Critical Theory in Visual Arts
Critical Theory in Visual Arts AVT 472
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Susan Sontag Notes On quotCampquot Notes On quotCampquot Susan Sontag Many things in the world have not been named and many things even if they have been named have never been described One of these is the sensibility unmistakably modern a valiant of sophistication but hardly identical with it that goes by the cult name of quotCampquot A sensibility as distinct from an idea is one of the hardest things to talk about but there are special reasons why Camp in particular has never been discussed It is not a natural mode of sensibility if there be any such Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural of artifice and exaggeration And Camp is esoteric something of a private code a badge of identity even among small urban cliques Apart from a lazy two page sketch in Christopher Isherwood s novel The World in the Evening 1954 it has hardly broken into print To talk about Camp is therefore to betray it If the betrayal can be defended it will be for the edification it provides or the dignity of the con ict it resolves For myself I plead the goal of self edification and the goad of a sharp conflict in my own sensibility I am strongly drawn to Camp and almost as strongly offended by it That is why I want to talk about it and why I can For no one who wholeheartedly shares in a given sensibility can analyze it he can only whatever his intention exhibit it To name a sensibility to draw its contours and to recount its history requires a deep sympathy modified by revulsion Though I am speaking about sensibility only and about a sensibility that among other things converts the serious into the frivolous these are grave matters Most people think of sensibility or taste as the realm of purely subjective preferences those mysterious attractions mainly sensual that have not been brought under the sovereignty of reason They allow that considerations of taste play a part in their reactions to people and to works of art But this attitude is na39139ve And even worse To patronize the faculty of taste is to patronize oneself For taste governs every free as opposed to rote human response Nothing is more decisive There is taste in people visual taste taste in emotion and there is taste in acts taste in morality Intelligence as well is really a kind of taste taste in ideas One of the facts to be reckoned with is that taste tends to develop very unevenly It s rare that the same person has good visual taste and good taste in people and taste in ideas Taste has no system and no proofs But there is something like a logic of taste the consistent sensibility which underlies and gives rise to a certain taste A sensibility is almost but not quite ineffable Any sensibility which can be crammed into the mold of a system or handled with the rough tools of proof is no longer a sensibility at all It has hardened into an idea To snare a sensibility in words especially one that is alive and powerfuli one must be tentative and nimble The form ofjottings rather than an essay with its claim to a linear consecutive argument seemed more appropriate for getting down something of this particular fugitive sensibility It s embarrassing to be solemn and treatise like about Camp One runs the risk of having oneself produced a very inferior piece of Camp These notes are for Oscar Wilde httpwwwtaocalemmingnotesoncamphtm 1 of 11 21 2003 94418 AM Susan Sontag Notes On quotCampquot quotOne should either be a work of art or wear a work of artquot Phrases amp Philosophies for the Use of the Young 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 quotcampyquot 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 Zuleika Dobson Tiffany lamps Scopitone films The Brown Derby restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in LA The Enquirer headlines and stories Aubrey Beardsley drawings Swan Lake Bellini s operas 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 Bumett stag movies seen without lust 5 Camp taste has an affinity for certain arts rather than others Clothes furniture all the elements of visual d cor for instance make up a large part of Camp For Camp art is often decorative art emphasizing texture sensuous surface and style at the expense of content Concert music though because it is contentless is rarely Camp It offers no opportunity say for a contrast between silly or extravagant content and rich form Sometimes whole art forms become saturated with Camp Classical ballet opera movies have seemed so for a long time In the last two years popular music post rock n roll what the French call y y has been annexed And movie criticism like lists of quotThe 10 Best Bad Movies I Have Seenquot is probably the greatest popularizer of Camp taste today because most people still go to the movies in a hi gh spirited and unpretentious way httpwwwtaocalemmingnotesoncamphtm 2 of 11 21 2003 94418 AM Susan Sontag Notes On quotCampquot 6 There