Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Baker's Dozen Of Notes From SS's Notes On Camp

Fig. 1. Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres - Roger délivrant Angélique, 1819

1. '[The] essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.'

2. 'To start very generally: Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylisation.

To emphasise style is to slight content, or to introduce an attitude which is neutral with respect to content. It goes without saying that Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticised - or at least apolitical.'

3. 'As a taste in persons … a relish for the exaggeration of sexual characteristics and personality mannerisms … corny flamboyant femaleness … exaggerated he-man-ness.'

4. 'Camp sees everything in quotation marks. It’s not a lamp, but a “lamp”; not a woman, but a “woman”. To perceive Camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-Playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theatre.

Camp is the triumph of the epicene style. (The convertibility of “man” and “woman”, “person” and “thing”.) But all style, that is, artifice, is, ultimately, epicene. Life is not stylish. Neither is nature.'

6. 'Thus, the Camp sensibility is one that is alive to a double sense in which the same things can be taken. But this is not the familiar split-level construction of a literal meaning, on the one hand, and a symbolic meaning, on the other. It is the difference, rather, between the thing as meaning something, anything, and the thing as pure artifice.

To camp is a mode of seduction - one which employs flamboyant mannerisms susceptible of a double interpretation: gestures full of duplicity, with a witty meaning for cognoscenti and another, more impersonal, for outsiders. Equally and by extension, when the word becomes a noun, when a person or a thing is “camp”, a duplicity is involved. Behind the “straight” public access in which something can be taken, one has found a private zany experience of the thing.'

7. 'The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance.'

8. 'Camp is art that proposes itself seriously, but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is “too much”.'

9. 'What Camp taste responds to is “instant character” … and, conversely, what it is not stirred by is the sense of the development of character. Character is understood as a state of continual incandescence - a person being one, very intense thing. This attitude toward character is a key element of the theatricalisation of experience embodied in the Camp sensibility … Wherever there is development of character, Camp is reduced.'

10. 'Camp taste turns its back on the good-bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgement. Camp doesn’t reverse things. It doesn’t argue that the good is bad, or the bad is good. What it does is to offer for art (and life) a different - a supplementary - set of standards.'

11. 'Camp is the consistently aesthetic experience of the world. It incarnates a victory of “style” over “content”, “aesthetics” over “morality”, of irony over tragedy.'

12. 'The whole point of Camp is to dethrone the serious. Camp is playful, anti-serious. More precisely, Camp involves a new, more complex relation to “the serious”. One can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious.

One is drawn to Camp when one realises that “sincerity” is not enough. Sincerity can be philistinism, intellectual narrowness.

The traditional means for going beyond straight seriousness - irony, satire - seem feeble today, inadequate to the culturally oversaturated medium in which contemporary sensibility is schooled. Camp introduces a new standard: artifice as an ideal, theatricality.

Camp proposes a comic vision of the world. But not a bitter or polemical comedy. If tragedy is an experience of hyperinvolvement, comedy is an experience of underinvolvement, of detachment.'

13. 'Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation - not judgement. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy. It only seems like malice, cynicism.) Or, if it is cynicism, it’s not a ruthless but a sweet cynicism.) Camp taste doesn’t propose that it is in bad taste to be serious; it doesn’t sneer at someone who succeeds in being seriously dramatic. What it does is to find the success in certain passionate failure.

Camp is a kind of love, love for human nature. It relishes, rather than judges, the little triumphs and awkward intensities of “character” … Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. People who share this sensibility are not laughing at the thing they label as “camp”, they’re enjoying it. Camp is a tender feeling.'

Susan Sontag (from Notes on Camp)