CAMP IS POLITICAL AND SUBVERSIVE.BY STEVEN BENSON

I state my argument against Susan Sontag(“Notes on Camp”, 1964, collected in “Against Interpretation”), who says:”camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticised-or at least apolitical”[which I take to mean politically neutral]

We must , of course, take account of the fact that she was writing three years before the implementation of the Woolfenden report, which, from 1967, made male homosexual acts between consenting adults(only two at a time and behind a locked door with a Yale lock!)legal; so she  may have had the censor/legal action in mind.So there could, ironically, be a subtext to the text about  camp itself!

But taking the text at face value,I would like to challenge this on the deepest level on these grounds:

1. Pre the enactment of the Woolfenden report into law,camp (and, for example,gay sub/meta/parallel texts in literature-with varying degrees of covertness)was really the only significant way of expressing legally and societally forbidden love. One of its components was Polari:a secret, homosexual language spoken between those “in the know”, eg “vada bona polone”(“Look at that goodlooking man”), wherby homosexual men could speak in public places about their desires, when they risked violence or prison if they were open.

{Going along the winding trajectory of a subjective rhizome, at this point,you will note I havent defined camp;well if you look at this post you will see why an attempt at such a definition/”definition” is in itself, and by the very nature of camp itself, a moot point, a kind of oxymoron, because, prima facie, it is something you FEEL rather than intellectualise about and dissect and analyse:https://towardsutopia.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/camp/; I hope to develop fuller thoughts on examples of camp, as I (PERSONALLY)experience them at a later juncture}

So, Polari or a certain gesture (eg a discreet, knowing backwards glance at someone sexually interesting who was walking by), which only a homosexual would recognise, could be the cue for a conversation between two people or an initiation of a sexual contact. (Polari is in itself camp because it is a a sort of hybrid between pidgin Latin and its own language!).A mincing gait, drag, or, to go back to Wildean days, a Green carnation, were other camp ways of acknowledgement. Again, I hope to write on how camp became queer.

2.But I shall now pre-empt this link by saying that camp(be it in a private language, or a Firbankian subtext fulsome with artifice and extravagance, or a love of early/mid nineteenth century italian opera)was THE only way to subvert/protest against the heteropatriarchal hegemony, virulently prevalent, through the law, politics, social attitudes and (established) religion(though, ironically, most gay priests/vicars developed their own well-developed sense of theatrical camp through elaborate rituals, nominally backed up by theistical dogma/doctrine!). So, in an era when Peter Tatchell would have been locked up for openly speaking about what were then known as homosexual rights,this was the sole relatively risk-free form of protest. In fact, Peter Wildeblood, my ultimate hero, the only openly gay man to give an apologia for homosexuality at the Woolfenden hearings, WAS indeed locked up for attending a putative( if small) homosexual “orgy”: locked up in “Wormwood Scrubs”(as reported in his moving “Against the Law”, 1955)

But camp was also a precursor of lgbt rights protest and queer thinking: because it de-stabilised and, in a subtle, discreet way, de-privileged heternormativity, in its very existence (however subtextual/covert/in a private language),JUST BY EXISTING and flourishing subculturally.

I mentioned (Italian nineteenth century in particular)opera:the post linked to above gives some explication of WHY Bellini, Donizetti and early /mid Verdi are often camp; but, socially, subculturally, and therefore politically, opera has , for many years throughout illegality, and since, been a way of bringing gay men together. It also MIRRORS the artifice of some of the “affected” gaits and manners of the homosexual men of the time in its artifice and stylisation and constructedness. So it was-is- another way of likeminds being able to communicate and meet(Read Wayne Koestenbam, “The Queens throat”,1993, for some quirky, early queer thoughts on gay men/queens and  opera).

So, camp, in its many manifestations-aesthetic/physical gesture/language-was VERY political; it was the only way to self-identify and identify to other homosexual men in an age of illegality; and it still has an important place(to be developed in the links with queer post- in both its senses, sexual orientation non-binary thinking , and general quirkiness/difference/other/genderqueer-think travesty roles of women dressed as men, in Mozart et al). It was an embryo but subversive form of self-organisation. Hence my vociferous disagreement with Sontag.

…………………………………….

My next post will probably be on an extended metaphor in Huysmans’ “Against Nature”(1884, sic!)where camp unrolls in all its variegated, self-mirroring ways.

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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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