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Camille Paglia (1947 - )

Related: American academia - Dionysian and Appolonian - nobrow - the sex wars - cultural criticism

Camille Paglia, photo unidentified

To invoke two other writers from the past, Paglia used to come on like Byron; now she is like some cynical version of Dickens’s Oliver Twist, trampling on her very own standards, stooping as low as she can go in order to get a second helping of attention from the public that has forgotten her. But bullies always end up being reduced to their inner weakling. It’s called poetic justice. –Lee Siegel in Look at Me [June 13, 2005 ]

Titles: Sexual Personae (1990) - Camille Paglia

Paglia is an intellectual of many apparent contradictions: a classicist who champions art both high and low, with a Hobbesian view that human nature is inherently dangerous, and yet who also celebrates dionysian revelry in the wilder, darker sides of human sexuality.


Camille Paglia (born April 2, 1947) is a social critic, author and feminist.

Paglia is an intellectual of many apparent contradictions: a classicist who champions art both high and low, with a Hobbesian view that human nature is inherently dangerous, and yet who also celebrates dionysian revelry in the wilder, darker sides of human sexuality.

Her significance in the 1990s intellectual world was two-fold:

  1. The seventies had seen the rise of a particularly rigid, doctrinaire "feminism" that many were finding stifling but only a few were challenging (e.g., the "sex positive" S&M lesbians, perhaps typified by Susie Bright).
  2. The left was pushing for a change in the traditional focus of western universities on western culture (sometimes derided as the study of "dead white males"). For example, Stanford University was dropping its well-regarded undergraduate requirement of a year-long course in "Western Culture" in favor of a more broadly-focused study of "Cultures Ideas and Values" or CIV.

Against this backdrop, Camille Paglia appeared on the scene as a female intellectual who enjoyed challenging the left-wing position in these areas, but far from being the usual stodgy conservative, she did so by arguing from an unusual, flashy position that also embraced homosexuality, fetish, and prostitution. Her later writings in her column in Salon often use the word "libertarian," as she speaks out in favor of individual freedom, which may help explain the apparent contradiction, and the consternation she causes in crossing back and forth between the dominant political camps. --http://www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camille_Paglia

The Age of Hollywood [...]

Camille Paglia's central thesis is that in the 20th century (which she calls the Age of Hollywood) pagan popular culture overtook and vanquished the high arts. Thanks to advances in technology, pop became a universal language, as catholic in its reach as the medieval church. Once pop art embraced commercial iconography, the avant-garde was dead.


Whereas Dionysus--an androgynous earth god--represents all that is mysterious, occult, irrational, impulsive. Apollo is fundamentally male and Dionysus female. Apollo was the god of the sun, of light, like Lucifer before the fall. Dionysus was the god of drink, of orgies, of earthly impulses and "paganism"--like Lucifer after the fall. Nature does not conform to the laws of Man, of Culture; it cannot be contained. Man sees uncontainable nature in women--in the liquids that flow from her genitalia during sex and menstruation, from her breasts after childbirth--and is threatened, even as he is deeply drawn to that nature under his "persona" (the Latin word for a theatrical mask).- Kevin Cassell

Pedophilia [...]

As far as Ginsberg's pro-NAMBLA stand goes, this is one of the things I most admire him for. I have repeatedly protested the lynch-mob hysteria that dogs the issue of man-boy love. In "Sexual Personae," I argued that male pedophilia is intricately intertwined with the cardinal moments of Western civilization. Donatello's historically pivotal bronze sculpture, "David" (1430), was my main exhibit -- a languidly flirtatious work that would get the artist arrested for kiddie porn these days. In "Vamps & Tramps," I said that Western moralism and hypocrisy have driven the matter underground and overseas, where impoverished Third World boys now supply the sex trade. --http://www.salonmagazine.com/april97/columnists/paglia970415.html


"Rape is an act of desperation, a confession of envy and exclusion. All men- even, I have written, Jesus himself- began as flecks of tissue inside a woman's womb. Every boy must stagger out of the shadow of a mother goddess, whom he never fully escapes....Women have it. Men want it. What is it? The secret of life..."(Vamps & Tramps p. 32)

Monika Treut [...]

