Michael Broder's Roman Camp

by on Mar.15, 2013

Michael Broder has a fab piece up at Huffington Post “Camping it Up in Ancient Rome a Queer Take on Catullus 16.”

catullus16

I keep returning to his translation:

I will butt-fuck you and skull-fuck you,
Aurelius, you pussy-boy, and Furius, you cocksucker!
Both of you think I’m not man enough
because my little poems are a little soft.
But while a decent poet should be manly,
his bits of verse need not be manly at all.
In fact, poems are witty and charming
if they’re a little soft and a bit shameful,
and can get a rise, well, not out of boys perhaps,
but these hairy men who can barely get it up.
Because you read about my “many thousands of kisses,”
you think I’m not a real man?
I will butt-fuck you and skull-fuck you!

which reminds me in an anachronistic turnabout of the Deleuze and Guattari suggestion that we dig up dead philosophers and conduct on them similar acts (alias doctoral comprehensive exams, alias blogging, alias speech). Broder takes us into that weird orbit of pop/academy/poetry and calls:

 my critics claim, I’m just hell-bent on “seeing us in them,” of finding evidence for gayness wherever I look in history. Both of these sins fall under the general charge of “presentism,” applying modern categories inappropriately to the past. But now I’m on The Huffington Post, not at an academic conference. You make the rules around here. So read on and tell me what you think.

Of Catullus Camp and camp’s more general unparsable narratives, he argues:

There’s another way in which Poem 16 is camp: the way Catullus pretends to buy into moral standards that he actually rejects. In defending himself against the charges of being effeminate, he does not go all “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” on us. Instead, he deflects. He says he can be manly while still writing unmanly poems, and that unmanly poems are witty and charming. He’s no sissy, he’s just pretending to be one for the entertainment value. Wink wink. Does Catullus really accept traditional Roman standards of masculinity? Which is the “real” Catullus, the manly Catullus who only writes mushy love poems to give hard-ons to hairy old men, or the sissy Catullus who begs Lesbia and Juventius for kisses? The fact is, we don’t know for sure which is real and which is pretend, and that’s precisely how camp works. Camp is all about insider audiences and outsider audiences. In the 1960s, drag queens were called “female impersonators” to make straight audiences feel more comfortable. They could believe that once the man in the dress went home, he was a “normal man,” just like them. Meanwhile, the camp audience members knew that after the show, the drag queen was going to the nearest gay bar to cruise some trade. Catullus is wielding that same kind of double-edged sword.

Ain’t no real citizens but us chickens.

 

1 comment for this entry:
  1. Michael Broder

    Thanks for posting this and giving my ideas some additional legs. I’ve already heard from one reader who saw it here first, rather than at its original location. Keep me informed about new posts and I’ll share them on Facebook and Twitter.