (which anchors poetry’s supposed immunity to kitsch, even as it suppresses any consideration of “serious” poetry as kitsch) is dangerously unstable and transactional.

“Greenberg identified kitsch as a parasite feeding upon the productions of the avant-garde, while Broch claimed that kitsch is “lodged like a foreign body in the overall system of art”: a dialectical “system” opposed to art (and to modernism in particular), whose resemblance to art only enhances its catastrophically destructive challenge to artistic values. The threat posed by kitsch is rooted in its uncanny properties, in its powers of dissimulation–what Musil calls “black magic.” Broch captures perfectly the apotropaic significance of kitsch for poetry when he observes, “kitsch is the element of evil in the value system of art.”

“In response, then, to these paralyzing antitheses, one must seek to excavate and to disenchant “the element of evil”–the anathematic substance of kitsch–in the value system of poetry. More specifically, one would want to isolate the one feature common to all modern theorizations of kitsch. Musil, Broch, and Greenberg all emphasize the inauthenticity of kitsch: it is described variously as “ersatz,” “spurious,” as a “counterfeit image,” a “faked article.” At the same time, though each of these authors claims that kitsch can be found in poetry (often Romantic poetry), none of them explains how, or why, the poetic properties of kitsch can be linked to its counterfeit nature, to fakery.

“The solution to the conundrum of poetry’s relevance to the inauthenticity of kitsch lies in the historical phenomenon of Romantic “imposture”: a series of momentous forgeries, facsimiles, and literary impersonations (including gaelic bards, medieval monks, and Mother Goose) in Britain between 1760 and 1820. The volatile nature of kitsch and its persistent associations with inauthenticity therefore stem directly from the complex legacy of poetic forgery and its disfiguration of literary authenticity. Poetic kitsch may be viewed as a “crime of writing” by later critics precisely because the formulation of these polarizing values is rooted in incidents of actual forgery (often seeking to relocate the origins of poetry). Furthermore, as an aesthetic category, kitsch is permanently contaminated by the delusional nature of literary fraud, even if the artifacts of kitsch are not actual forgeries. Kitsch must be inherently fake, regardless of its originality; it retains an air of fraudulence, however innovative–and imitated–its artifact may be. Kitsch in fact becomes the ineradicable residue of poetic originality, of the rewriting of literary origins.””

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