Monika Treut was born in Germany in 1954. In the mid-seventies she began working with video. She founded Hyena Filmproduktion together with Elfi Mikesch in 1984, and began producing, writing, and directing independent feature films. Treut's first feature, co-directed with Elfi Mikesch, was the controversial Seduction: The Cruel Woman (1985), which explores the psychological aspects of sadomasochism. The black and white coming-out tale Virgin Machine followed in 1988. My Father Is Coming, a comedy of manners set in New York, was released in 1991. In 1992 Treut began directing documentaries: Female Misbehavior, four portraits of "bad girls," among them Camille Paglia; Didn't Do It For Love in 1997, about Norwegian-born Eva Norvind, B-movie star in Mexico, later dominatrix in New York; and a group portrait of transgendered cyborgs in San Francisco Gendernauts in 1999. Most recently Treut completed Warrior of Light about Yvonne Bezerra de Mello, an internationally renowned artist and human rights activist who works with endangered children in the streets and slums of Rio de Janeiro.


Pornography is human imagination in tense theatrical action; its violations are a protest against the violations of our freedom by nature.

Paglia on Feminism

YJE: How would you define feminism and do you consider yourself a feminist?

CP: Yes, I consider myself 100 percent a feminist, at odds with the feminist establishment in America. For me the great mission of feminism is to seek the full political and legal equality of women with men. However, I disagree with many of my fellow feminists as an equal opportunity feminist, who believes that feminism should only be interested in equal rights before the law. I utterly oppose special protection for women where I think that a lot of the feminist establishment has drifted in the last 20 years. The hot button issue that I have become notorious for is date rape. The modern independent woman has to be fully responsible for her behavior and experiences in every social encounter. I do not want a situation where we have women running to authority figures to intervene for them with men. In 1964, I arrived at college at a time when women were second class citizens and there was an elaborate system of protectionism. We were kept in sexually segregated dorms under lock and key. While the men could go out all night long, we had to be in at 11:00 p.m. and sign in. The colleges were acting in loco parentis in place of the parent and they in effect said to us, RWe must protect you. The world is a dangerous place you could be raped. And what we women of the 60s said was, Give us the freedom to risk rape we want equality with men. Truly free modern women must expect the possibility that they can be attacked if they are going to go out with strangers. I cannot stand the young feminists of the late 80s and 90s who demand that authority figures come back into sex. We women of the 60s shoved authority figures out of sex. http://www.yale.edu/yje/paglia.html, [...] [...]

Mass media vs academe

A serious problem in America is the gap between academe and the mass media, wich is our culture. Professors of humanities, with all their leftist fantasies, have little direct knowledge of American life and no impact whatever on public policy. Academic commentary on popular culture is either ghettoized as lackluster "communications", tarted up with semiotics or loaded down with grim , quasi-Marxist, Frankfurt School censoriousness: the pitifully witless masses re always being brainwashed by money-brubbing capitalist pigs. But mass media is completely, even servilely commercial. It is a mirror of the popular mind. All the P.R. in the world cannot make a hit movie or sitcom. The people vote with ratings and dollars. Academic Marxists, with their elitist sense of superiority to popular taste, are the biggest snobs in America -- Camille Paglia in 'Sex, Art and American Culture' page ix.

See also: mass media - academia

Camille Paglia and SM

Ah, yeah, now Sexual Personae, my first book, ah, followed, ah, one of the most important things I followed through Western culture was this thing of sado-masochism. I am not a practising S&M anything. My real sex life is rather boring, probably. But, um, I just discovered that theme and, you know, and by the time that book came out it was amazing how, um, it was part of the general culture, through Mapplethorpe's images and a lot of other things that were going on in movies. So, um, I would just say that for me I follow the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, that is I do not believe as Rousseau claims that we are born good and that we're made bad by corrupt society or rather we're born ... [...]

