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Chapter 19 - Camp Modernism and Decadence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 September 2020

Alex Murray
Affiliation:
Queen's University Belfast
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Summary

This chapter studies camp modernism’s debt to the Decadent tradition and the political uses to which the camp modernist aesthetic was put in the early twentieth century. The camp modernism of the 1910s through the 1940s compounds the Decadent models from which it emerged. Turning decisively away from high modernist austerity, fragmentation and ambitious, grand content, camp modernist writers such as Sitwell, Firbank, Benson, and Compton-Burnett composed works preoccupied with small worlds and miniscule conflicts, with the disputes between elderly women in a seaside town or the tiny tyrannies of terrible fathers. They imported the incisive wit, cold derision and rococo sensibilities of fin-de-siècle Decadence into a far more compressed and peripheral universe, one that seemed to operate at a remove from the epic and apocalyptic realm of high modernism. Camp modernism’s frivolity was not, however, entirely apolitical, and it employed the camp aesthetic to queer political ends. Camp modernism’s arch dissections of patriarchal brutality and heteronormativity foregrounded the political utilities of camp as they expressed a Decadent disdain for oppressive and inhibiting forms of power.

Type
Chapter
Information
Decadence
A Literary History
, pp. 341 - 360
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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