Mature Reflections on the Notion of Camp
[this was written to my teacher]
This text should have been my Camp project. Blinded by my myopia, my Camp project was too restricted in how it addressed the notion of Camp itself. Now, there was never a possibility of me satisfying the conditions laid out for the Camp project, for I was not only caught up in a frenzy of myopia regarding which way to go after Bataille, since the time I was to do my Camp project was the same time as I completed or rather, as Dr. David Johnson has described it, unified Bataille’s philosophy, but I was, at the same time, also without any actual direct acquaintance with Camp. In light of the famous quote from Immanuel Kant, “Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind,” it could be said that I was more blind than a blind man, for I was not without a concept of Camp but without any intuition of Camp (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, pp. 193–194).
My failure to have “truly” understood the notion of Camp was the fact that, and I believe this is the best articulation of what I felt back then, I was only being told what Camp is. I was told it had to do with drag queens, gay culture, certain glass lamps (?), volleyball animes that made the volleyball matches extremely intense, certain music videos, kids youtube videos, snobby menus, alt fashion, etc. Or rather, I was told that all those aforementioned examples were just that: examples of Camp. Yet for me to have truly understood the notion of Camp, I couldn’t just see the vague correlation that I could only fuzzily see to be existing between most of these things. On the contrary, I must have understood that constant that demonstrates that there isn’t just a vague correlation between all these things but this specific property constant in all of these objects. Understanding Camp is to understand the constant in all of these objects, yet I was never able to understand that constant.
Now, I used “was,” and “felt,” in the previous paragraph. Am I, by using the past tense, implying that I now “really” understand the notion of Camp? Hardly! All I now understand is why I couldn’t understand the notion of Camp back then. And I must say that a certain amount of alienation was felt because of my lack of apprehension of Camp. Watching that one music video (I know we watched multiple, but if you remember when this happened in class, you will know that music video I am talking about) probably induced the most confusion and disbelief in me that I had felt in a long time. Multiple classmates were able to name a bunch of different things they believed to be Camp about the music video. Some named as Camp the drop in the music (or maybe it was a rise in the tone), another named as Camp the singing itself, and others spoke of the outfits, certain frames of the video, a bird (if I remember correctly), and there was a certain point where so many different things had been listed that I was in a state of disbelief. I not only failed to see what was Camp, but I, at the same time, I began to believe the notion to be ridiculous, inconceivable even! I felt as if the affirmation by the class as a whole that each thing was Camp was just blind affirmation. I could not believe, much less see, that there was a constant property between all of these things.
Further complicating my understanding of the notion of Camp was Susan Sontag’s writing. Not only, according to my previous analysis, was the writing unclear and assumptive (specifically assumptive that one already understands the notion of Camp before they read the paper), but the writing was also contradictory and objections to it rose to my mind almost immediately. Now, I am here to admit once more my extreme myopia in thinking and analysis in regards to analyzing Sontag’s paper. It is because I have now given up all theoretical prejudice in the face of metaepistemological skepticism that I believe I ought to reanalyze and genuinely reconsider the notion of Camp. Hence, we begin,
Immediately upon Sontag saying, “[Camp] is not a natural mode of sensibility,” I immediately understand that one does not naturally have a sense of Camp, nor an acquaintance with it (Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” intro). But Sontag’s obfuscation and my misunderstanding begins when she says, “the essence of Camp is its love of the unnatural: of artifice and exaggeration” (Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” intro). That the very eidos (essence) of Camp is the love of the unnatural could help us understand the constant between all of the aforementioned things. Drag queens and gay culture, and while this may be reductive and stereotypical I do think that one is epistemically justified in believing this, have a certain element of exaggeration that also contains aritifice. The volleyball anime was most definitely overexaggerated, and it is meant to be as well. The glass lamp may have some intuitively understood exaggerated element to it (that it is glass?), but this is where I become confused with the notion altogether. Kid-oriented youtube videos could be exaggerated in that the way we treat children compared to adults is an exaggeration of the way we treat adults. But, this seems incorrect. It may just be that we treat these two differently and not in a modified way of how we treat adults. But can we give any counterexamples? Are problematic political caricatures Camp? Caricatures are themselves exaggerations. Based off my partial understanding of Camp derived from my vague understanding of the correlation between different concepts and properties of those concepts (I do have some vague notion of Camp), I would say that problematic political caricatures of, for example, Obama that are generally racist in the depiction of Obama are not Camp. Furthermore, are extreme forms of pornography Camp? Many who I know have direct acquaintance with the notion of Camp have denied that pornography, especially extreme forms of it that include torture, choking, etc., is Camp. The uncanny valley is not Camp either, yet it is unnatural, as well as of artifice and exaggeration.