is a sense in which it is correct to say quotIt s too good to be Camp quot Or quottoo importantquot not marginal enough More on this later Thus the personality and many of the works of Jean Cocteau are Camp but not those of Andre Gide the operas of Richard Strauss but not those of Wagner concoctions of Tin Pan Alley and Liverpool but notjazz Many examples of Camp are things which from a quotseriousquot point of view are either bad art or kitsch Not all though Not only is Camp not necessarily bad art but some art which can be approached as Camp example the major films of Louis Feuillade merits the most serious admiration and study quotThe more we study Art the less we care for Naturequot The Decay of Lying 7 All Camp objects and persons contain a large element of artifice Nothing in nature can be campy Rural Camp is still man made and most campy objects are urban Yet they often have a serenity or a naivet which is the equivalent of pastoral A great deal of Camp suggests Empson s phrase quoturban pastoral quot 8 Camp is a Vision of the world in terms of style but a particular kind of style It is the love of the exaggerated the quotoffquot of things being what they are not The best example is in Art Nouveau the most typical and fully developed Camp style Art Nouveau objects typically convert one thing into something else the lighting fixtures in the form of flowering plants the living room which is really a grotto A remarkable example the Paris Metro entrances designed by Hector Guimard in the late 1890s in the shape of cast iron orchid stalks 9 As a taste in persons Camp responds particularly to the markedly attenuated and to the strongly exaggerated The androgyne is certainly one of the great images of Camp sensibility Examples the swooning slim sinuous figures of pre Raphaelite painting and poetry the thin flowing sexless bodies in Art Nouveau prints and posters presented in relief on lamps and ashtrays the haunting androgynous vacancy behind the perfect beauty of Greta Garbo Here Camp taste draws on a mostly unacknowledged truth of taste the most refined form of sexual attractiveness as well as the most refined form of sexual pleasure consists in going against the grain of one s sex What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine Allied to the Camp taste for the androgynous is something that seems quite different but isn t a relish for the exaggeration of sexual characteristics and personality mannerisms For obvious reasons the best examples that can be cited are movie stars The corny flamboyant female ness of Jayne Mansfield Gina Lollobrigida Jane Russell Virginia Mayo the exaggerated he man ness of Steve Reeves Victor Mature The great stylists of temperament and mannerism like Bette Davis Barbara Stanwyck Tallulah Bankhead Edwige Feuilliere 10 Camp sees everything in quotation marks It s not a lamp but a quotlampquot not a woman but a quotwomanquot 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 11 Camp is the triumph of the epicene style The convertibility of quotmanquot and quotwomanquot quotpersonquot and quotthingquot But all style that is artifice is ultimately epicene Life is not stylish Neither is nature 12 The question isn t quotWhy travesty impersonation theatricalityquot The question is rather quotWhen does travesty impersonation theatricality acquire the special flavor of Campquot Why is the atmosphere of httpwwwtaocalemmingnotesoncamphtm 3 of 11 21 2003 94418 AM Susan Sontag Notes On quotCampquot Shakespeare s comedies As You Like It etc not epicene while that of Der Rosenkavalier is 13 The dividing line seems to fall in the 18th century there the origins of Camp taste are to be found Gothic novels Chinoiserie caricature artificial ruins and so forth But the relation to nature was quite different then In the 18th century people of taste either patronized nature Strawberry Hill or attempted to remake it into something artificial Versailles They also indefatigably patronized the past Today s Camp taste effaces nature or else contradicts it outright And the relation of Camp taste to the past is extremely sentimental 14 A pocket history of Camp might of course begin farther back with the mannerist artists like Pontormo Rosso and Caravaggio or the extraordinarily theatrical painting of Georges de La Tour or Euphuism Lyly etc in literature Still the soundest starting point seems to be the late 17th and early 18th century because of that period s extraordinary feeling for artifice for surface for symmetry its taste for the picturesque and the thrilling its elegant conventions for representing instant feeling and the total presence of character the epi gram and the rhymed couplet in words the flourish in gesture and in music The late 17th and early 18th century is the great period of Camp Pope Congreve Walpole etc but not Swift les pr cieux in France the rococo churches of Munich Pergolesi Somewhat later much of Mozart But in the 19th century what had been distributed throughout all of high culture