Tag: Experience

On Johannes’s Theory of Kitsch: Yeats, Owen, and Brian Turner

by on Nov.18, 2010

When I was reading Johannes’s post below, and how kitsch is used as a bulwark to protect the Highness of the High Modern, I immediately thought of Yeats leaving the War Poets out of his Oxford Anthology of Modern Verse (1936)– defending his choice against critics, he wrote in a letter:
“[…]I excluded Wilfred Owen, whom I consider unworthy of the poets’ corner of a country newspaper, […]He is all blood, dirt & sucked sugar stick (look at the selection in Faber’s Anthology– he calls poets ‘bards,’ a girl a ‘maid,’ & talks about ‘Titanic wars’). There is every excuse for him but none for those who like him. . . .”

This is dripping with kitsch signifiers– country newspaper, ‘sucked sugar stick’, even ‘dirt’ and ‘blood’, as if there is something unseemly about soldiers being dirty or bloody. In the next sentence these three sticky substances are associated with the tacky, poem-y diction of ‘bards’, ‘maid’ ‘Titanic wars’—the ‘dim lands of peace’ stuff that Pound condemns in ‘a few don’ts.; So somehow poeticisms and euphemisms here are equated with dirt, blood, and sugar stick—art at its most overstated and artsy (and thus kitschy) is equal to contaminatory and bodily things. It’s enough to remind you that ‘tacky’ has two senses– both ‘sticky to the touch’, and ‘corny/tasteless’. Yeats mobilizes both against Owen.
(continue reading…)

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