Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Sontag on "Camp" - Note 1

Susan Sontag

I was reading about Lisa Cohen's book All We Know: Three Lives, in a New York Times review by M. G. Lord, "More Notes on Camp" (October 5, 2012), when I was captivated by a partial quote from Susan Sontag on "camp," which she defined as:
"seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon."
I knew of Sontag's essay "Notes on 'Camp,'" maybe had even read it in my callow youth as a young graduate student at UC Berkeley in Martin Jay's class, but I wanted to see the entire quote, so I stopped reading and looked up the 1964 essay, discovering that the quote was taken from her first note on camp:
"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."
I think that's brilliantly right. Sontag is almost always brilliant, and too often brilliantly wrong, but she's brilliantly right this time. I'm sure I must have read that line in my youth and failed to be dazzled. I now know more, both intellectually and practically, even something about art, so I've come to appreciate what I must once have missed. So much of art is now identical with what Sontag termed "camp," aesthetic not in terms of beauty, but of artifice and stylization. I mean that purely as an objective point.

Speaking of "camp," I awoke this morning from a rather 'campy' dream of people dressed (and partly undressed!) in extravagantly stylized manner, caught up in a complex artifice of interrelationships, and engaged in seducing, betraying, and disappointing one another in various artful ways. This dream of great complexity ended with Lillian Hellman complaining to me that her memoirs were missing because her best friend had stolen the just-finished manuscript she'd left unattended while going to the kitchen to brew a strong cup of coffee. I wanted to offer words of comfort, but all I could come up with echoed Mary McCarthy: "But your memoir is a lie! Every word you write is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'!" I didn't want to insult her to her face, however, since she's long dead, so I disincarnated myself from the mechanics of that complex plot by waking up instead.

My deus 'exit' machina . . .

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At 2:09 PM, Blogger dhr said...

Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization

A question about language: Why should a world seen in terms of artifice and stylization be called "camp"? The word would usually suggest something completely different --- or is this just my ignorance?

At 7:00 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I don't yet know, but I'll try to find out.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps "campy" would have been a better word to choose in this case, however; the slang definition if "camp" is: "something cute and out of fashion; something of such an anachronistic style as to be intriguing. : Nobody really knows what style camp really is, and very few even care.
and campy. overdone; out of fashion and intriguing. : Most camp entertainment is pretentious and overdrawn.
having to do with homosexual persons and matters. : She is so camp, I could scream!"

Even though "cammpy" also refers to describing those of LGBT nature, it also has the following definition; "consciously artificial, exaggerated, vulgar, or mannered; self-parodying, esp when in dubious taste"

I had to read this a time or two before understanding it as well.


At 8:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry - should have been definition OF "camp" and finger dwelled too long when typing "campy"


At 10:34 PM, Blogger dhr said...

many thanks, Jay

At 3:02 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I took Dario's query to be an etymological one, so I looked into the issue.

Here are a British man's speculations, which include an intriguing possibility: "a dialect word camp or kemp, meaning rough or uncouth."

The etymological dictionary might offer more on this point on "camp": "'tasteless,' 1909, homosexual slang, perhaps from mid-17c. Fr. camper 'to portray, pose' (as in se camper 'put oneself in a bold, provocative pose'); popularized 1964 by Susan Sontag's essay "Notes on Camp." Campy is attested from 1959."

If the original meaning were "tasteless," then the English dialect term seems plausible.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:52 AM, Blogger dhr said...

many thanks to you too, Jeffery. yes, the etymological side of it is most welcome.

At 6:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But what about 72520?


At 6:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, what about that? I imagine we're all puzzled, for it's obviously some sort of code. Or should we just zip our lips in silence?

Jeffery Hodges

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