CAMP

Camp just IS. You SENSE  and FEEL it; or u don’t. Being gay helps-from my experience, it is largely confined to a same-sex affect/gay sensibility; OR, more inclusively, a more broadly defined queer way of looking at life in all its contapuntally harmonic and discordant parallel voices( for example camp can be genuinely moving, at the same time as being tacky: it inhabits the poignant and tacky space/two voices at the same time: cf. Shirley Bassey).

Some people have difficulty with camp.

1.They confuse it with kitsch, which is plain bad taste, so bad its just BAD, eg. flying ducks on the wall. Camp is so bad its-somehow-good(examples later)

2. there is sometimes a subtle heterosexist, or even homophobic, fear around camp; its seen, usually subconsciously(by the perceiver) as, in some way, “co-opting” heterosexuality for its own gay/queer “ends”, viz. as a “corruption” or a reclamation, in some undefined, unspecified way, of, for, example, a literary text:eg. a passage may be vociferously claimed to be just amusing/witty; not camp.

To ME, camp means

1. bathos, that is, understatement

2. mismatch of means to ends (or emotional content),eg. the vamp-till-ready, oom-pah-pah-pah-pah accompaniments to many Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini and early Verdi opera arias, wherin someone is about to kill themselves or someone else. In other words, the musical MEANS (the silly, joyous camp accompanying figuration)does certainly NOt match the message-death- and therby lies the camp. This kind of vamping harmonic accompaniment to the singers, is of course, also a musical convention of the time, which muddies the waters somewhat; and, also, composers of then(early to mid nineteenth century)and earlier(Baroque era) often re-used, in operas with tragic subjects, from those with comedic subjects!A specific musical example is the “Cum Sanctu Spiritu” from the “Petite Messe Solennelle” by Rossini, where a marvellously jaunty, vampy, fugal melody accompanies the words “with the holy spirit”: (established) religious camp-oh scenario sans precedent! oh sacrilege!Jesus would have loved it:its sheer joy.

Anyway, I have undermined my point by EXPLAINING(away?) camp. Best to give some examples:

1.A passage like this:”fabio lay nude on his living room floor while I struggled to play the Scriabin ‘Black Mass Sonata’. Scriabin requires a teacher’s nudity for reasons I can’t explain: Ajaccio violets, tropical stars… He called my playing ‘fatally hesitant’. He thinks I should play Bartok’s ‘Diary of a Fly’ instead. Anything can qualify as a god, if I am in the mood for Worship”(Wayne Koestenbaum,”Moira Orfei in Aigues Mortes”,pp.73/4, 2004, which must be one of the campest books written).exercise:Why is this camp?If u cannot FEEL/SENSE, it is best not to attempt to analyse. Or is this unfair, can people DEVELOP a camp sensibility if openminded enough? perhaps sometimes.

{2.”Casta Diva”, Bellini, “Norma, is not[quite?] camp. Why not|?}

3.Spagna- her 80s disco anthem “Call Me”(on You-Tube!); or is this SO bad its just plain rubbish. It FEELS camp, not (just) kitsch to me, though, intellectually, I THINK(head versus heart and sensibility) is just rubbish, bad taste . Cf. Sinitta, another 80s(gay) disco diva.

4.(established) High church Anglican religious ritual-incense, elaborate vestments. But, of course, there CANNOT be sublimation going on here and NO priests or vicars could possibly be gay!

………………………………………………………………

Perhaps make up your OWN list of camp  artefacts, music, literary passages, music etc etc; or say what camp means to YOU!

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About decayetude

ENTHUSIASMS: CLASSICAL MUSIC, ESPECIALLY OBSCURE ROMANTIC COMPOSERS; BACH/HANDEL LITERATURE, ESPECIALLY THOUGHTFUL, WELL-WRITTEN(STYLISTICALLY)NOVELS W G SEBALD WALTER BENJAMIN THEODOR ADORNO(JUST BEGINNING!) AESTHETIC PHILOSOPHY GAY MEN'S WRITING;QUEER THEORY STIMULATING DISCUSSIONS(EMOTIONALLY AND INTELLECTUALLY) GOOD RICH THICK ESPRESSO MICHAEL PONTI SPRITUALITY/LIFE'S "AURA"(BENJAMIN), WHATEVER TRANSCENDENTAL THING YOU WANT TO CALL THIS MEMORY-the elusiveness thereof. LOST TIME AND AN ATTEMPT AT ITS REDEMPTION(NON THEISTICALLY/RELIGIOUSLY)
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3 Responses to CAMP

  1. Merry says:

    So, Steve, I’ve just finished off (this was breakfast) the opening of Wayne Koestenbaum’s “Andy Warhol.” I very much appreciate his playfulness. Love the sentence “Sleep is a wake” in Wayne’s discussion of Andy’s father’s death — after which the body lay in the house three days — and Andy’s later film (three hours long?) of a man asleep.

    The subject of camp of I haven’t given much thought to. I’m afraid — I’m sorry — but I feel overwhelmed by the pain behind it.

    But I do also feel the power in the subversion and irreverence.

    Give me some time. I’ll think more and write more and email you.

    Love, Merry

    • Johnnyboy says:

      I once read an explanation of ‘camp’ which has stayed with me: “Treating the trivial as serious, and the serious as trivial”. For example, the Eurovision Song Contest and any number of musical comedies fall into the former category. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence would, in my opinion, fall into the latter category as they ironically send up and thus undermine the power of the Church and its centuries-old repression of homosexuality and promotion of guilt. Giving feminine pet names to dangerous right-wing politicians or subverting homophobic comedians by reviewing them with a line like “Laugh? I nearly started. . .” would also fall into this category of using irony to point out and yet also undermine something really quite nasty.

      I am not sure that I agree with your differentiation between ‘camp’ and kitsch’. I feel that not all bad taste is kitsch, and kitsch is often very similar to camp – maybe we just have different views as to the definition of ‘kitsch’.

      I do like your reference to camp inhabiting the poignant and tacky spaces simultaneously. That does ring true. It reminds me of Judy Garland, for example, and Hilda Ogden crying over dead Stan’s spectacles and suddenly becoming Everywoman instead of a cartoon character. I also recall Harvey Fierstein’s amazing mnologue at the start of ‘Torch Song Trilogy’, ramping up your emotion and then deflating at the last with his line “I can nver wear flats again”.

  2. decayetude says:

    Thanks for ur comments and the lovely, detailed examples.
    I thought about kitsch; and, I actually agree, having thought about it: some things can just be in such bad taste that they are just awful, bad taste, “n.a.f.f “(normal as fuck); and I, myself, am not wholly clear on the distinction between camp and kitsch at times. I suppose, its ultimately what feels kitsch and/or camp to the individual, as these definitions do seem contested, to a degree, anyway.
    I found interesting the political or ant-established-religion(not personal beliefs)subversiveness element to camp; obviously absoloutely crucual and had not thought of that; I had never even HEARD of giving camp names to right-wing offensive/homophobic politicians; rock on, sister:)
    By the way, I “joined” your blog; what does this actually mean? it didnt say I get updates, so how DO I get updates, or do i get them automaticaly through having “joined”? Anyway,is good you have one; all the best people do:):P.Love Steve

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