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The Spectacle of Obscurity, MSA 14 (Las Vegas, October 18-21, 2012)
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“In popular music today,” Daniel Tiffany observes at the opening of Infidel Poetics (2009), “there is a flourishing market in poetic obscurity—-in lyrics composed in various kinds of slang, jargon, or patois, which make little or no sense to most listeners.” For Tiffany, this lyric obscurity—-a phenomenon he traces from the Sphinx’s riddle to the underworld practice of canting speech to Mallarmé’s prose—-is precisely the condition for the “celebrity and publicity” of such texts: the uninitiated reader or listener “is willing to pay for the pleasure of cruising the unknown in a text.”
In Tiffany’s account, then, the obscure is inherently spectacular. But modernist studies has yet to contend fully with his argument, which offers a reassessment of the history of lyric poetry and a powerful critique of notions like difficulty and privacy. This panel invites papers that respond to, build on, or propose challenges to this account of the relationship between obscurity, spectacle, and the public. How, for example, might we reread the canonical and non-canonical writers of international modernism within the genealogy of lyric obscurity? How does the concept of obscurity augment our understanding of vernacular modernisms? How has obscurity contributed to the modernist cultures of celebrity and publicity so rigorously explored in recent studies like Aaron Jaffe’s Modernism and the Culture of Celebrity (2005) and Jonathan Goldman’s Modernism is the Culture of Celebrity (2011)? What is the role of obscurity in exhibitions of modern and contemporary art? What kinds of expressive communities do obscure texts and artworks entail? Papers from all disciplines dealing with all media and genres are welcomed.
Please send 300-word abstracts and a short bio to firstname.lastname@example.org by March 30, 2012.