now becomes a special taste it takes on overtones of the acute the esoteric the perverse Confining the story to England alone we see Camp continuing wanly through 19th century aestheticism Bume Jones Pater Ruskin Tennyson emerging full blown with the Art Nouveau movement in the visual and decorative arts and finding its conscious ideologists in such quotwitsquot as Wilde and Firbank 15 Of course to say all these things are Camp is not to argue they are simply that A full analysis of Art Nouveau for instance would scarcely equate it with Camp But such an analysis cannot ignore what in Art Nouveau allows it to be experienced as Camp AIt Nouveau is full of quotcontentquot even of a political moral sort it was a revolutionary movement in the arts spurred on by a Utopian vision somewhere between William Morris and the Bauhaus group of an organic politics and taste Yet there is also a feature of the Art Nouveau objects which suggests a disengaged unserious quotaesthete squot vision This tells us something important about Art Nouveau and about what the lens of Camp which blocks out content 1s 16 Thus the Camp sensibility is one that is alive to a double sense in which some 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 17 This comes out clearly in the vulgar use of the word Camp as a verb quotto campquot something that people do 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 quota campquot a duplicity is involved Behind the quotstraightquot public sense in which something can be taken one has found a private zany experience of the thing quotTo be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up quot An Ideal Husband httpwwwtaocalemmingnotesoncamphtm 4 of 11 21 2003 94418 AM Susan Sontag Notes On quotCampquot 18 One must distinguish between na39139ve and deliberate Camp Pure Camp is always naive Camp which knows itself to be Camp quotcampingquot is usually less satisfying 19 The pure examples of Camp are unintentional they are dead serious The Art Nouveau craftsman who makes a lamp with a snake coiled around it is not kidding nor is he trying to be charming He is saying in all earnestness Voila the Orient Genuine Camp for instance the numbers devised for the Warner Brothers musicals of the early thirties 42nd Street The Golddiggers of1933 of1935 of1937 etc by Busby Berkeley does not mean to be funny Camping say the plays of Noel Coward does It seems unlikely that much of the traditional opera repertoire could be such satisfying Camp if the melodramatic absurdities of most opera plots had not been taken seriously by their composers One doesn t need to know the artist s private intentions The work tells all Compare a typical 19th century opera with Samuel Barber s Vanessa a piece of manufactured calculated Camp and the difference is clear 20 Probably intending to be campy is always harmful The perfection of Trouble in Paradise and The Maltese Falcon among the greatest Camp movies ever made comes from the effortless smooth way in which tone is maintained This is not so with such famous would be Camp films of the fifties as All About Eve and Beat the Devil These more recent movies have their fine moments but the first is so slick and the second so hysterical they want so badly to be campy that they re continually losing the beat Perhaps though it is not so much a question of the unintended effect versus the conscious intention as of the delicate relation between parody and self parody in Camp The films of Hitchcock are a showcase for this problem When self parody lacks ebullience but instead reveals even sporadically a contempt for one s themes and one s materials as in To Catch a Thief Rear Window North by Northwest the results are forced and heavy handed rarely Camp Successful Camp a movie like Carn s Drole de Drame the film performances of Mae West and Edward Everett Horton portions of the Goon Show even when it reveals self parody reeks of self love 21 So again Camp rests on innocence That means Camp discloses innocence but also when it can corrupts it Objects being objects don t change when they are singled out by the Camp vision Persons however respond to their audiences Persons begin quotcampingquot Mae West Bea Lillie La Lupe Tallulah Bankhead in Lifeboat Bette Davis in All About Eve Persons can even be induced to camp without their knowing it Consider the way Fellini got Anita Ekberg to parody herself in La Dolce Vita 22 Considered a little less strictly Camp is either completely naive or else wholly conscious when one plays at being campy An example of the latter Wilde s epigrams themselves quotIt s absurd to divide people into good and bad People are either charming or tediousquot Lady Windemere s Fan 23 In na39139ve or pure Camp the essential element is seriousness a seriousness that fails Of course not all seriousness that fails can be redeemed as Camp Only that which has the proper mixture of the exaggerated the fantastic the passionate and the na39139ve 24 When something is just bad rather than