Camille Paglia on Aids

Well, um, what I'm saying is that I'm I'm part of the sexual revolution, um, and I feel that the...in one of my most controversial sentences is "Everybody who preached free love in the 60's is responsible for AIDS." I mean by that the Mama's and the Papa's and all of us, so, the price of that revolution has been paid by gay men, primarily. I think that what we're understanding is the enormous power of nature. Even Larry Kramer is starting to talk like this now: that nature apparently did not want us to be promiscuous and that it puts a thousand obstacles in our paths such as these diseases. OK. I feel that procreation is nature's law, and that's why I defy nature, I resist it, I oppose it. OK. I think that women certainly are in the..um, you know we were the first generation to have the birth control pill, OK, which frustrates nature. -- http://gaytoday.badpuppy.com/garchive/interview/033197in.htm

Paglia and Sontag

As a graduate student at Bennington, Camille Paglia idolized Sontag, and succeeded in procuring her to speak. In an essay ("Sontag Bloody Sontag", in Vamps and Tramps), Paglia detailed how the faculty reluctantly agreed to bring Sontag to campus after Paglia had built her up extensively. Sontag was late arriving, making the audience sit and wait, then stood up and read from some deadly boring fiction she was writing instead of the scintillating talk they had been expecting. (The biography is sprinkled with details of how Sontag made people wait, made an ass of herself, sent peons scurrying on errands and then disappeared.) Paglia later complained that Random House lawyers had excised about a third of "Sontag Bloody Sontag", including a passage in which Paglia "excoriated Sontag" and her publicity machine for "publicizing her early relationship with a man [Philip Rieff] to the exclusion of all her subsequent relationships with women, including �[Leibovitz]." Paglia frequently badmouthed Sontag in the press, then ballyhooed Sontag's disingenuousness in pretending not to know who Paglia was [...] http://www.epinions.com/content_52196314756

Paglia on the French and German Schools

"A cultural vacuum was created [in North America in the 1960s] that would be filled in the 1970s by French poststructuralism and German critical theory of the Frankfurt School. Those approaches would dominate American literature departments for the next quarter century, devastating the humanities and reducing their prestige and power in the world at large.

"It's time," urged Paglia, "for a recovery and a systematic reassessment of the North American thinkers whose work, arguably, would endure over time when the French and German schools have been discarded. Marshall McLuhan [Understanding Media, 1964], Leslie Fiedler [Love and Death in the American Novel, 1960], and Norman O. Brown [Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History, 1959] are the triad I would substitute for the big three of French theory: Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida, and Michel Foucault." -- Norah Vincent in http://www.villagevoice.com/issues/0009/vincent.php, March 2000.

Black Music

[...]you cannot be graduating from an American liberal arts college without knowing about black music. This is a great art form we have given to the world. Jazz, blues, Billie Holiday, Coltrane, Charlie Parker--there is no true liberal arts education in this country without that. We must do something to the curriculum to build that in. Right now dance, which is this enormous form, the most ancient of all art forms, is off there in the Phys. Ed. department--you go and take an aerobics class! You are not a liberal arts graduate until you know about dance--you know about it. You know about Martha Graham, you know about ballet, you know about the incredible contributions that African-Americans have made to dance. -- Paglia on September 19, 1991 at M.I.T. in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This extemporaneous talk was sponsored by M.I.T.'s Writing Program.

Camille on Bataille

I was deeply disappointed in Bataille from the moment I picked up his books. His themes are my themes, his influences (in many cases) my influences. But he writes in the foggy, boring style that we now know all too well from poststructuralism and its mewling babe, postmodernism (flush it!). [I disagree]

Disco Madonna

Madonna is a dancer. She thinks and expresses herself through dance, which exists in the eternal Dionysian realm of music. [�]. Madonna consolidates and fuses several traditions of pop music, but the major one she typifies is disco [�] I view disco, at its serious best, as a dark, grand Dionysian music with roots in African earth-cult. � Camille Paglia, �Madonna II: Venus of the Radio Waves�, in Sex, Art, and American Culture. Essays (New York: Vintage, 1992), pp.6�13, p.7.

