Camille Paglia: Your Thoughts?
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When I first read Sexual Personae it altered my world-view when it came to the intersecting of art, history, and understanding of humanity.
And the more I read by (and of) Camille Paglia, the more I agreed with her.
I've always interpreted her writings to have a sensible, logical basis to them. Like Gertrude Stein and Susan Sontag, there's always been underpinings of self-respect as a main theme.
Being a hetrosexual male, it is difficult to explain why I think this literature is so important. Maybe because themes of strength and tolerance ring true to my ears. But nevertheless, I've always found the depths of being alive to reside in the greatest degree in the writings of those who display their passion and love for life - in textual formats.
Shall I be honest with you? I have ambivalent feelings about Camille Paglia. On the one hand I find her very fun reading, and agree with her sometimes. Other times, she depresses me. Her world-view is very...dark, and narrow, in some ways, very reductionistic. Which is fine in small doses, but as for building a worldview on such stuff...
But I will be honest further and admit I never finished Sexual Personae.... perhaps all the unpalatable "truths" like, women are doomed to being breeding sacks of adipose tissue, and, only men can be geniuses, because they can piss straight, just got to me. Did I read her wrong? Is it just me, or is that really what she says? Someday I plan to finish the book, but--- I am a very sensitive soul; she can get me down.
I don't think that Paglia, who is basically a relentless self-publicist and shit-stirrer, can be grouped with Gertrude Stein and Susan Sontag, two of the most brilliant thinkers of the 20th century, whose use of language and ideas about identity, consciousness, respect for others (which Paglia completely lacks) and representation are neither biologically essentialist, nor written in tabloidese. To see just how weak a thinker Paglia is, check out her book on poetry, where she tries to out-Germaine Germaine Greer by wandering into the minefield of literary scholarship, wearing a pair of stilettos.
I loved the fact that I asked for The Madwoman's Underclothes for my service to the school prize, age 17. Ooh, how radical. Looking back, the headmistress who gave me the prize was a single, intelligent career woman who ran an excellent girls' grammar school and pushed us all towards academic excellence and careers in the sciences and industry - so it probably wasn't that radical after all!
deliriumslibrarian took the words out of my mouth.. moreover, when I've seen her interviewed, interviewing, being a talking head.. whatever, I have always found her behaviour towards the people she's with a kind of running put down.. She's one of those people who thrives on being better than others, and doesn't mind what the impact of what she does is for other people. I try to be open minded but she strikes me as a bully, and her writing is of the same nature -
Paglia is a snitty gay man in a woman's body. Her views appeal to men, because she worships men and degrades women AND calls herself a feminist (or post-feminist, whatever).
Her work is more accessible than that of true feminists (bell hooks, Angela Y. Davis, etc.), but don't confuse that for being anything but self-serving publicity. I'd suggest that anyone who likes Paglia read Leonard Shlain (esp. The Alphabet Versus the Goddess) -- who is a better culture critic, isn't as interested in self-promotion, and has a more intelligent concept of "woman".
Oh! I just had to laugh because I agreed soooo much with tiggergrrl until she mentioned Leonard Shlain! Ha! As an art historian who loves science I picked up his "Art and Physics" on a dollar shelf one day -- His take on art is totally essentialist and cliche and then a friend who is an astronomer told me he pretty much butchers the physics angle too! Plus, I hear that in real life he is a pompous womanizer, so it is funny that he gets paraded out here in a feminist thread.
Must everything be judged on true/false feminist/male/female etc?
As a book, Sexual Personae was full of ideas and stylistically rambunctious, sometimes obnoxious -- in the amusing way sei shonagon and her reincarnation oscar wilde were, so i could forgive her overly simplistic view of the sexes and psychology and think, it is about time i found a book with plenty of food for thought! Compare it, to say, Naomi's Beauty Myth which added close to zero to the subject (most of the ideas and info were better done in Face Value by Robin Lakoff and R. Scherr(sp?) and, well, it was the sort of book i could have written in college).
But, Paglia did herself a disservice when she quit being a real author and wrote magazine pieces and books that look like they are made from the same. That takes a different type of writer. I want her to hunker down and come up with another good book in a decade or so. Meanwhile, if you have not read S. Personae, do not judge it unworthy of a read because you have read her other work!
Also, consider this: people who engage in blowing their own trumphet do not necessarily do it because it is in their nature to do so. It might be because they, unlike those well-known or wealthy authors with major publishers have no other way to let others know of their work.
Rise, Ye Sea Slugs!
While searching through files and folders on my computer the other night, I stumbled across this pdf of Molly Ivin's brilliant and truly hilarious 1991 Mother Jones review of Paglia's Sexual Personae. In I Am The Cosmos, Ivins expresses what were essentially my own thoughts on first reading Paglia's book, but with far greater wit and a great deal more ladylike restraint ;-)
I read Sexual Personae when I was an undergraduate and it was certainly stimulating then. I'm not sure I was entirely taken by the ideas though...
...so when I picked up Paglia's book of literary criticism, Break Blow Burn, I was pleasantly surprised. It's very good. She writes about 43 of the greatest (and her favourite) poems in the English language in incisive compelling prose. The writing itself is a pleasure... which was one of the things I enjoyed so much about Sexual Personae.
I appreciate her aggressive, driving prose.
Ugh, I loathe her writing style. One short, blunt declarative sentence after another. It's like being pecked at by a seagull. Provocative ideas generally make me prick up my ears -- I like to argue ideas -- but only when they're backed up with solid argument. As a feminist and a female person I hate to use the word "strident," but that's always how I think of La Camille.
marietherese, thanks for that link!
>Paglia's book of literary criticism, Break Blow Burn,
I thought it was dreadful, flat, unimaginative, unworthy of a smart high-schooler.
Glad you enjoyed it, Lola! I laughed myself sick the first time I read it and am still apt to break into fits of giggles just thinking about it.
Wow, don't really like it, eh! No, I don't get the Paglia bashing... but I admit you need to have the passion (in this case, for feminist theory, feminist writing, feminist writing style, whatever) to have the hate...
Good point. But I wouldn't call this "bashing," just healthy dissent :-)
I once went to a talk given by Paglia at the Southbank, UK. I walked out before she did. :-)
I can't even watch her on TV. In response to a question I seem to remember her prefacing her answer with something like
"I am a respected professor and literary critic, and . . . (etc. etc.)"
In my mental picture of the big library reading room in the sky (or underground, if you prefer) she is sitting at a table with Harold Bloom, Joyce Carol Oates and Leo Strauss. They are working on some sort of study guide series for undergraduates - a volume on how to avoid plagiarism, something like that.
Ah yes, Paglia -- the mighty slayer of strawfeminists, the girl who hopes if she slags the other girls enough the boys will let her sit at their table and marvel at how smart and sexy she is.
I rather liked Paglia. I plod through Sexual Personae, very much enjoyed her perspectives and interpretations and learned a thing or two in the meanwhile. Far from being an expert in Feminist study, I can also say that I enjoy her much more than Faludi or Naomi Wolf who do nothing but whinge.
My disappointment with Paglia is that she hasn't has an original thought since Personae and all her other books are rehashes of that one.
I loved Personae and felt all that followed was so much crap.
I do not think that Naomi Wolf's problem is that she "whinges" but simply that she has not yet found the time to do real research.
Sinch real work no loner pays, I doubt she ever will.
I you want the real thing, try me.
What else can I say?
100% free reading at google . . .
robin d gill
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