Camp it s often because it is too mediocre in its ambition The artist hasn t attempted to do anything really outlandish quotIt s too muchquot quotIt s too fantasticquot quotIt s not to be believedquot are standard phrases of Camp enthusiasm httpwwwtaocalemmingnotesoncamphtm 5 of 11 212003 94418 AM Susan Sontag Notes On quotCampquot 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 d mesur in the quality of the ambition not only in the style of the work itself Gaudf 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 26 Camp is art that proposes itself seriously but cannot be taken altogether seriously because it is quottoo muchquot Titus Andronicas and Strange Interlude are almost Camp or could be played as Camp The public manner and rhetoric of de Gaulle often are pure Camp 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 quotoffquot they could be great Camp particularly Ivan the Terrible I amp 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 28 Again Camp is the attempt to do something extraordinary But extraordinary in the sense often of being special glamorous The curved line the extravagant gesture Not extraordinary merely in the sense of effort Ripley s Believe It Or Not items are rarely campy These items either natural oddities the two headed rooster the eggplant in the shape of a cross or else the products of immense labor the man who walked from here to China on his hands the woman who engraved the New Testament on the head of a pin lack the visual reward the glamour the theatricality that marks off certain extravagances as Camp 29 The reason a movie like On the Beach books like Winesbarg Ohio and For Whom the Bell Tolls are bad to the point of being laughable but not bad to the point of being enjoyable is that they are too dogged and pretentious They lack fantasy There is Camp in such bad movies as The Prodigal and Samson and Delilah the series of Italian color spectacles featuring the super hero Maciste numerous Japanese science fiction films Rodan The Mysterians The H Man because in their relative unpretentiousness and vulgarity they are more extreme and irresponsible in their fantasy and therefore touching and quite enjoyable 30 Of course the canon of Camp can change Time has a great deal to do with it Time may enhance what seems simply dogged or lacking in fantasy now because we are too close to it because it resembles too closely our own everyday fantasies the fantastic nature of which we don t perceive We are better able to enjoy a fantasy as fantasy when it is not our own httpwwwtaocalemmingnotesoncamphtm 6 of 11 212003 94418 AM Susan Sontag Notes On quotCampquot 31 This is why so many of the objects prized by Camp taste are old fashioned out of date d mod It s not a love of the old as such It s simply that the process of aging or deterioration provides the necessary detachment or arouses a necessary sympathy When the theme is important and contemporary the failure of a work of art may make us indignant Time can change that Time liberates the work of art from moral relevance delivering it over to the Camp sensibility Another effect time contracts the sphere of banality Banality is strictly speaking always a category of the contemporary What was banal can with the passage of time become fantastic Many people who listen with delight to the style of Rudy Vallee revived by the English pop group The Temperance Seven would have been driven up the wall by Rudy Vallee in his heyday Thus things are campy not when they become old but when we become less involved in them and can enjoy instead of be frustrated by the failure of the attempt But the effect of time is unpredictable Maybe Method acting James Dean Rod Steiger Warren Beatty will seem as Camp some day as Ruby Keeler s does now or as Sarah Bernhardt s does in the films she made at the end of her career And maybe not 32 Camp is the glorification of quotcharacterquot The statement is of no importance except of course to the person Loie Fuller Gaudf Cecil B De Mille Crivelli de Gaulle etc who makes it What the Camp eye appreciates is the unity the force of the person In every move the aging Martha Graham makes she s being Martha Graham etc etc This is clear in the case of the great serious idol of Camp taste Greta Garbo Garbo s incompetence at the least lack of depth as an actress enhances her beauty She s always herself 33 What Camp taste responds to is quotinstant characterquot this is of course very 18th century 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 theatricalization of experience embodied in the Camp sensibility And it helps account for the fact that opera and ballet are experienced as such rich treasures of Camp for neither of these forms can easily do justice to the complexity of human nature Wherever there is development of character Camp is reduced Among operas for example La Traviata which has some small development of character is less campy than Il Trovatore which has none quotLife is too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it