This is a RetroRenovation rerun originally published Nov. 9, 2008.
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.
- Susan Sontag, Notes on “Camp”, 1964
Dan the Man at the Houston Architecture Info Forum recently linked to RetroRenovation.com with the following comment:
Here’s a neat blog on mid-century residential design. It tends towards the kitsch, but it recommends many resources and materials for appropriate renovations…
While I am truly grateful for the reco, I found myself reacting harshly at being called “kitsch” and the disparaging connotation. Hmmm. So what is kitsch…and should I care at being lumped in? I went over to Wikipedia to study etymology…
Of course, there was lots of discussion about avante-garde art and capitalist oppression of the masses… as expected. What really caught my attention, though, was this PostModern update, which to my mind, confirms that this blog is not kitsch – it’s camp. Of this – I am proud! Here’s more explanation for your Sunday Magazine reading. Warning: please caffeinate first, this is very “deep”:
With the emergence of Postmodernism in the 1980s, the borders between kitsch and high art became blurred again. One development was the approval of what is called “camp taste” – which can be related to but is not the same as Camp as a “gay sensibility.” Camp, in some circles, refers to an ironic appreciation of that which might otherwise be considered corny, such as singer/dancer Carmen Miranda with her tutti-frutti hats, or otherwise kitsch, such as popular culture events which are particularly dated or inappropriately serious, such as the low-budget science fiction movies of the 1950s and 60s. A hypothetical example from the world of painting would be a kitsch image of a deer by the lake. In order to make this Camp, one could paint a sign beside it, saying “No Swimming”. The majestical or romantic impression of a stately animal would be punctured through humour; the notion of an animal receiving a punishment for the breach of the rule is patently ludicrous. The original, serious sentimentality of the motif is neutralized, and thus it becomes Camp. Kitsch is never ironic. “Camp” is derived from the French slang term camper, which means “to pose in an exaggerated fashion.” Susan Sontag argued in her 1964 Notes on “Camp” that camp was an attraction to the human qualities which expressed themselves in “failed attempts at seriousness,” the qualities of having a particular and unique style and of reflecting the sensibilities of the era. It involved an aesthetic of artifice rather than of nature. Indeed, hard-line supporters of camp culture have long insisted that “camp is a lie that dares to tell the truth.”
More… on Susan Sontag and her role in all of this:
“Notes On “Camp”” is a well-known essay by Susan Sontag organized around 58 numbered theses. It was published in 1964 and was the author’s first contribution to the Partisan Review. The essay created a literary sensation and brought Sontag her first brush with intellectual notoriety. It was published in 1966 in book form in Sontag’s debut collection of essays, Against Interpretation (ISBN 0-87052-352-X).
The essay codified and mainstreamed the cultural connotations of the word camp, and identified camp’s evolution as a distinct aesthetic phenomenon.
- 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.
- 9. 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.
- 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. [ Yes!]
- 18. One must distinguish between naïve and deliberate Camp. Pure Camp is always naïve. Camp which knows itself to be Camp (“camping”) is usually less satisfying.
- 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. ["Yes!"]
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. [Update: Dan the Man actually saw this post and emailed me to say he kind of just used the term casually. No insult intended. In any case, it was fun to explore the difference between camp and kitsch...]