Poetry & kitsch

Sent this comment to the 2nd in a series of long posts from a work-in-progress by Daniel Tiffany, conveyed by Don Share at his blog (Squandermania) :

"Very interesting subject.... & Mr. Tiffany covers a lot of ground, reconfigures a lot of received notions about kitsch.

Not sure I would want to identify the "poetic" so directly with the values of kitsch, however. Kitsch - in the sense of a mindlessly-manufactured product of mass commercial appeal, which reproduces (simulates) authentic art - ie. the binary kitsch/art - seems analogous to Coleridge's binary fancy/ imagination, in that the products of fancy are somewhat superficial & calculated rhetorical ornaments - frills, let's say - as opposed to the organic-formative-substantial structures of imagination. And for Coleridge the synthetic (as in "synthesis", not "artifice") power of the imagination to unite disparate aspects of experience into meaningful intellectual wholes is the essential mode & purpose of poetry. Poetry exhibits a vivid vitality which stems from its emotional empathy with that which is depicted - powers of ethos & pathos which are absent from many streams of analytical prose.

This whole discussion might well be framed by attention to an incisive study of 40 yrs ago by Harold Fisch, Jerusalem and Albion. Fisch begins with a critique of Eliot's rendering of the famous "dissociation of sensibility". The real split between poetry and prose occurred BEFORE the 18th-cent. flowering of bourgeois literature, which is the period of Tiffany's focus. The split began under the impact of dual 17th-cent. phenomena : 1) Baconian scientism, with its suspicion of language in general and of rhetoric and poetry in particular, and its desire to supplant them with a mode of "pure" scientific observation; 2) Puritan iconoclasm, with its emphasis on virtuous "plain speech" as opposed to the snares of flowery rhetoric, luxurious poetry. As Fisch demonstrates, when Baconian scientism melded with Puritan suspicion of language, a tremendously powerful anti-poetic animus was infused into the intellectual-cultural make-up of English-speaking society : an ironic situation which involved the elision or avoidance of the main stream of poetic sensibility and eloquence (the King James Bible). The repercussions of this fundamental divide are in very clear evidence in the stance and ideology of William Blake, for one example, with his "prophetic" attacks on Locke & Newton, etc.

This, it seems to me, is the locus of the real battle between poetry and prose, even today : it has less to do with the maneuvers of "fancy" (kitsch) than with the ontological (& social) status of the imagination."

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