quot Vera or The Nihilists 34 Camp taste turns its back on the good bad axis of ordinary aesthetic judgment 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 35 Ordinarily we value a work of art because of the seriousness and dignity of what it achieves We value it because it succeeds in being what it is and presumably in fulfilling the intention that lies behind it We assume a proper that is to say straightforward relation between intention and performance By such standards we appraise The Iliad Aristophanes plays The Art of the Fugue Middlemarch the paintings of Rembrandt Chartres the poetry of Donne The Divine Comedy Beethoven s quartets and among people Socrates Jesus St Francis Napoleon Savonarola In short the pantheon of high culture truth beauty and seriousness httpwwwtaocalemmingnotesoncamphtm 7 of 11 21 2003 94418 AM Susan Sontag Notes On quotCampquot 36 But there are other creative sensibilities besides the seriousness both tragic and comic of high culture and of the high style of evaluating people And one cheats oneself as a human being if one has respect only for the style of high culture whatever else one may do or feel on the sly For instance there is the kind of seriousness whose trademark is anguish cruelty derangement Here we do accept a disparity between intention and result I am speaking obviously of a style of personal existence as well as of a style in art but the examples had best come from art Think of Bosch Sade Rimbaud Jarry Kafka Artaud think of most of the important works of art of the 20th century that is art whose goal is not that of creating harmonies but of overstraining the medium and introducing more and more Violent and unresolvable subject matter This sensibility also insists on the principle that an oeuvre in the old sense again in art but also in life is not possible Only quotfragmentsquot are possible Clearly different standards apply here than to traditional high culture Something is good not because it is achieved but because another kind of truth about the human situation another experience of what it is to be human in short another valid sensibility is being revealed And third among the great creative sensibilities is Camp the sensibility of failed seriousness of the theatricalization of experience Camp refuses both the harmonies of traditional seriousness and the risks of fully identifying with extreme states of feeling 37 The first sensibility that of high culture is basically moralistic The second sensibility that of extreme states of feeling represented in much contemporary quotavant gardequot art gains power by a tension between moral and aesthetic passion The third Camp is wholly aesthetic 38 Camp is the consistently aesthetic experience of the world It incamates a victory of quotstylequot over quotcontentquot quotaestheticsquot over quotmoralityquot of irony over tragedy 39 Camp and tragedy are antitheses There is seriousness in Camp seriousness in the degree of the artist s involvement and often pathos The excruciating is also one of the tonalities of Camp it is the quality of excruciation in much of Henry James for instance The Europeans The Awkward Age The Wings of the Dove that is responsible for the large element of Camp in his writings But there is never never tragedy 40 Style is everything Genet s ideas for instance are very Camp Genet s statement that quotthe only criterion of an act is its elegancequot is virtually interchangeable as a statement with Wilde s quotin matters of great importance the vital element is not sincerity but stylequot But what counts finally is the style in which ideas are held The ideas about morality and politics in say Lady Windemere s Fan and in Major Barbara are Camp but notjust because of the nature of the ideas themselves It is those ideas held in a special playful way The Camp ideas in Our Lady of the Flowers are maintained too grimly and the writing itself is too successfully elevated and serious for Genet s books to be Camp 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 quotthe seriousquot One can be serious about the frivolous frivolous about the serious 42 One is drawn to Camp when one realizes that quotsincerityquot is not enough Sincerity can be simple philistinism intellectual narrowness httpwwwtaocalemmingnotesoncamphtm 8 of 11 21 2003 94418 AM Susan Sontag Notes On quotCampquot 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 quotI adore simple pleasures they are the last refuge of the complexquot A Woman ofNo Importance 45 Detachment is the prerogative of an elite and as the dandy is the 19th century s surrogate for the aristocrat in matters of culture so Camp is the modern dandyism Camp is the answer to the problem how to be a dandy in the age of mass culture 46 The dandy was overbred His posture was disdain or else ennui He sought rare sensations undefiled by mass appreciation Models Des Esseintes in Huysmans A Rebours Marius the Epicurean Val ry s Monsieur Teste He was dedicated