by Johannes Goransson on Aug.23, 2010
This is the first of a series of brief interviews I plan to conduct for this site. I’ve divided it into a couple of parts.
Daniel Tiffany is a wonderful poet and one of the most insightful critics in contemporary U.S. literature. He has published two books of poetry – Puppet Wardrobe and Dandelion Clock (parts published in Action, Yes a while back) – and three books of criticism – Radio Corpse (about Ezra Pound, a book I keep quoting and quoting), Toy Medium and Infidel Poetics: Riddles, Nightlife, Substance (which Joyelle reviewed recently for the Boston Review. He teaches at USC.
I asked him some questions about kitsch, not just because it’s been the topic of some discussion on this blog but also because it’s the subject matter of the book he’s currently writing. And this is his first answer:
“It’s not difficult to arrive at a working definition of kitsch by surveying the qualities that come to mind for most people when they think of “kitsch”: sentimental, vulgar, fraudulent, superficial. These are not nice words. And these associations are the legacy of a generation of modernist critics who defined kitsch in vehement opposition to the formalist ideology of high modernism. Furthermore, these critics entirely suppressed the role of kitsch, as they define it, in the production of art identified with modernism. These efforts to mask and isolate the significance of kitsch were so effective that serious debate about the nature of kitsch has been largely frozen in place–according to these modernist premises–since the 1930s. In addition, a crucial feature of the Romantic origins of kitsch, as the modernist critics defined it, has almost entirely vanished from contemporary notions of kitsch: its fundamental association with poetry and poetics in the early 19th century. The true nature of kitsch can be recovered only by excavating its scandalous–and forgotten–relationship to poetry.
“Taking all of these factors into account, it’s clear that any working definition of kitsch must–at this point–acknowledge the polemical and impoverished legacy of modernist definitions of kitsch. Kitsch remains an enigma–a flaming enigma–precisely because the sanctions put in place against it–against the very idea of kitsch–nearly 75 years ago have proved so effective. Until these sanctions–and erasures–are lifted, kitsch will be nothing more than a scandalous accessory of modernism: the last, great unexamined aesthetic category of the 20th century.”
[Part II will follow tomorrow.]