Doing this stuff is hard when you’ve been doing a phd application, a funding proposal, conferences and also a full time job that’s an entirely different thing and exhausting. That said, I’ve only read three books since my last summary/review. One was a Fucking Massive™ Reader and another was a slim, but very 90s Humanities Criticism© textually dense. They were Sedgwick’s Epistemology of the Closet and Cleto’s (ed.) Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject – A Reader. I’ve also read Botting’s Gothic (2nd edn.), but I finished that this week, so should be able to recall a fuller reflection when I have time. For now, those two.
Epistemology of the Closet
This was a hard read. Sedgwick, like seemingly every other critic who wrote between 82 and 04, writes in this unnecessarily dense style that really does nothing but show off how polysyllabic you can be. That said, it’s a foundational text in queer studies and is important and blah blah blah, I would have to read it at some point, so I did.
What I liked:
It’s good to read an academic work that doesn’t just seem to be some pretentious wankery for the sake of it (though the writing style sure does make it seem that way). Sedgwick works to create a kind of academic/social justice model of thinking, where literary criticism can do something more than just kind of look at form and function and beauty and aesthetics. As far as I can tell, literary marxist and feminist criticism rarely accounted for real world and cultural object relations, but I think that’s more to my own ignorance and unwillingness to read most marxist and feminist criticism (see issue I have with opaqueness in writing). I bring these into place not to rag on them, but because they’re the only analytic system that would conceivably think about social justice issues in art, books, films, games and so on. I like that Sedgwick actually takes this (bold) step to consider the dimensions of how texts link to broader cultural phenomena, and how non-standard texts (texts queer in origin) can destabilise and begin to interrogate those phenomena.
What I loathed:
It’s a goddamn 90s humanities criticism work. It’s poorly written, opaque and I don’t have much patience for writing that is unnecessarily hard work. I also think Sedgwick’s textual choices were not really inspired, though this is likely because of the time the books was written in and the difference between that and now. There’s also mentions of Freud, which can honestly get fucked.
What I learnt:
I don’t really remember. There’s a lot of quotes I’ve typed up so I must have learnt. The inflection of academic criticism with social justice is interesting, but I’m not sure how useful that model is in terms of application. Social justice works to explain complex cultural phenomena into something more easily understandable and (more importantly) acceptable format for a general public that may not want to here it. Social justice that uses academic terms is quickly and aggressively disregarded from what I’ve seen, and academic work that tries to be more understandable/acceptable generally comes across as condescending. Maybe everyone has blending those two things incorrectly at this time, I don’t know, but it’s useful to consider the extents such a model can operate at. Anyway, next thing.
Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject
This one was a reader – an array of chapters that provide a broad survey and introduction to a specific topic area. It’s purpose is introductory, so I don’t have much to criticise it with. Its topic area was the development of camp as an academic concept, from about post-WW2 to the end of the C21.
What I liked:
I didn’t know anything about camp as a critical concept before I read this. I had an idea of what camp was from, you know, existing in the world, but no real grasp of it as an academic concept. I found some of the models presented more useful than others and I feel like I have some idea of what camp is. I’m not sure if I need to explore it further.
What I loathed:
People who write about camp can’t agree on what it is, so they’ve gone along with this idea about it being some kind of hard to define, fuzzy creature. I’m not sure I agree with this, mainly because it feels like a kind of cop-out when you don’t want to say ‘it’s culturally and historically specific in its manifestation.’ I don’t think that’s a hard concept to grasp. I also had a real problem with the understanding of camp as some kind of middle class phenomena as well. Considering that drag is considered inherently campy, I don’t really get why you would even entertain the idea that camp is the playground of a certain socio-economic groups. I know it’s pretty much because a lot of these people will be quite middle class and have had a quite middle class educational background, and the whole ‘camp’ thing started because of Christopher Isherwood and he wasn’t exactly working class… My point is that is fascinates me how certain predetermined biases are seen as foundational to camp, possibly just because that the people writing about it were coincidentally of the same class background, goes kind of unnoticed.
Also, a lot of the readings were mildly transphobic, antisemitic in places and kind of acknowledged the problems of the subject matter begrudgingly.
Also, Susan Sontag can get fucked and so can anyone else who thinks camp isn’t political.
What I learnt:
A lot of stuff about what people think about camp that I don’t entirely agree with. I liked Pamela Robertson’s entries and Jack Babuscio’s, so I’ll likely follow them up some more.