Nonetheless, Camp is not just the exaggerated alone, for if it was then there would be no need for elaboration of this notion as we are all acquainted with exaggerated expressions, actions, etc. every day. In light of this, it is not a surprise that Sontag says, “Camp is esoteric — something of a private code, a badge of identity even, among small urban cliques” (Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” intro).
Thus far, only new routes of confusion have been opened upon, yet, I will admit that I felt I could have accessed what Camp is after reading Sontag’s first definition, but I couldn’t access that possibility of accessing the true meaning of the notion once counterexamples were raised. Thus, we require a more intricate understanding of Camp.
For Sontag, Camp is a sensibility that “converts the serious into the frivolous” (Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” intro). In this sense, it seems Camp is comedic, but not even that… More confusion is ushered in by this statement of Sontag’s. I think the best example of what Sontag is talking about was actually put forward in class all those months ago: Adolf Hitler’s boy-scoutish appearance in terms of attire. Now, while Mr. [redacted] holds that “[i]t’s hard to ‘YASS’ at [Hitler]” because “[i]t’s hard to [make Hitler Camp] without being insensitive,” Mr. [redacted], nonetheless, still holds that “one can see the Camp in Hitler.” I think the honesty from Mr. [redacted]and his inadvertent refusal to capitulate to conventional moral norms in order to be principled in his analysis, or at least understanding thereof, is absolutely telling of the strength found in his intellectual character. What it also attests to is the fact that Camp, according to someone who I know is directly acquainted with Camp, Mr. [redacted], can be problematic. Hence, my earlier counterexample of political caricatures of Obama actually do have the possibility of being Camp. But, it seems that my other counterexample of pornography does not have the possibility of being Camp according to Mr. [redacted]. Hence, Mr. [redacted] holds, “[Art becomes pornography when] explicit content [begins to] add no value.” Hence, my conclusion still holds. We have continued to show that Camp needs further understanding. Onwards!
The most problematic part of “Notes on Camp” arises in the third paragraph, wherein Sontag begins to talk about the epistemology behind Camp. Sontag says, “Most people think of sensibility or taste as the realm of purely subjective preferences, those mysterious attractions, mainly sensual, that have not been brought under the sovereignty of reason” (Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” intro). Sontag makes this latter proposition problematic when she says, “To patronize the faculty of taste is to patronize oneself. For taste governs every free — as opposed to rote — human response” (Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” intro). Because of the previously stated opposition between sensibility (or taste) and reason, Sontag is therefore arguing that reason governs all rote human responses, but this seems mistaken. The commonly held position that reason is of both syllogistic inference (or “drawn-out” inference; though, note, I do not mean that all of these inferences will take the exact form of a syllogism proper) and consequentia immediata (or “immediate inference”) is mistaken. Rational insight or intuition is non-inferential and epistemically autonomous. Hence, reason is not always inferential and thus not always rote. It could be the case, though, that perception, and hence sensibility (and thus taste), is unconscious and almost automatic in the sense that me perceiving isn’t a conscious action, but that I am seeing and typing on this keyboard right now is just the consequence of a rapid (seemingly immediate) process of inference or consequentia immediata. But, it seems that no inferential process is gone through with the sensuous character of perception either. In this sense, what governs rote human responses is not pure reason nor pure experience, but rather their intersection, that being inductive reasoning. But, while taste pertains to sensibility, it is not sensibility, hence we should not continue this problematic equivocation, no matter how interesting where it leads us is. As Sontag says, “there is taste in people, visual taste … emotion … acts … morality … ideas” (Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” intro). Taste is in sensibility. But that taste guides every free human response seems dubious. For deductive reasoning can set me on my way toward a certain action, one that I deduce that I ought to take, for example. This sweeping reductive movement of taste’s praxeological supremacy over reason is not only prima facie not the case but also wrong even once we have gone through a process of inference.