to quotgood taste quot The connoisseur of Camp has found more ingenious pleasures Not in Latin poetry and rare wines and velvet jackets but in the coarsest commonest pleasures in the arts of the masses Mere use does not defile the objects of his pleasure since he learns to possess them in a rare way Camp Dandyism in the age of mass culture makes no distinction between the unique object and the mass produced object Camp taste transcends the nausea of the replica 47 Wilde himself is a transitional figure The man who when he first came to London sported a velvet beret lace shirts velveteen knee breeches and black silk stockings could never depart too far in his life from the pleasures of the old style dandy this conservatism is reflected in The Picture of Dorian Gray But many of his attitudes suggest something more modern It was Wilde who formulated an important element of the Camp sensibility the equivalence of all objects when he announced his intention of quotliving upquot to his blue and white china or declared that a doorknob could be as admirable as a painting When he proclaimed the importance of the necktie the boutonniere the chair Wilde was anticipating the democratic esprit of Camp 48 The old style dandy hated vulgarity The new style dandy the lover of Camp appreciates vulgarity Where the dandy would be continually offended or bored the connoisseur of Camp is continually amused delighted The dandy held a perfumed handkerchief to his nostrils and was liable to swoon the connoisseur of Camp sniffs the stink and prides himself on his strong nerves 49 It is a feat of course A feat goaded on in the last analysis by the threat of boredom The relation between boredom and Camp taste cannot be overestimated Camp taste is by its nature possible only in affluent societies in societies or circles capable of experiencing the psychopathology of affluence quotWhat is abnormal in Life stands in normal relations to Art It is the only thing in Life that stands in normal relations to Art quot A Few Maxims for the Instruction of the Over Educated httpwwwtaocalemmingnotesoncamphtm 9 of 11 21 2003 94418 AM Susan Sontag Notes On quotCampquot 50 Aristocracy is a position vis a vis culture as well as vis a vis power and the history of Camp taste is part of the history of snob taste But since no authentic aristocrats in the old sense exist today to sponsor special tastes who is the bearer of this taste Answer an improvised self elected class mainly homosexuals who constitute themselves as aristocrats of taste 51 The peculiar relation between Camp taste and homosexuality has to be explained While it s not true that Camp taste is homosexual taste there is no doubt a peculiar affinity and overlap Not all liberals are Jews but Jews have shown a peculiar affinity for liberal and reformist causes So not all homosexuals have Camp taste But homosexuals by and large constitute the vanguard and the most articulate audience of Camp The analogy is not frivolously chosen Jews and homosexuals are the outstanding creative minorities in contemporary urban culture Creative that is in the truest sense they are creators of sensibilities The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony 52 The reason for the flourishing of the aristocratic posture among homosexuals also seems to parallel the Jewish case For every sensibility is self serving to the group that promotes it Jewish liberalism is a gesture of self legitimization So is Camp taste which definitely has something propagandistic about it Needless to say the propaganda operates in exactly the opposite direction The Jews pinned their hopes for integrating into modern society on promoting the moral sense Homosexuals have pinned their integration into society on promoting the aesthetic sense Camp is a solvent of morality It neutralizes moral indignation sponsors playfulness 53 Nevertheless even though homosexuals have been its vanguard Camp taste is much more than homosexual taste Obviously its metaphor of life as theater is peculiarly suited as a justification and projection of a certain aspect of the situation of homosexuals The Camp insistence on not being quotseriousquot on playing also connects with the homosexual s desire to remain youthful Yet one feels that if homosexuals hadn t more or less invented Camp someone else would For the aristocratic posture with relation to culture cannot die though it may persist only in increasingly arbitrary and ingenious ways Camp is to repeat the relation to style in a time in which the adoption of style as such has become altogether questionable In the modem era each new style unless frankly anachronistic has come on the scene as an anti style quotOne must have a heart of stone to read the death of Little Nell without laughingquot In conversation 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 55 Camp taste is above all a mode of enjoyment of appreciation not judgment Camp is generous It httpwwwtaocalemmingnotesoncamphtm 10 of 11 21 2003 94418 AM