Monday, August 26, 2019

Camp: Notes on Fashion

Jean Paul Gaultier's black taffeta dress at The Met
 In her famous l964 essay Notes on Camp Susan Sontag wrote: “Camp is a vision of the world in terms of style—but a particular kind of style. It is the love of the exaggerated, the ‘off,’ of things-being-what-they-are-not.” Hermaphroditism and gay culture with their emphasis on estheticizing were components of the camp sensibility, but while Jean Cocteau and Andre Gide were both gay, Sontag found that Cocteau epitomized camp while Gide did not. Perhaps the line of demarcation liees in the flamboyance verging on parody of a Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast as compared to Gide novels like The Immoralist and The Counterfeiterswith their serious and even moral messages. The current Camp: Notes on Fashion show at the Met provides historical and intellectual provenance for “camp” before dealing with the camp sensibility per se. Parenthetically, kudos to the curators for the room devoted to Sontag in which aphorisms pecked out on a typewriter stream overhead in the gallery like stock prices on ticker tape. That in itself is camp, par excellence. Digging further into the past, the exhibit deals with the l9th century notion of the “Beau Ideal” as manifested in the contrapposto stance of classical Greek figures like Hermes, Ganymede and Antinous, who was Hadrian’s lover. Vivian Westwood’s nude leggings with their acrylic fig leaf and Jean Paul Gaultier’s black taffeta dress which like a Castro convertible can be either one thing or other, pants or a dress, are cited along with “se camper,” the French word for posing which appears in Moliere’s The Impostures of Scapin. Christopher Isherwood dichotomized between high camp (which encompassed culture) and low which he dismissed as a “swishy little boy.” Paul Cadmus’ homoerotic “The Fleet’s In,” (1934) makes a cameo appearance, along with Oscar Wilde whose proto post-modernist homilies used wit and irony in ways that actually transcended camp. The dandy, the flaneur, the boulevardier all attended "camp." But is camp itself a museum piece? “Strike a pose,” is the way Madonna, begins "Vogue" (1990), but her flamboyance may have been a death knell for a culture in which all the humor and esthetic distance have been denuded from cross-dressing, for one. Ambivalence was an intrinsic part of the camp sensibility and with sexual identification now a political act, it’s no longer a laughing matter. You have to make a choice.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.