Sontag elaborates on the notion of taste in an odd way that I am not sure I can agree with. She says, “Taste has no system and no proofs” (Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” intro). Hence, taste has no public justification. One is not publicly justified in believing in Camp in the sense one cannot publicly demonstrate through dialectical argumentation that Camp is the case as one cannot use proofs, and therefore it cannot have public reasons (or warrants) that justify the belief that Camp is the case. Therefore, Camp, and moreover taste, like Sontag has previously claimed in non-inferential. But this raises some epistemological problems for the very notion of Camp. One can have a claim to private justification in the belief in Camp. Any asking of this person to justify their belief in Camp could be said to be begging the question and engaging in a category error because of the fact they are essentially asking private justification to be public justification. But, one could possibly get around this by simply asking how private justification exists, in which this person privately acquainted with Camp could say that they know that because they have direct acquaintance with such a fact. But it could be asked why they have direct acquaintance, and they would say they have private justification in that belief. Hence, what they would really be saying is that private justification exists because I have private justification of the belief that private justification exists, which obviously supposes private justification exists, hence throwing this believer into both vicious circularity and vicious regression (infinite regression). It could easily be argued, and I believe that I would agree with this response, that because they have private justification in the belief that private justification exists because of direct acquaintance with that fact, to ask them why it exists would again be begging the question and engaging in a category mistake in the same way outlined earlier. Hence, it would seem that this believer in Camp could be privately justified in their belief in Camp, and any possible epistemological issues dissolve. But, this is mistaken because in the response put forward by the believer, they specify the relation of direct acquaintance as the justificatory mechanism. We could ask them to then justify direct acquaintance which cannot be something they are privately justified in believing without being viciously circular. Hence, there must be some other foundation for non-inferential justification. Now, because taste is opposed to reason, this justification cannot be a prioi and thus must a posteriori. But, that it is a posteriori entails that it is a part of the given, which is “that content or character to which … certain experiences or the entertainment of certain propositions give us direct cognitive access.” (Fales, A Defense of the Given, p. 6). Yet taste cannot be of the given because of the fact Sontag says, “there is something like a logic of taste: the consistent sensibility which underlies and gives rise to a certain taste” (Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” intro). Now, instead of doing a somewhat fallacious conflation between Kant’s usage of sensibility as the faculty of sense-perception in general and Sontag’s usage of sensibility as denoting a certain sense that “inform[s] … ideas … [and] behavior,” I will instead focus in on the concept of taste as I believe it to have much more clarity (Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” intro). It is certainly the case that taste, in the way Sontag uses it, cannot itself be a basic or foundational percept, assuming the epistemology of empirical foundationalism is the case. It cannot be the case because of the fact that taste is found in things. Sontag speaks of “visual taste” (Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” intro). That one has taste in their vision, or that they are engaging in a “[certain] way of seeing the world” is not at all self-evident in that one would have to conclude that from the fact that Camp is so and so and that the way I am seeing the world reflects so and so (Sontag, “Notes on Camp,” 1). In this way, when I say, “I see a drag queen,” or “the lights or on,” I need not use a process of inference to know this because I have known it non-inferentially for the past hour, say that the show has been going or the lights have been on. But that the drag queen or that one of those glass lights Mr. [redacted] likes are Camp requires other experience or conceptual understandings. Taste is not something that can be understood in virtue of the logical connectives within a proposition and in this way taste is not analytic in the sense that one could not immediately understand any proposition of taste when one understands the logical connectives involved. Furthermore, the conclusion that Camp is x and that y is Camp could only be derived from experience as y is not analytically contained in Camp and x is not analytically contained in y. So, for example, it is possible for a non-exaggerated drag queen to exist, or at least it is conceivable. Hence, we know that the conceptual containment of x, exaggeration, is not necessarily entailed in y, drag queens, therefore meaning the proposition that drag queens are Camp must be synthetic and is not at all analytic. Furthermore, that a drag queen has some properties such as exaggeration cannot be immediately gleaned by way of basic, immediate, and direct perception without appeal to further experience of other things being exaggerated (and the whole process of forming the concept of exaggeration). Hence, that latter belief that a drag queen is exaggerated can not only not be a part of the given but it is also contingent in that it is dependent on further experience for the conclusion to be made. Thus, we can conclude that only the given and rational insight have epistemic autonomy and that the source of the epistemic justification for taste and Camp and the belief thereof can be neither of these, therefore, meaning both are unjustified notions assuming non-inferential justification is the only form of justification to exist. However, this is a massive assumption that is not necessarily the case. One possibly could justify inferentially that Camp is an epistemically justified notion… or could they? The issue is that this lapses back into the metaphysics of Camp which I critically analyzed in detail in my camp project. This moves us to require further analysis of the notion of Camp.
