In Notes On “Camp” author Susan Sontag argues that camp is not a concept, but more so a sensibility, and not a natural one at that. She claims that camp is “…unmistakably modern, a variant of sophistication but hardly identical with it…” and that it has never been discussed. She defines the essence of camp as “...love of the unnatural: artificial and exaggeration.” Sontag states that camp “converts the serious into the frivolous.”
Sontag goes on to deconstruct the notion of taste, pointing out that it “has no system and no proofs.”
Sontag continues Notes On “Camp” by addressing a series of notes to Oscar Wilde, author of The Importance of Being Ernest. She defines camp herein as “a certain mode of aestheticism,” and claims that many things, if not anything, can be looked at through the lense of camp, but also that “camp has an affinity for certain arts rather than others.”
Also, Sontag argues that “there is a sense in which it is correct to say: “it’s too good to be camp.” Or “too important,”” which leaves me questioning as to whether or not the work of Wilde actually falls into the canon of camp. Sontag is careful to point out that “some art that can be approached as camp… merits the most serious admiration and study.”
She clarifies that camp is, as prior stated, “the love of the exaggerated… of things-being-what-they-are-not,” certainly a prevalent component of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest, which is almost entirely concerned with something being what it is not, or perhaps more accurately, being exactly what it is, but believes itself not to be, an irony revealed to both the audience and the character, when Ernest learns that he is truly named Ernest, while having spent the entirety of the play attempting to justify taking on the name as a pseudonym, and escape the entanglements this has choice created. Sontag also says that “to perceive camp in objects and persons is to understand Being-as-playing-a-Role. It is the farthest extension… of the metaphor of life as theater.” Which, in the case of Jack (Ernest) masquerading as Ernest, life has indeed become. Sontag poses the question; ““when does… impersonation… acquire the special flavor of camp?”” Which, I believe, can be answered by the debacle of identity presented in Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest.
Sontag argues that in the canon of camp “one can be serious about the frivolous, frivolous about the serious,” as displayed directly in an exchange between Algernon and Jack discussing the seriousness of the Bunburyist. She also argues that “sincerity can be… intellectual narrowness,” the characters of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Ernest being anything but sincere, and if so only accidentally. Sontag even states that camp “[found] its conscious ideologists in such “wits” as Wilde…”