“To Be Natural Is Such A Difficult Pose To Keep Up”
Blockquotes excerpted from Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp,” dedicated to Oscar Wilde.
1. 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 stylization.
2. To emphasize style is to slight content, or to introduce an attitude which is neutral with respect to content. It goes without saying that the Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized — or at least apolitical.
3. Not only is there a Camp vision, a Camp way of looking at things. Camp is as well a quality discoverable in objects and the behavior of persons. There are “campy” movies, clothes, furniture, popular songs, novels, people, buildings. . . . This distinction is important. True, the Camp eye has the power to transform experience. But not everything can be seen as Camp. It’s not all in the eye of the beholder.
4. Random examples of items which are part of the canon of Camp:
The Brown Derby restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in LA
The Enquirer, headlines and stories
Aubrey Beardsley drawings
Visconti’s direction of Salome and ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore
certain turn-of-the-century picture postcards
Schoedsack’s King Kong
the Cuban pop singer La Lupe
Lynn Ward’s novel in woodcuts, God’s Man
the old Flash Gordon comics
women’s clothes of the twenties (feather boas, fringed and beaded dresses, etc.)
the novels of Ronald Firbank and Ivy Compton-Burnett
stag movies seen without lust
10. 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 theater.
25. The hallmark of Camp is the spirit of extravagance. Camp is a woman walking around in a dress made of three million feathers. Camp is the paintings of Carlo Crivelli, with their real jewels and trompe-l’oeil insects and cracks in the masonry. Camp is the outrageous aestheticism of Steinberg’s six American movies with Dietrich, all six, but especially the last, The Devil Is a Woman. . . . In Camp there is often something démesuré in the quality of the ambition, not only in the style of the work itself. Gaudí’s lurid and beautiful buildings in Barcelona are Camp not only because of their style but because they reveal — most notably in the Cathedral of the Sagrada Familia — the ambition on the part of one man to do what it takes a generation, a whole culture to accomplish.
27. A work can come close to Camp, but not make it, because it succeeds. Eisenstein’s films are seldom Camp because, despite all exaggeration, they do succeed (dramatically) without surplus. If they were a little more “off,” they could be great Camp – particularly Ivan the Terrible I & II. The same for Blake’s drawings and paintings, weird and mannered as they are. They aren’t Camp; though Art Nouveau, influenced by Blake, is.
What is extravagant in an inconsistent or an unpassionate way is not Camp. Neither can anything be Camp that does not seem to spring from an irrepressible, a virtually uncontrolled sensibility. Without passion, one gets pseudo-Camp — what is merely decorative, safe, in a word, chic. On the barren edge of Camp lie a number of attractive things: the sleek fantasies of Dali, the haute couture preciosity of Albicocco’s The Girl with the Golden Eyes. But the two things – Camp and preciosity – must not be confused.
41. 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.
42. One is drawn to Camp when one realizes that “sincerity” is not enough. Sincerity can be simple philistinism, intellectual narrowness.
43. 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.
44. 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.
54. The experiences of Camp are based on the great discovery that the sensibility of high culture has no monopoly upon refinement. Camp asserts that good taste is not simply good taste; that there exists, indeed, a good taste of bad taste. (Genet talks about this in Our Lady of the Flowers.) The discovery of the good taste of bad taste can be very liberating. The man who insists on high and serious pleasures is depriving himself of pleasure; he continually restricts what he can enjoy; in the constant exercise of his good taste he will eventually price himself out of the market, so to speak. Here Camp taste supervenes upon good taste as a daring and witty hedonism. It makes the man of good taste cheerful, where before he ran the risk of being chronically frustrated. It is good for the digestion.
I invite you to post your favorite campy shit here.
No need to explain why you think it’s camp, just do it.
Really, just like, go nuts.