: For more on the notion of direct acquaintance, see Richard Fumerton’s Metaepistemology and Skepticism (1995).
: I say most of these things because I still fail to see how all those objects described in this paper now and in class back then correlate with one another. While I see the definite relation between drag queens, gay culture, and the choreography, etc., I do not see a correlation between these latter three objects and certain glass lamps, volleyball anime, kids youtube videos, etc.
: If you, Mr. [redacted], ever have a future student that completely fails to understand not the correlation but the constant that is Camp, I suggest you show them this paper, or at least this introductory bit. I will say that they too will probably fully understand the notion as I probably never will. And, furthermore, let me note that my failure to comprehend Camp was not because of my myopia in regards to NRx and Nick Land. On the contrary, I had a genuine inability to understand the notion of Camp (and I probably still do to some degree).
: When doing in-text citations of Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp,” I will, in place of the traditional page number, add the section # or in the case that it is from the few introductory paragraphs I will say intro.
: The anti-porn stance taken by Mr. [redacted] is something I found out about in a conversation we held more than a few months ago. He held and still holds that “[a] lot of pornography is going to poison your future relationships.” Now, as a little commentary, I disagree. On the level of empirical evidence, this is not at all validated, and if one finds a multitude of studies on it they should be skeptical because of the generally explicit anti-porn sentiment held by researchers before they even start researching (there has almost always been an explicitly negative supposed paradigm when studying pornography and its effects on the human being). On the level of reason (the better level), it does not at all seem the case that I am addicted to pornography, for example. In fact, there are days in which I cannot use pornography for a multitude of reasons, such as having no desire to. I would say, from my personal experience with relationships I have had, as well as relationships of other’s I’ve witnessed and have been told about, that the issue that arises within a relationship because of pornography almost never arises for the consumer of porn, rather I would say that it almost always arises, if it does arise at all, with that person in the relationship not consuming porn. Many women view it disgusting and others view it as cheating. The first view of it as disgusting can, in certain instances, be valid. I cannot, in any instance, see where it is the case that watching pornography is cheating. I don’t know the exact rationale for this, but I will say that most of the people who say this are hypocritical. For example, I know a group of a few girls that holds that porn is form of cheating but that them making out with another girl while having a boyfriend isn’t cheating. So, I would say that, prima facie, it doesn’t seem a good bit of these people have a good conception of what cheating is. That watching pornography is cheating is a particularly Christian notion in that it conflates desires with action (“But I say to you, anyone who looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart” Matthew 5:28). Furthermore, it is not even always the case that, when consuming pornography, one desires that which is within the video. I cannot go further in both explanation of this and then elaboration thereof, for if I did, then it would become too explicit, to be appropriate. Hence, my digression.
: For more on the notion of rational insight, see Laurence BonJour’s In Defense of Pure Reason (1995).
: Praxeology is the study of human action. For more on praxeology, see Ludwig von Mises’ Human Action (1947).