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  • A Fugue on Camp
  • Allan Pero (bio)

If perversion is the last word in certainty, then camp has the last word in uncertainty.

Camp agrees with Edith Sitwell insofar as “good taste is one of the worst vices ever invented.”59 When Melissa Bradshaw tells us that “out damned spot” is instead “an issue of make-up, or a wardrobe malfunction,” we discover that camp is a form of critique, not a policing of taste.60 Edith Sitwell as Lady Macbeth is not camp; she simply casts a klieg light on the campiness of Macbeth itself.

Camp also agrees with Diana Vreeland insofar as “we all need a splash of bad taste—it’s hearty, it’s healthy, it’s physical. I think we could use more of it. ‘No taste’ is what I’m against.”61

Camp is a histrionic Heisenberg delighting in realism’s decay.

Camp is an ontology of appearances.

Contrary to popular belief, camp is not hysterical, but hilarious.

If the hysteric’s question is “Am I a man or am I a woman?,” then camp’s question is “Why must I be a man or a woman?”62

Camp is not a hysteric, but an analyst; it is only hysterical in the same way the analyst renders her patient so in the name of truth.

Camp is a midwife in the birth of melodrama. [End Page 28]

Ronald Firbank is the Samuel Beckett of camp.

Camp has an aesthetic, rather than forensic, relation to the anatomy of melancholy.

Camp is a fetish, but eschews the disavowal.

Camp’s relation to the phallus is that of the Laughing Medusa, as in: “Honey, I’ve been staring at that thing all night—I wish it would turn to stone!”63

Camp is not the enemy of masculinity; it merely critiques the sublimity of its earnestness. (By way of example, I submit exhibits A and B: 1960s Batman and the Dark Knight of our moment.)

Camp is not self-loathing; however, it is eminently self-critical.

Camp is a descendant of the baroque. And as such, it is a symptom of modernism.

Camp is the authenticity of affectation.

Camp is the embroidery of nothingness.

Camp tends the bar of repression.

Camp is one of the triumphs of affect over sense.

Camp luxuriates in its ennui; it has a profound intellectual respect for boredom.

Camp is the enemy of identity.

The reports of camp’s death are greatly exaggerated. Indeed, it is the only exaggeration that does not apply to camp.

The anxiety that camp may be dead is a category mistake. Camp is not dead; it is undead.

Camp expresses its discontent with civilization in the name of love.

Camp is an ardent admirer of death’s dominion.

Camp’s loyalty to aestheticism, like Adorno’s to so-called “high art,” is grounded in the art object’s beleaguered nonidentity.

Camp is one of modernism’s others. [End Page 29]

A Selected Canon of Camp Modernism

Seven Men, Max BeerbohmWinesburg, Ohio, Sherwood AndersonFlappers and Philosophers, F. Scott FitzgeraldA Vision, W. B. YeatsOrlando, Virginia WoolfExtraordinary Women, Compton MackenzieThe Pure and the Impure, ColetteThe Apes of God, Wyndham Lewis“Circe” in Ulysses, James JoyceThe Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway“Ash Wednesday,” T. S. EliotHarmonium, Wallace StevensNadja, André BretonNovel on Yellow Paper, Stevie SmithNightwood, Djuna BarnesThe Dance of the Quick and the Dead, Sacheverell SitwellAbsalom, Absalom!, William FaulknerVile Bodies, Evelyn WaughThe Blind Bow-Boy, Carl Van VechtenThe Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude SteinThose Barren Leaves, Aldous HuxleyInfants of the Spring, Wallace ThurmanThe Black Book, Lawrence DurrellGood Morning, Midnight, Jean RhysTwo Serious Ladies, Jane BowlesHidden Faces, Salvador DaliSleep in a Nest of Flames, Charles Henri Ford

Camp is both a dangerous supplement and a needful weapon in a handbag of dazzling accessories.

It is an index of the depravity of the time that Lindsay Lohan could be classed as the Tallulah Bankhead of our moment. And an index of our needing camp more than ever.

Camp does not denigrate femininity; rather, it reveals how great and difficult...