Terry Castle on Susan Sontag and "Notes on Camp"

Terry CastleOn Sunday, Terry Castle, editor of The Literature of Lesbianism: A Historical Anthology from Ariosto to Stonewall, was featured in always-entertaining Q & A included in the Sunday New York Times Magazine.

In addition to being the author of several other books, Castle is also a contributor to the recently published The Scandal of Susan Sontag (mentioned in our last blog post as well).

In her essay, “Some Notes on ‘Notes on Camp,'” Castle recounts an incident in which Sontag eviscerates someone for praising “Notes on Camp” at a Stanford cocktail party in 1995. Castle describes how Sontag reacted to this praise:

Nostrils flaring, Sontag instantly fixes him with a basilisk stare. How can he say such a dumb thing? She has no interest in discussing this essay and never will. He should never have brought it up. He is behind the times, intellectually dead. Hasn’t he read any of her other works? Doesn’t he keep up? As she slips down a dark tunnel or rage … the rest of us watch, horrified and transfixed.

Castle goes on to suggest that Sontag came to resent being seen as obsessed with camp and that she might have felt that it revealed too much about her own erotic orientation and its “symbolic registration of fierce emotions.” Castle concludes the essay, writing:

[Sontag] resented being seen as obsessed with camp—fixed in people’s mind as camp’s philosopher—because her essay was in the end more about exorcism than endorsement. Like the lifelong pleasure she took in chastising other people for what she saw as their moral and intellectual defects, the contempt she felt for the essay later in life grew, I think, out of a great well of self-critical feeling. Something was unbearable and at the deepest level she blamed herself.

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