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For myself, I plead the goal of self-edification, and the goad of a sharp conflict in my own sensibility.I am strongly drawn to Camp, and almost as strongly offended by it.That is why I want to talk about it, and why I can.
"The more we study Art, the less we care for Nature." - The Decay of Lying 7. (Yet, they often have a serenity -- or a naivet -- which is the equivalent of pastoral.
All Camp objects, and persons, contain a large element of artifice. A great deal of Camp suggests Empson's phrase, "urban pastoral.") 8.
A remarkable example: the Paris Mtro entrances designed by Hector Guimard in the late 1890s in the shape of cast-iron orchid stalks. As a taste in persons, Camp responds particularly to the markedly attenuated and to the strongly exaggerated.
The androgyne is certainly one of the great images of Camp sensibility.
(More on this later.) Thus, the personality and many of the works of Jean Cocteau are Camp, but not those of Andr Gide; the operas of Richard Strauss, but not those of Wagner; concoctions of Tin Pan Alley and Liverpool, but not jazz.
Many examples of Camp are things which, from a "serious" point of view, are either bad art or kitsch. Not only is Camp not necessarily bad art, but some art which can be approached as Camp (example: the major films of Louis Feuillade) merits the most serious admiration and study. Rural Camp is still man-made, and most campy objects are urban.Intelligence, as well, is really a kind of taste: taste in ideas.(One of the facts to be reckoned with is that taste tends to develop very unevenly. To snare a sensibility in words, especially one that is alive and powerful, one must be tentative and nimble.There are "campy" movies, clothes, furniture, popular songs, novels, people, buildings. It offers no opportunity, say, for a contrast between silly or extravagant content and rich form. In the last two years, popular music (post rock-'n'-roll, what the French call y y) has been annexed.And movie criticism (like lists of "The 10 Best Bad Movies I Have Seen") is probably the greatest popularizer of Camp taste today, because most people still go to the movies in a high-spirited and unpretentious way. There is a sense in which it is correct to say: "It's too good to be Camp." Or "too important," not marginal enough.It is not a natural mode of sensibility, if there be any such.Indeed the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration.What is most beautiful in virile men is something feminine; what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine. The corny flamboyant female-ness of Jayne Mansfield, Gina Lollobrigida, Jane Russell, Virginia Mayo; the exaggerated he-man-ness of Steve Reeves, Victor Mature. 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. (The convertibility of "man" and "woman," "person" and "thing.") But all style, that is, artifice, is, ultimately, epicene. " Why is the atmosphere of Shakespeare's comedies (As You Like It, etc.) not epicene, while that of Der Rosenkavalier is? The dividing line seems to fall in the 18th century; there the origins of Camp taste are to be found (Gothic novels, Chinoiserie, caricature, artificial ruins, and so forth.) But the relation to nature was quite different then.The great stylists of temperament and mannerism, like Bette Davis, Barbara Stanwyck, Tallulah Bankhead, Edwige Feuillire. It is the farthest extension, in sensibility, of the metaphor of life as theater. In the 18th century, people of taste either patronized nature (Strawberry Hill) or attempted to remake it into something artificial (Versailles). Today's Camp taste effaces nature, or else contradicts it outright.It goes without saying that the Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized -- or at least apolitical. Not only is there a Camp vision, a Camp way of looking at things. For Camp art is often decorative art, emphasizing texture, sensuous surface, and style at the expense of content. Sometimes whole art forms become saturated with Camp.Camp is as well a quality discoverable in objects and the behavior of persons. Concert music, though, because it is contentless, is rarely Camp. Classical ballet, opera, movies have seemed so for a long time.