Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Kkkkultur: Kitsch & Camp in a la Recherche Du Temps Perdu (1)

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

Kkkkultur: Kitsch & Camp in a la Recherche Du Temps Perdu (1)

Article excerpt

Si quelqu'un disait le mot culture, elle l'arretait, souriait, allumait son beau regard, et lancait: "la KKKKultur", ce qui faisait rire les amis qui croyaient retrouver la l'esprit des Guermantes. Et certes c'etait le meme moule, la meme intonation, le meme sourire qui avaient ravi Bergotte, lequel, du reste, avait aussi garde ses memes coupes de phrase, ses interjections, ses points suspensifs, ses epithetes, mais pour ne rien dire. Mais les nouveaux venus s'etonnaient et parfois disaient, s'ils n'etaient pas tombes un jour ou elle etait drole et "en pleine possession de ses moyens": "Comme elle est bete!"

Marcel Proust, Le temps retrouve(1)

Je me demande encore ce que signifie l'emotion qui se manifeste en moi, en face d'une chanson inepte, de la meme facon que je fait la rencontre d'un chef-d'oeuvre reconnu.

Jean Genet, Notre-Dame-des-Fleurs(2)


A mispronunciation of "Culture," exclaimed from the crumbling lips of the Duchess de Guermantes as "KKKKultur," becomes a symbol of decaying spectacle, demystifying a bloated rhetoric: Kitsch. Aestheticians and cultural critics rumor that "they know it when they see it" and that "it's everywhere"; it, nevertheless, vanishes when shadowed. In Kitsch and Art, Czech critic Tomas Kulka illustrates this omnipresent, aesthetic phenomenon that has become "an integral part of our modern culture ... [found] everywhere ... [that] welcomes you to the restaurant, greets you at the bank, and smiles at you from advertising billboards, as well as from the walls of your dentist's waiting room."(3)

Setting itself apart from "Art," "Kitsch"(4) presupposes salutary divisions between the real and the fake, between the authentic and the inauthentic. Yet upon deeper inquiry, the "between" of these seemingly disparate categories blurs and exposes a general deficiency in aesthetic taxonomy. Consider that while a specious vocabulary defines "Kitsch," equivalent vagaries reassure the gazer, reader or listener that something else out there, some higher aesthetic law experiences desecration when hung in restaurants, banks, billboards, and waiting rooms. Should "common sense" continue to posit that the poetry of Rilke or Mallarme provokes more "honest" emotions as opposed to the "false" sentiments catalyzed by the vacuous verse on the cover of a Hallmark greeting card? Is there really some hidden, graspable aesthetic "oneness" to be found ... elsewhere?(5)

Definition of "Kitsch" eschews precision. Its outward show displays a prodigious range of manners which have been applied to describe various modern aesthetic (as well as non-aesthetic) phenomena in the past century. Campaigns attempting to classify Kitsch's "substance," its "essence," immediately discover the deceptive scope of its boundaries which refuse allegiance to one artistic medium, to one political, social or civic ideology, or to any identifiable movement in the artistic world.

The spectrum of its usage today extends anywhere/everywhere: It takes shape around the dissemination of statues of Lenin throughout the Soviet bloc, the unification of hordes of people under the swastika, the millenialism of the Branch Davidians, the idealism of democracy, or the Fantasia of Walt Disney.(6) Where Coca-Cola has usurped Marx, where Mozart now accompanies the witticisms of the Tidy-Toilet Bubble, and where the Pope's cranium crowns bottle-openers, "Kitsch" becomes an ideological sensibility.

I begin this essay, then, with a confession of utter irresolution on its very subject. I could easily rehash previous diatribes against "Kitsch" that tease it either as a mishap of "really bad taste,"(7) dissect it as "form at odds with functions,"(8) or damn it (and its clients) as sheer evil incarnated.(9) Unfortunately, such moralizing, critical philippics walk headlong into Kitsch's quite ingenious booby trap; a trap that shields itself against slander by avoiding any normative teleological pattern. …

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