Christopher Isherwood's Camp

Source document: Theory and Practice in English Studies. 2019, vol. 8, iss. 2, pp. [31]-42
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In this paper I consider recurrent themes in the work of Christopher Isherwood, a novelist best known for his portrayal of Berlin's seedy cabaret scene just before the outbreak of the Second World War. The themes I discuss each hinge on uncanny discrepancies between youth and old age, male and female, sacred and profane, real and sham. Together, I argue, these themes indicate the author's investment in a queer camp sensibility devoted to theatricality, ironic humor, and the supremacy of style. I focus on specific descriptions of characters, objects, and places throughout the author's work in order to foreground camp's rather exuberant interest in artifice, affectation, and excess, as well as its ability to apprehend beauty and worthiness even, or especially, in degraded objects, people, or places. Ultimately, I argue that the term camp, especially as it applies to Isherwood's work, names both a comedic style and a specifically queer empathetic mode rooted in shared histories of hurt, secrecy, and social marginalization.
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