Notes on "Camp"

"Notes on "Camp"" is a well-known essay by Susan Sontag organized around fifty-eight 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 0312280866).

The essay codified and mainstreamed the cultural connotations of the word camp, and identified camp's evolution as a distinct aesthetic phenomenon.

Sontag says there is a "peculiar relation of Camp taste with homosexuality". Homosexuals, through aesthetics and Jews through ethics have shaped the modern sensibility according to Sontag. "The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony." The essay offers a theory as to why homosexuals are traditionally regarded as cultural authorities; through becoming authorities on taste, homosexuals assert an apolitical but valuable form of power in society and thus integrate.


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.
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.
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.
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.
58. The ultimate Camp statement: it's good because it's awful . . .

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