FUNNY WOMEN #120: Notes on “Camping”


It’s been 50 years since Susan Sontag published “Notes on ‘Camp.'” Now, we imagine what she might have said about Camping:

1. To start generally: The American Campground, often photographed but rarely described, is the embodiment of modern bourgeois faux-naturalism. The desire to be both a master of and a participant in nature (Nature) is a perpetual obsession of the elite. This desire cannot be satisfied or explored through the confines of the urban lifestyle—the vessel for naturalistic reflection and self-actualization must be a Coleman tent. The Coleman tent is a dualistic dwelling. It is both a barrier from the physical reality of Nature and a conduit for the kind of spiritual transformation that only Nature can bestow. Though I will write about Camping as an experience, I will also write about the relationship between Camper and Nature. Jottings are the most appropriate format for this exploration. To write formally about Camping would make me a fool.

2. The idea of the mosquito is primitive. The intellect of the mosquito has an elegant simplicity—the mosquito has a palate only for blood, and he is neither aware of his postprandial mortality nor sensitive to his rank among his insect Others. He does not know that he is doomed. This morning I watched a mosquito draw blood from my arm. I began to draft an essay, “Regarding the Pain of Mosquitoes,” but I was distracted by the sudden boisterous presence of a German tourist who was photographing different types of tree fungus. (Idiot.) At the camp store this afternoon, I asked H if we could buy marshmallows. She smirked and did not answer, disdainful of my plebeian weakness for saccharine pleasure. She tortures me with silence.

3. Thoughts on Boy Scout Troop #118’s outdoor amphitheater production of Hamlet:

This troupe’s Hamlet was no brooding soul. In the famed Hamlet soliloquy, this Hamlet inserted the word “fart-poopy”—meaning the biological phenomenon of mistaking a poopy for a fart—at sporadic intervals, much to the snickering delight of his fellow troupe members and apparently as some sort of “dare.” Daly1Such tragicomic indifference to the play’s original text elevated the play as a whole into the highest form of hysterical farce.

The ghost of Hamlet’s father was costumed in swathes of toilet paper. This explains why the only two latrines in this campground never have any toilet paper.

In Western Art, the audience is the victim.

55. Notes 4-54 were rendered unreadable by last night’s rainstorm. I found the pages floating in the puddle that collected at the base of our tent this morning. The pages were sullied by the rain but no less full of meaning than they were prior to the soaking. H continues to distance me emotionally while smothering me physically. Last night she rolled on top of me in her sleeping bag with no warning. Immobilized by the mummy bag, she lay there, unspeaking, to make a point. The tent, like marriage, suffocates.

56. F joined us today. He arrived bearing ingredients for s’mores. H constantly flirts with him as I stand by and watch in agony. She deftly exploits my deepest insecurities. The s’more concept suffers from bloated ambition. Ironically, the s’more exists primarily to destroy its creator—it demands from its creator a dire amount of effort that could only end in the creator’s contemplation of her impending death. The s’more artist is forced to engage in unthinkable violence in pursuit of s’more perfection. After gouging the marshmallow through its core with a dead branch, the artist must plunge the marshmallow into white-hot embers. If the marshmallow falls, then the artist is helpless; she can only watch the marshmallow burn while inhaling the fumes of its syrupy demise. Like Kierkegaard’s young aesthete, the s’more artist inevitably succumbs to despair.


57. One must distinguish between the types of camping. There is Camping, there is camping, and there is “Camping.” 

Examples of Camp:

Swiss army knives
obese raccoons

Examples of camp:

Hiking boots
baked potatoes cooked in tinfoil over a fire
Virginia Woolf

Examples of “Camp”:

jiffy pops
Art Nouveau

F is not a Camper; he is a camper. His camping sensibilities are less refined than those of H, but he does have a 6-setting headlamp and his pocketknife contains an extra feature specifically designed for flattening the mold-worn slats on ancient campsite picnic tables. H is Camping, but I fear that I am simply “Camping.” No wonder she does not love me.

58. Today F joined us for our Noon Nature Walk with Ranger Steve. Ranger Steve says that only female mosquitoes bite humans. He offered no explanation, no reason for why this is—just the fact. I will not interpret it.


Rumpus original art by Annie Daly.


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Ali Ruth has studied at Wash U. in St. Louis and the University of Botswana. Currently she works for an international agriculture think tank where she writes policies based on the research she does on previously-existing research policies. This job could exist only in Washington D.C. More from this author →