Dark Tongues: The Art of Rogues and Riddlers


Product Details

$29.95  $27.85
Zone Books
Publish Date
6.1 X 9.0 X 1.0 inches | 1.1 pounds

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About the Author

Daniel Heller-Roazen is the Arthur W. Marks '19 Professor of Comparative Literature and the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University. He is the author of Echolalias: On the Forgetting of Language; The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation; The Enemy of All: Piracy and the Law of Nations; and The Fifth Hammer: Pythagoras and the Disharmony of the World, all published by Zone Books.


In his fascinating Dark Tongues--which might be construed as either a highly episodic history or a collection of case studies ranging across eras and cultures--Heller-Roazen investigates this tendency, paying particular attention to those instances when secret language becomes intertwined, if not interchangeable, with poetry.

--Elizabeth Schambelan, Bookforum

Dark Tongues is a study in 11 essays of the history of occulting language, from criminal slang of the Middle Ages to Tristan Tzara's positing, in the late 1950s, a secret poetic tongue unnoticed by literary historians. Heller-Roazen is an elegant and erudite scholar, author of books about the history of the senses, the way languages die, and the figure of the pirate in the era of nation-states....Look again at turns of phrase and thought that we dismiss as cant, and in light of Heller-Roazen's history of elite and hidden speech we may have to ask uncomfortable questions.


It is the strength of Dark Tongues that it embraces and inspires multi- and interdisciplinary approaches to language in its literary and spoken forms. Heller-Roazen charts an intriguing and unique path through the history of secret language use and interpretation, with the result that, for once, readers will delight in what lies in plain view.

--Times Literary Supplement

After reading Dark Tongues, one can no longer underestimate such varieties of speech as slang, jargon and thieves' cant. For this reason alone this book is to be emphatically recommended. But also because it casts a new light on the meaning and function of language for that which we are--a new and aesthetic light, which is all too often obscured in the scholarly world.

--Eva-Maria Engelen, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

On this learned itinerary, Daniel Heller-Roazen deciphers the most obscure of poems and jargons, touching upon the truth of language...Part rogue, part riddler: here the wise Comparative Literature professor may have painted his self-portrait.

--Mathieu Potte-Bonneville, Le Monde