[Msa-discuss] CFP: The Spectacle of Obscurity (MSA14)

Josh Schneiderman josh.schneiderman at gmail.com
Sat Mar 24 12:41:00 EDT 2012

The Spectacle of Obscurity

MSA 14, Las Vegas, October 18-21, 2012

“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
josh.schneiderman at gmail.com by April 3, 2012.
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