By Michael Trask
Camp Sites considers key topics of postwar tradition, from the clash among functionality and authenticity to the increase of the meritocracy, during the lens of camp, the underground sensibility of pre-Stonewall homosexual existence. In so doing, it argues that our uncomplicated assumptions in regards to the social sort of the postwar milieu are deeply expert by way of yes presuppositions approximately gay adventure and id, and that those presuppositions stay stubbornly entrenched regardless of our post-Stonewall consciousness-raising.
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73 Whereas Invisible Man records the gradual disillusionment of its true-believer protagonist, Stranger and Alone charts close to the opposite trajectory. It begins with its protagonist’s education in “disbelief ” and concludes with his having mastered others by strategically pretending to believe things he privately disavows—in other words, by absorbing the midcentury academic’s commitment to make-believe as a way of life. It is as though Invisible Man were written with Bledsoe as its hero. In Redding’s novel, the surrogacy of the professorial performer, allowing himself to be used by another in the service of a cause in which neither of them believes, is deplored with a moral certitude from which Ellison’s book demurs.
To say that the Cold War university collaborated in the project of emotion management by way of its openness to conditionals is to run the risk of hollowness that attaches to any general claim about that institution. As Theodore Caplow and Reece McGee wrote in The Academic Marketplace (1958), “It is easy to agree that the purpose of a factory is production” but “not at all easy . . ”9 Yet as Caplow and McGee’s book itself demonstrates, the resistance to specifying what the university did was accompanied throughout the postwar decade by a massive escalation in the industry dedicated to worrying that very purpose.
Whereas Goodman disdains “role-playing” and seeks a renewal of “spirit,” most of his peers regard the problem with the inauthentic in somewhat different terms. The disaffection from belief presents a middle ground between the return to authenticity that Goodman advocates and the gullible embrace of theatrical illusionism these thinkers take to be the disastrous result of a hegemonic mass culture. In keeping with the antifoundational coloring of much Fifties social thought, this middle ground is most itself when it eschews any determinate confines.