"Camp: The Lie that Tells the Truth." – Philip Core
Judy Garland singing Somewhere over the Rainbow in shiny red slippers, the look of Doris Day, a cheesy song by Liza Minnelli, the impersonations of Dame Edna, ABBA, the architecture of Antoní Gaudi, feather boas, the aphorisms of Oscar Wilde and Quentin Crisp, a Eurovision song performed with maximum verve, Julie Andrews yodelling on a mountaintop, psychedelic sci-fi flicks from the 1960s, the Austin Powers movies, a Tiffany lamp, glam rock, Batman and Robin, Bette Davis, Bette Midler, Little Britain, the arias of Florence Foster-Jenkins, rococo, Kiss, Ernie & Bert, Esther Williams' water ballet revues, the Last Night of the Proms, Huit Femmes, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Hairspray and perhaps flamingos …
If these things make you laugh for no particular reason, this may well be the right class for you. According to the late Susan Sontag then, camp is "a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon." Seeing the world through camp lenses has its advantages, for camp, the notorious 'gay sensibility', also signifies a powerful deconstructivist practice. As such, its favourite tasks are to ridicule failed seriousness, to unmask false glamour, and to expose the unmarked and invisible workings that underlie a (hetero-)normative society. However, there is another side to camp, for camp also loves the things it mocks and ridicules, loves it when things turn out to be so tasteless that they become downright hilarious, loves it, that is, when it can assemble and confer "beauty" on a world that has lost its charms. Hence, camp needs to be regarded as a fundamentally ambivalent sensibility: political in the sense that its paranoid practices aim at demystification and exposure, and aesthetic in the sense that its reparative practices strive for comfort and healing. This seminar tries to explore the workings of camp, analysing its distribution, its subterfuge, and its parodic reinscriptions.
Ronald Firbank. "The Flower Beneath the Foot." Five Novels. New York: New Directions, 1981.
Quentin Crisp. The Naked Civil Servant. New York and London: HarperCollins, 2007.
Calamity Jane. Dir. David Butler. Perf. Doris Day, Howard Keel, Allyn An McLerie. 1953. Warner Home, 2003. DVD.
Hairspray. Dir. John Waters. Perf. Ricki Lake, Divine, Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono, Jerry Stiller. 1988. Warner Home, 2007. DVD.
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Dir. Stephan Elliott. Perf. Hugo Weaving, Terence Stamp, Guy Pearce, Bill Hunter. 1994. Twentieth Century Fox, 2006. DVD.
Breakfast on Pluto. Dir. Neil Jordan. Perf. Cillian Murphy, Stephen Rea, Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson. 2005. Sony Puctures Home, 2006. DVD.
Velvet Goldmine. Dir. Todd Haynes. Dir. Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Ewan McGregor, Christian Bale, Toni Collette. 1998. Universum, 2000. DVD.