Since Dionysius was the god of wine and theater, it is not surprising that that his cult followers often sound as though they are drunk.
Everyone knows that America is in trouble. The economy is not generating jobs; political leaders have been ignoring public opinion; our president has been ingratiating himself with our enemies while snubbing our allies; and the Afghan war has been going poorly. America has seen better days.
Some of us feel that America will have to work its way out of the ditch it has fallen into. We want people to recover their work ethic, treat their friends and neighbors with civility, act with decorum and propriety, and show more respect for others.
Those of us who favor working our way out of our problems have been critical of the new American decadence that has helped put is there. Over the past few decades America has suffered a cultural revolution that has made us into sybarites, lotus-eaters, and pleasure seekers. When unemployed young people complain most loudly about their unwillingness to work more than the required minimum, you know that something important is afoot.
Camille Paglia sees things differently. For her decadence is not the problem; it's the solution. She does not want us to work our way out of our problems; she wants us to lust our way out of them.
You may think that America is more sexually liberated than it has ever been. For Camille Paglia, it's not good enough. Our distinctly American sensuality simply does not live up to the fine example that was set by the European continent, by Nietzsche and perhaps even the Marquis de Sade.
In Paglia's world, I imagine, we are all going to become like Zorba the Greek, drunk with wine, dancing on the beach, without a care in the world. Until, I must add, the money runs out.
As it happens, today's version of Zorba is likely to be mounting an insurrection against a government that can no longer pay for retirement at age 50. Camille Paglia's spiritual cohorts want to retire with full pensions so that they can enjoy life without having to work for it.
Paglia never considers the possibility that people can enjoy working, that they can feel satisfaction from a job well done, and that there is considerable happiness in being a responsible parent and a respectful neighbor.
In her confused New York Times op-ed Paglia diagnoses the nation's sexual malaise from the fact that the FDA just rejected an application for a new medicine that would enhance female sexual desire.. a Viagra for women.
Paglia considers this rejection to be something of a tragedy, but she goes further and tries to analyze why so many women have diminished libidos. I would mention that Paglia never offers any evidence for the fact that many women feel less lusty than they used to.
Without bothering to demonstrate the point, Paglia goes on to blame it on Queen Victoria. Apparently, our Great American Cultural Revolution has not fully succeeded in overcoming the oppressive weight of Victorian culture. To Paglia we remain a group of respectable middle class burghers who have refused to measure out our lives in orgasms.
The affront... the indignity... the horror of it all.
Based on her op-ed Paglia does not seem willing to grant that biology might have something to do with diminished libido in some cases. Nor does she consider that depression is one of the more common causes of a loss of sexual appetite. Finally, she does not consider that in a culture where sexual stimuli are readily available for anyone who wants it, then people are going to become desensitized to such stimuli. The more you are densensitized to sex the more you are going to have to go to extremes to find sexual pleasure.
Worse than even that, Paglia does not consider the possibility, however remote it may be, that some women may be perfectly contented with the diminished lust that comes with age. You do not have to have been around too much to know that the advent of Viagra was not greeted with open arms by the wives of its first users.
Paglia knows full well that sex is everywhere now. For her, that is not good enough, because, after all, she believes that Madonna was a Dionysian goddess while the current version of Madonna, Lady Gaga, is, to Paglia, "a high concept fabrication without an ounce of genuine eroticism." Take that, Gaga.
I believe that it is honorable for members of one generation to refrain from criticizing another generation's taste in music. Trashing Lady Gaga does not make you sound clever and witty; it makes you sound old.
Paglia's larger point is interesting enough to merit some attention. She defines clearly the nature of the culture wars that have been raging for the past few centuries. She sees that there is a great cultural disparity between Anglo-American culture and continental European cultures, primarily French and German. I suspect that she would happily include the rest of continental Europe in the cultural stew... from the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the countries that are currently called the Club Med or siesta countries.
Paglia is happy to regale us with the standard litany of the cultural values that, to her mind, continue to repress our sexual vitality. You have surely seen this list before: bourgeois propriety, Victorian prudery, middle class conformity, British respectability, desexualized white actresses, and that tense, toned Pilates look. All of these horrors have been visited on us by our Anglo-American culture. They have dampened our ardor and made us into chronic consumers of Viagra.
It's easy enough to criticize. Offering an alternative is something else. And Paglia does not seem to recognize that the ongoing assault on Anglo-American culture has produced a number of political, social, and cultural alternatives.
If you want to say that the art and philosophy produced on the European continent during the 19th century was superior to that produced in England and America, be my guest. But keep in mind that there is more to life than art and philosophy.
You can rail all you want about the horrors of Victorian England, but it did, truth be told, produce a Winston Churchill. The great philosophers and artists of Germany produced a failed painter who wanted to make all of
Europe a canvas wherein he could express his aesthetic vision.
Europe a canvas wherein he could express his aesthetic vision.
[For an excellent study of the way an aesthetic was transformed into a political movement, I recommend Modris Eksteins' great book: Rites of Spring.]
It's not so difficult to understand. If you eliminate the dread middle class, what you get is perpetual conflict between upper and lower classes. You have violent conflict between French aristocrats and peasants leading to the French Revolution. And you have violent conflict between workers and capitalists producing any one of a number of revolutionary movements.
Let us not forget the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. That particular form of Maoist delirium wanted to rid China of all vestiges of middle class propriety, respectability, and Confucianism. It was not, dare we say, a grand aesthetic gesture, except in the sense of channeling the energy of itinerant youth into the effort to remake China as a work of art.
All of these clashes do set one's blood aboil, but they also produced some of the most violent destruction that human history has ever known.
I would never suggest that Camille Paglia supports these horrors. Her taste runs more to Elvis than Mussolini. And yet, she ought to acknowledge that many people have tried to make over the world and human nature, to make it fulfill the requirements of an artistic vision.
For the most part such efforts have produced far more horrors than did Queen Victoria and Lady Gaga.