The Spectacle of Obscurity

Daniel Tiffany

in Infidel Poetics

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780226803098
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226803111 | DOI:
The Spectacle of Obscurity

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Obscurity is a way of making things disappear with words. At the same time, disappearance becomes a legible, material event through the verbal craft of obscurity. Indeed, crafting obscurity in a poem perfects the palpable art of disappearance. Poetry, by analogy, may be said to produce certain obscurity effects. One could also contend that these “obscurity effects” betray a model of expression mirroring the inexplicit relations among individuals forming a secret society—a world apart from the world—but also the occult relations between discontinuous worlds. This chapter explores different hypotheses of obscurity effects and the general “uncertainty of meaning” associated with verbal obscurity—viewed from the vantage point of the dominant, or literate, social class. In addition, with modern poetry's deliberate cultivation and rationalization of obscurity (starting with Romanticism), the spectacle of lyric obscurity projects itself more broadly as a symptom of social alienation and therefore as an element in the social economy. The phenomenology of lyric obscurity remains relatively constant across the conventionally formidable boundaries between literary and vernacular poetries—even as vernacular obscurity vividly and alluringly marks the horizons of class identity.

Keywords: obscurity effects; Romanticism; poetry; poetic obscurity; slang; lyric obscurity; obscurantism; cultural obscurity

Chapter.  8708 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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