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James wants to indicate "somewhat dumbly" that they share "A common passion." That "unspeakably tender passion" is best "exchanged" not with explicit statements but with "a look."

Their taste for Italy is not to be compared to the mass enjoyment of the country. Their "love" is shared by only a "small number of people," who are "victims" of this "common passion." The excessiveness and the encoding of such key terms as "unspeakable passion" and "victims of a common passion" intimate that this passage is more than just about the fact that they both like Italy.

One may find the same style used in literature of the time. In The Green Carnation (1894), published a year before Oscar Wilde's first trial, Robert Hichens produced an admiring but campy portrait of the playwright, poet, and essayist.

Mr. Amarinth, Wilde's name in the novel, first appears proposing that operas should be performed not in the evening, but in the middle of the day. Lady Locke, a woman with a "sensible" face, argues, "But surely it would spoil one for the rest of the day. . . . One would be fit for nothing afterwards." Amarinth replies:

Quite so. . . . That would be the object of the performance, to unfit one for the duties of the day. How beautiful! What a glorious sight it would be to see a great audience flocking out into the orange-coloured sunshine, each unit of which was thoroughly unfitted for any duties whatsoever. It makes me perpetually sorrowful in London to meet people doing their duty. I find them everywhere. It is impossible to escape from them. A sense of duty is like some horrible disease. It destroys the tissues of the mind, as certain complaints destroy the tissues of the body. The catechism has a great deal to answer for.

This language, which is both effusive and inverted, suggests that camp coding was a pervasive element in homosexual literate culture.

"Doing one's duty," the euphemism of performing the conventional masculine tasks of marrying, siring children, and earning money or assuming social responsibilities--the principles of decent English society--is stood on its head. Camp often performs this sort of inversion of hierarchy.

However, whereas James's camp helped protect him from prosecution, Wilde's had no such efficacy and, indeed, may have actually contributed to the vehemence with which he was eventually prosecuted.

Three Elements of Camp

Esther Newton in her pioneering study of drag artists identifies three elements of camp: incongruity, theatricality, and humor. These qualities do not define camp, but they are always present in camp.


Camp, according to Newton and others, "depends on the perception or creation of incongruous juxtapositions." For the drag artist, the incongruity begins with a man dressing in woman's clothing. But camp can embrace many different reversals of polarities: an effeminate boy in macho dress, a lower-class person affecting the manner of the upper classes, the old in the shape of the new or the new in the shape of the old.

Camp objects often have their purpose disguised by being made to look like something less utilitarian: the lamp made to look like a flowering plant, the stapler in the shape of a frog, the seafood restaurant in the shape of a Spanish galleon all are potentially campy. (As the last example shows, people are not always aware that they camp.)

Camp incongruity often takes the form of inversion, standing concepts on their head. The serious is taken for the humorous, whereas the humorous is taken seriously.

In John Waters's camp classic Pink Flamingoes (1973), for example, Divine is outraged when other people challenge her claim to be called "the filthiest woman in the world." In this world turned upside down, filth is an honor bestowed on the lucky few. At the movie's conclusion, Divine eats a dog turd to prove--if there were any question--that she is the queen of filth.

One of the central inversions performed by camp is to place aesthetic concerns above ethical concerns. Oscar Wilde, the greatest exponent of a certain form of camp sensibility, in his set of aphorisms "Phrases and Philosophies for the Young," wrote: "Dullness is the coming of age of seriousness. In all unimportant matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential. In all important matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential."

Or as he says in another aphorism, "One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art." Ethical considerations--particularly pious, moralistic, and rigid ethical considerations--must give way to beauty and style.

Because camp likes to stand the world on its head, it is comparable to Mikhail Bakhtin's notion of the carnivalesque, a style noted for its "gay relativity" and its "mocking and deriding" tone. The carnivalesque, like camp, is characterized by a licensed release of anarchic forces that tend to invert standard social hierarchies.

But the carnivalesque ultimately celebrates the fertility of this released energy and its reproductive potential. Bakhtin conceives of the carnivalesque as a condition that releases the natural energies society has smothered, restrained, and suppressed. The carnivalesque celebrates a Dionysian unselfconsciousness.

Camp, however, is extremely self-conscious; it does not celebrate the natural, but the artificial. So although camp and the carnivalesque may share many similarities, they also differ in very important ways.

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