Respect to Daniel Tiffany for his Infidel Poetics. I measure its brilliance by its subtitle – subtitles are such an interesting genre, they peek out of the pockets of the author’s intention and make faces at the reader, they are little gremlins, or tells, or the overflow that escaped the editor’s “delete”, the Id making tracks for the Golden West: “Riddles, Nightlife, Substance.” A train of associations that seems to have gone way off the track and landed in Oz.
One of the other measures of a book, for me, is its quotes. You gotta quote right. Many academics think quoting is just credentialing, so they quote the silliest things: As X said, New York is the first postmodern town. Etc. You want to say, is X always so boring? But Tiffany, who is also a poet, quotes brilliant and delightful things – finds. The difference between a quote that is credentialing and a quote that is a find is the difference between a stamp collection and buried treasure.
Here is something Tiffany found in Mallarme, of all peeps.
“Indeed, one of Mallarmé’s songs from the nursery discloses the contagious effect of the rhyme’s illogic on the translator. Mallarmé adopted the practice of presenting the English song followed by his prose rendering of it in French (which I translate below):
Hey! diddle, diddle,
The cat and the ﬁddle,
The cow jumped over the moon;
The little dog laughed
To see such sport
While the dish ran after the spoon.
What a strange scene! Look at the cat with his violin—and that’s not all: there’s the moon, and a cow jumping right over it! I act like the little dog, laughing hard to see such foolishness. And then it seemed to me, as I contemplated this spectacle, that my ideas ran away with themselves, one after another, just as—in the words of the song—the dish runs after the spoon. Hey! diddle, diddle.’”
Mallarme, the unapproachable, becomes, unexpectedly, your favorite uncle.
Tiffany is much impressed by the effect of the hey diddle diddle, which runs, like that dish and spoon, through the poetry of modernism, lickety-split.