Daily Archives: March 29, 2010

kitsch

A gasp of horror with the vocal catch of retching issued forth from the kitchen of Domus Logogustationis, the headquarters of the Order of Logogustation. I recognized Maury’s voice of dismay right away and went to have a look-see. There, in the kitchen, over a hutch, hung a diptych: a cricket match of fluffy kittens, and a poker game of puppies with bows on their heads.

“Who put the kitsch in the kitchen?!” Maury moaned, twitching.

“Which kitsch,” I said, unable to resist a chance to twist Maury’s knickers, “the kitten kitsch or the bitch kitsch?”

“Each. Both. Whatever! I know we’re not rich, but this gives me an itch – to pitch it in a ditch!”

“But it fills out this niche. Maybe adjust them a titch…”

Maury turned to look at me. “You didn’t do this, did you?”

“Oh, no,” I said, actually shivering a bit at the thought. “Perhaps they were picked up at Elisa’s kaffeeklatsch. Well, at least they match.”

Maury peered at them over the tops of his glasses – either for expressive effect, or just to see them less clearly; he’s unmistakeably myopic. “Kittens on a cricket pitch,” he said slowly. “I’d rather dispatch it down the coney hatch. The mutts, too. The worst sort of kitsch. Vulgar. Sentimental. Sickeningly saccharine. Wretched.”

“It’s funny,” I mused, “that something so invariably soapy, smeary, or fluffy as kitsch gets an unfluffy, unsoapy, unsmeary word like kitsch. I think our conversation has established how basically harsh and unpleasant that voiceless affricate is for a word ending. And the onset is the hardest phoneme going in English, /k/.”

“Ironic to say it’s unsmeary,” said Maury, “given that it comes from dialectal German kitschen, verb, ‘smear’.”

“Well, one does smear things in the kitchen,” I said.

“I’d rather have cockroach caca than this botch job. I mean,” he said, gesturing at the dog picture, “this one has taken archetypical schlock – C.M. Coolidge’s 1903 poker-playing dog series – and spatchcocked it with saccharine. The originals were done to sell cigars. These are not for the cigar crowd!”

“Curiously,” I said, “kitsch is only attested in English since the 1920s, if I recall correctly. …The word, I mean, of course. We’ve had the thing for much longer. Along with the words maudlin, mawkish, cloying, and tawdry.”

“Well, who knows what made kitsch catch on just then,” Maury said. He stepped forward, unhitched the kitten picture, and stood there for a moment, holding it, looking for a good place to stick it. “Hand me that butcher knife,” he said.

But just then Elisa came in. “Ah-ah-ahhh!” she sang, and snatched the picture from Maury. “Don’t touch!”

“You can’t be serious,” Maury said in a wounded voice as she replaced the picture.

“Oh,” Elisa chirped, “they won’t stay there forever. They’re on loan from my aunt. They’re just theme decoration for our upcoming vulgarity week.”

“Ross Ewage will oblige quite readily at the sight of these,” Maury rumbled.

“Kittens and vulgarity…” I smiled. “Never mind kitsch. Try Joel Veitch!” I went grabbed a slip of paper and wrote down a link for her: http://www.rathergood.com/Table/all_other_songs/ . “No kitsch there… but plenty of the other, unsentimental kind of vulgarity. And lots of kittens. If you don’t like the vulgar, you might want to skip the sweary kittens. And a few other things.” (This, by the way, is true: if you don’t like vulgarity, stick with his tamer pieces like Independent Woman.)