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My Silver Planet

A Secret History of Poetry and Kitsch

Reveals the hidden origins of kitsch in poetry from the eighteenth century.

Taking its title from John Keats, My Silver Planet contends that the problem of elite poetry’s relation to popular culture bears the indelible mark 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, by tracing its origin to poetry’s alienation from the emergent category of literature. Tiffany 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. In these controversial events of poetic imposture, Tiffany identifies a submerged pact—in opposition to the bourgeois values of literature—between elite and vernacular poetries.

Tiffany argues that the ballad revival—the earliest explicit formation of what we now call popular culture—sparked a perilous but seemingly irresistible flirtation (among elite audiences) 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 avant-garde 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.

About the Author

Daniel Tiffany is a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Southern California. He is the author of nine books of poetry and literary theory, including Infidel Poetics: Riddles, Nightlife, Substance and Neptune Park. He 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 a recipient of a Whiting Fellowship and the Berlin Prize from the American Academy in Berlin.

Reviews

"Tiffany is persuasive in arguing that the now ubiquitous idea of 'kitsch' originates in poetry, poetic language, and the articulated views of many players in the greater culture... The value of the book lies in application: understanding the origins of poetic 'kitsch' allows one to understand elite culture better and to use that knowledge as a link between elite culture and vernacular culture."

- Choice

"My Silver Planet offers a thrilling new way to read poetry from the past two hundred years."

- Mike Chaser - Poetry Magazine

"A strength of Tiffany’s book as a whole is that its history of the relationship of lyric poetry and kitsch from graveyard gothic to Pound reveals the pleasures and anxieties of an art forever seeking to justify its artifices in a natural authority, whether in the rhythms of labor, the rhythms of the sexual body, an essentialism of blood or land, or a totalitarian politics."

- John Wilkinson - Modern Philology

Endorsements

"Written with great verve, this lively successor to Infidel Poetics explores kitsch as a bridge between elite and vernacular poetics, exposing the historical role of poetry in the thinking of kitsch, from the ballad revival and forgeries of the eighteenth century to Pound and New York School poets. Tiffany’s irreverent challenge to modernist critique of kitsch generates a new story about the development of modern poetry."

- Jonathan Culler, Cornell University

"Daniel Tiffany’s My Silver Planet is the most exciting and original book on poetry, indeed one of the most exciting scholarly books on anything, I have read in years. Tiffany’s energy, innovation, ambition, and eloquence are exemplary, as are his vertiginous powers of explication and his negative capability. The book is both convincing and startling."

- Helen E. Deutsch, University of California, Los Angeles

"Kitsch is others' (inevitably weird or disgusting) enjoyment objects. I'm sorry to break it to the avant-garde, but in an ecological age—that is, an age that is genuinely post-modern (note the hyphen)—art will melt into kitsch, because there will be no single, authoritative scale from which to judge. Daniel Tiffany's brilliant and fresh analysis of kitsch is just what we require. Someone needed to go deep and delve into form rather than simply tossing opinions around. At last, Tiffany gives us a startling vocabulary for exploring kitsch's 'delirious substance.' And his long history of its origins is welcome indeed."

- Timothy Morton, Rice University

"In disclosing the obscured origins of kitsch in poetry (as opposed to industrial mass culture, as we have so often been told), Daniel Tiffany makes a truly new, startling, and convincing argument that dramatically overturns our basic understandings of both poetry and kitsch. He also unleashes a dazzling flood of other surprising literary-historical insights, including, above all, poetry’s deepest grounding in the dialectical relationship between obscurity and conventionality. Tiffany’s erudition is as stunning as his originality."

- Sianne Ngai, Stanford University, author of Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting
Johns Hopkins University Press
Hopkins Studies in Modernism
2013
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