Infidel Lyric: The Rhymes of the Canting Crew

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:
Infidel Lyric: The Rhymes of the Canting Crew

Show Summary Details


This chapter focuses on a particular genre in the vernacular tradition of poetry: songs written in the jargon of the criminal underworld. As a literary phenomenon, the inscrutability of this jargon to outsiders is itself worthy of attention, yet it also serves as an index of the broader spectrum of lyric obscurity in the vernacular tradition. Some passages in these infidel songs are perfectly opaque—unintelligible—to an outsider. They often suggest that the inaccessibility of songs written in cant, like the ontological obscurity of the riddle, serves to model a kind of abject sociability, as well as the discontinuous substance of the monadology. The chapter emphasizes the correlation between lyric and sociological obscurities, especially the unavoidable obscurity introduced by the element of slang, which links the songs of various social underworlds to the productive obscurity of vernacular lyric in general. Further, it considers that lyric obscurity—that is, the substance of lyric expression—may be viewed, not as an obstacle to fashioning social relations, as it is conventionally regarded, but rather as an element essential to the formation of communities marked at once by secrecy and transmissibility.

Keywords: vernacular tradition; jargon; underworld; ontological obscurity; cant; abject sociability; monadology; poetic obscurity; slang; lyric obscurity

Chapter.  10305 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.