Paglia on Rock

Rock music should not be left to the Darwinian laws of the marketplace. This natively American art form deserves national support. Foundations, corporations and Federal and state agencies that award grants in the arts should take rock musicians as seriously as composers and sculptors. Colleges and universities should designate special scholarships for Wented rock musicians. Performers who have made fortunes out of rock are ethically obligated to finance such scholarships or to underwrite independent agencies to support needy musicians. -- Camille Paglia [...]

Politics and the Sex Wars

The contextual problems of lesbian erotica mean that it seldom attains the unselfconscious raunchiness of gay men's Pornography. Much sexually lesbian art is intellectual, ironic, or overtly political in a way that is not the case for other pornographic traditions.

Lesbian erotica must also be seen in the context of the "sex wars," which split feminists into two groups: those who believe sexually imagery to be irrevocably contaminated by sexism and others who insist that sexual exploration is central to women's liberation. This conflict led to the development of a unique phenomenon that might best be described as "agit-porn," whereby lesbians used painting, photography, and performance to push the boundaries of representation of lesbian sexuality and challenge pro-censorship feminists. --Erotic and Pornographic Art: Lesbian , © 2002, glbtq, Inc.http://www.glbtq.com/arts/erotic_art_lesbian,2.html [May 2004]

Ancient Greek literature openly celebrated same-sex love in its poetry and prose. For the most part, Roman writing on homosexual themes followed the Greek models, though the two cultures held sharply differing attitudes toward love between males. --http://www.glbtq.com [May 2004]

More books

  1. Vamps and Tramps: New Essays - Camille Paglia [1 book, Amazon US]
    Either you like the polysexual, pagan Paglia, or you don't-and this collection by the author of Sexual Personae isn't going to change that. Perfectly aware of her image, Paglia early on compares herself to Ross Perot, Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern, in her "raging egomania and volatile comic personae tending toward the loopy." On this outing, Paglia revisits the same fire hydrants, sniffs the competition and then marks them once more as her own. Pornography continues to be great; Lacanians, bad; Freud, underrated; feminists, undersexed. Although her main essay "No Law in the Arena," is not as solid as "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders," the analysis of academe that anchored Sex, Art, and American Culture, many of her essays expand on her gritty common-sense understanding of the nasty realities of sex. Particularly good are "Rebel Love: Homosexuality"; "Lolita Unclothed" and "Woody Allen Agonistes." Paglia is at her bilious ad feminem best skewering one-time idol Susan Sontag in "Sontag, Bloody Sontag," or Catharine MacKinnon ("the dull instincts and tastes of a bureaucrat") and Andrea Dworkin ("The Girl with the Eternal Cold") in "The Return of Carry Nation." As usual, there's much about tabloid icons-Amy Fisher, Lorena Bobbit, Jackie O-but Paglia herself has become just such an icon, appearing in movies and TV specials whose transcripts she rather tediously includes. Still, when Paglia is good, she is palatable; when Paglia is bad, she's terrific.

  2. Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays - Camille Paglia [Amazon.com]
    The essays in the collection cover subjects as diverse as Elizabeth Taylor (for Playboy), Milton Kessler (her teacher) and body building. What they have in common is Paglia's snappy writing style � when aiming at a popular market � and innate quotability. More than this, they're full of her awareness that marketing techniques apply even within the realm of ideas. Paglia devotes plenty of ink to personal anecdotes designed to reveal her rags-to-riches rise, her ambiguous sexuality (formerly a lesbian, now bisexual), her roots in the progressive sixties � the nostalgia for which she taps unmercifully in her famous mit lecture, even her (for an academic) glamorous looks. It�s pure soap opera. I inhabit television reality, she said in one of many interviews which heralded spring 1993. I have 3 tvs in my house and I�m about to get a 4th. I have them on all day. Three? Four? This is the woman so hungry for popular culture she watches four tvs at once. It's all Paglia Added Value. Buy this book, astound your friends with Camille's ideas, drop Paglia�s name in conversation, feel guilty no more about watching tv. -- Jane Szita in http://www.mediamatic.net/cwolk/view/3740

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