|"Springtime for Hitler," from The Producers|
Hooray! After much delay, it looks like the new issue of The Battersea Review will soon be unleashed upon the world, to stalk and hoot among the waiting literati (i.e., you). As a preview of things to come, they've posted an essay of mine called "Camping the Fascists: W.H. Auden's The Orators," in which I describe Auden's camp sensibility, and how it infuses his early poetry. Camp's a tricky thing to define, but essential to grasping what Auden's doing in much of his work.
Here's how the essay begins:
I described him [Auden] seeing his friends one by one in his rooms at hours he had fixed and interviewing, cross-examining them, laying down the law about the poets of whom he approved, the way poetry should be written, the personality of the poet, being very dogmatic about everything. I did insist that he was not a 'leader' or authoritarian and that he brought a touch of absurdity to his pronouncements which made them seem jokes. He did not wish to be taken altogether seriously. But this would mean nothing to a member of the audience without a sense of humor. In fact to the American who thinks that when one is serious one should be serious, and when funny, un-serious, this would make Auden seem even more unsympathetic. (Spender, Journals 335)
High camp always has an underlying seriousness. You can't camp about something you don't take seriously. You're not making fun of it; you're making fun out of it. You're expressing what's basically serious to you in terms of fun and artifice and elegance. (110)
1. To start very generally: Camp is a certain mode of aestheticism. It is one way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon. That way, the way of Camp, is not in terms of beauty, but in terms of the degree of artifice, of stylization.
2. To emphasize style is to slight content, or to introduce an attitude which is neutral with respect to content. It goes without saying that the Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized—or at least apolitical. (277)
38. Camp is the consistently aesthetic experience of the world. It incarnates a victory of ‘style’ over ‘content, ’ ‘aesthetics’ over ‘morality’…The whole essay is available here.
56. Camp taste is a kind of love… Camp taste identifies with what it is enjoying. (287, 291-292).