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My Silver Planet

A Secret History of Poetry and Kitsch

Daniel Tiffany

Publication Year: 2013

My Silver Planet (borrowing its title from John Keats) contends that the insoluble problem of elite poetry’s relation to popular culture bears the indelible stamp 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. 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. Tiffany argues that the ballad revival—the earliest formation of what we now call popular culture—sparked a dubious but seemingly irresistible flirtation 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 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.

Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press

Series: Hopkins Studies in Modernism


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vii

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1. Arresting Poetry: Kitsch, Totality, Expression

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pp. 1-17

Once upon a time, long before it had been reduced to a synonym for mediocrity in the arts, the term “kitsch” functioned as a lightning rod in debates about mass culture and the fate of modernism confronting the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. For a word now applied quite casually to trivial and spurious things...

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2. Poetic Diction and the Substance of Kitsch

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pp. 18-39

Dreams, Mottos, Gossip References to the polemical history of kitsch are not uncommon in debates about popular culture, yet even the most astute contemporary observers usually overlook, as I have already noted, a central feature of the inaugural theorizations of kitsch: poetry is identified in the foundational essays on the subject as an important exemplum and genealogical source...

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3. Miscreant: Dialectics and the Persistence of the Commonplace

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pp. 40-61

Modernist definitions frequently identify kitsch as the antithesis of art (or, in Clement Greenberg’s case, of the avant-garde), yet they also acknowledge a genealogical relation between art and kitsch. Hermann Broch, for example, discussing the artistic (or poetic) antecedents of kitsch, declares, “There are moments when the child becomes so like its mother that one...

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4. The Spurious Progeny of Bare Nature

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pp. 62-72

Commonly referred to as the ballad revival, the complex appeal of traditional balladry (to elite audiences) in the eighteenth century coincided, one must acknowledge, with the decay of indigenous oral composition and of the once ubiquitous broadside ballad in print culture. According to Albert B. Friedman, “ballad-making continued to become...

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5. Illiterature

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pp. 73-107

Refrain Poetic kitsch descends from the illegitimate offspring of the ballad revival of the eighteenth century. This debt can be reckoned in terms of the verbal qualities of the poem, by emphasizing its commonplace and spurious diction, as well as its dependence on various devices of repetition— especially the poetic refrain. At the same time, just as analysis of the pop...

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6. Queer Idylls: Imposture, Inversion, Unknowing

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pp. 108-133

The experimental genre of the Gothic melodrama developed within the confines of a private estate, a secluded place transformed into a kind of delirium— a “silver planet”—by modes of poetic inscription associated with the antiquarian spirit of the age. An elaboration of what Addison called “the Fairy Way of Writing” thus converted a natural scene...

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7. Kitsching the Cantos: Totality, Fascism, and les Paradis Artificiels

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pp. 134-168

Kitsch in poetry became more and more widespread—principally through the cottage industry of parlor ballads and the cult of simplicity— during the nineteenth century, yet the basic verbal platform of kitsch established in the eighteenth century remained largely intact: imposture, archaism, sentimentality, stereotypical diction...

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8. Junk: A Shopper’s Guide to Poetic Language (and the New York School)

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pp. 169-209

For American poets, the traumatic legacy of Pound’s fascism and anti- Semitism converted the Cantos into a vast, partially abandoned minefield, riddled with hidden dangers and unspeakable ambitions. Any attempt to defend the Cantos could assess the poem only in fragments, thereby ignoring its scope as an epic, its synthetic powers, its vision of cultural...

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9. Inventing Clichés: The Lost Legacy of Baudelaire’s Muddy Halo

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pp. 210-230

In the final stage of my attempt to outline a genealogy of poetry and kitsch, I want to identify a somewhat anomalous source for the modern synthesis of kitsch and vanguard poetry, a source inspiring the paradis artificiel of Pound’s polarized epic poem but also prescribing the synthetic and poetic “debris” of the New York school: Baudelaire’s nakedly...

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pp. 231-242

At the beginning of this book, I promised that learning more about the submerged relationship between kitsch and poetry would revise significantly our assumptions about the nature of kitsch as a category of material culture. I also claimed that revealing this secret history would alter our assumptions about the development...


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pp. 243-288


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pp. 289-301

E-ISBN-13: 9781421411460
E-ISBN-10: 1421411466
Print-ISBN-13: 9781421411453
Print-ISBN-10: 1421411458

Page Count: 272
Illustrations: 53 b&w illus.
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Hopkins Studies in Modernism
Series Editor Byline: Douglas Mao, Series Editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 870305354
MUSE Marc Record: Download for My Silver Planet

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Subject Headings

  • Banality (Philosophy) in literature.
  • Kitsch in literature.
  • Poetry -- History and criticism.
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