7/1/2020 – CFP: “Camp/camp: the collision of style and biopolitics”

What, when & where

Camp/camp: the collision of style and biopolitics

The Department of Comparative Literature, Hispanic Studies, and The Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism at Western University invite abstracts for the 22nd annual Graduate Student Conference on “Camp/camp,” which will be taking place March 26-28, 2020.

The ambiguous nature of ‘camp’ means that it summons different meanings dependent on one’s frame of reference. Camp as sensibility is described by Susan Sontag as using artifice and exaggeration to “convert the serious into the frivolous—these are grave matters” (1). A grave matter, indeed, when we consider the implications of covering over matters of biopolitics and totalitarianism with the study of aesthetics. Thus, to contrast the study of camp with the study of the camp, as exemplified by the work of Giorgio Agamben, is to reveal the intimate relationship between aesthetics and biopolitics. Following Agamben, we contend that the body is reduced to ‘bare life’ in the camp, “the space that is opened up when the state of exception begins to become the rule” (Agamben 168). Today, camp as sensibility and camp as the biopolitical are both ingrained in our current cultural moment as an aesthetics of distraction: we watch the MET Gala, binge RuPaul’s Drag Race and Queer Eye, and obsess over Lady Gaga and Barbra Streisand; at the same time children are locked in cages by ICE, we debate the refugee crisis, and conflict continues in places like Hong Kong, Catalonia, and the Middle East, as captured by Marjane Satrapi’s graphic autobiography, Persepolis (2000).

Although a definition of camp as an aesthetic mode often seems elusive, it is something which is found almost everywhere in our contemporary culture. Moreover, the contrast of the camp as a philosophical concept widens the scope of the culture of camp and brings together the intersection of the serious with the frivolous in ways that expose the binary. Camp exposes the dichotomies of art/kitsch and natural/artifice. This can take the form of examining literature, such as the carnivalesque-grotesque in Medieval, Early Modern, and Enlightenment literatures, for example Rabelais’ Gargantua and Pantagruel which makes use of scatological imagery in relation to the body politic. Many genres of literature employ biopolitical elements, especially science fiction, horror, speculative fiction, and trauma literature. In fact, Holocaust literature has itself become its own category, ranging from autobiographical works, such as Primo Levi’s If This is a Man (1947), Art Spiegelman’s Maus I & II (1980), and The Diary of Anne Frank (1947), to novels like The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2006).

Indigenous Canadian art and literature often combine these concepts with the biopolitical, such as in the art and performance of Cree artist Kent Monkman and his alter-ego, Miss Chief Eagle Testickle, whose work juxtaposes trauma with queer aesthetic performances interrupting idyllic vistas of Canada. The contrast between kitsch and camp also emerges in the literary works of Indigenous authors such as Sherman Alexie, Thomas King, Tomson Highway, and Joshua Whitehead, whose novels and poetry impress on the reader the importance of rebelling against the colonial body politic. On the other hand, distinct Canadian landmarks have also been tainted by a camp sensibility, as seen in Henry Hathaway’s Niagara (1953) starring  Marilyn Monroe.

Camp is also sensed through the work of many filmmakers, such as in Pedro Almodóvar’s signature style, where camp meets high art and has been popular from the 1960s through to the present. Other Hollywood films and Broadway productions have long embraced camp sensibility in many classic films such as Barbarella (1968), Valley of the Dolls (1967), The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), and Billy Elliot (2000). Many of these classics also embrace the tyrannical nature of biopolitics that deal with issues in sexuality, disease, abortion, mental illness, and drug use.

Deadline & how to apply

Formal papers should be designed to be delivered in no more than 20 minutes. Please send ~300 word abstracts, along with a 50 word biography, to gradconference2020@gmail.com by January 7, 2020. The abstracts should also include the following information: Presenter’s short biography (50 words), affiliation (Department and University), a presentation title, and an indication of any special media or other requirements.

Other info, Links & conditions

Conference queries should be sent to gradconference2020@gmail.com. Please also visit gradconference2020.home.blog for more information and updates, or follow us on twitter @camp_uwo


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