Thursday, October 11, 2012

Camille Paglia Unbound

Camille Paglia is out selling her soon-to-be-released book, Glittering Images. To promote it she did an extended and fascinating interview with Salon

In it you can hear a different, and in many ways more sensible voice from the radical left. Paglia is her own woman; she does not toe anyone’s party line; she is not a knee-jerk apologist for liberal Democrats.

Sometimes her views shock; sometimes they surprise; sometimes they provoke. Often she addresses topics that I have posted about on this blog. Strangely, her views are often similar to mind.

Here are a few samples.

Talking about Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth Paglia makes a point that others have made:

I detested “The Beauty Myth” because I felt it was such a poorly researched and argued book. To address the topic of beauty required research into aesthetics and the history of modern media and Hollywood. But she just waded into the subject with the most PC second-wave feminist ideology — even though she herself was profiting enormously from her own good looks. If Naomi Wolf didn’t look the way she did, she would never have gotten any attention for that book. So it seemed hypocritical of her to be denouncing the beauty myth even while she was profiting from it.

Currently, Wolf is out selling her new book, Vagina.

Apparently, the book is not doing very well in the marketplace. Even feminists, Paglia observes, are horrified at Wolf’s latest excursion into shamelessness. For her part Paglia questions Wolf’s self-aggrandizing portrayal of her sex life.

Paglia said:

First of all, the sheer number of negative reviews, as well as the tone of derision and contempt coming from fellow feminists, was unprecedented. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember in my entire career any book receiving more negative reviews than this book has — and yet all that press space not resulting in sales. It was as if feminism was shaking itself and reassessing itself and reconsidering its history. 

I found many of the major U.S. reviews … swallowed wholesale her tall tales of her fabulous sex life and didn’t seem to notice how viciously castrating to men the entire book is. 

Wolf’s exhibitionism appalled Paglia as it should appall all sentient human beings. Identifying any human being with his or her genitalia is intrinsically demeaning.

In her interview Paglia calls out Wolf’s absence of self-respect, to say nothing of her total lack of awareness of who she is:

Because the first thing I said when the Australian contacted me (while the book was still under embargo and I had only seen a short summary in Publishers Weekly) was that I was shocked at the grotesque sexual exhibitionism here of a woman who is turning 50 this year and who is the mother of two teenagers. Why would anyone do this to herself and her family? Shouldn’t it be obvious that anyone who is genuinely enjoying a wonderful love life would never expose those tender intimacies to the harsh spotlight of the world?

Not until the tail end of the review process did I see in a relatively obscure British blog a woman saying, “In this book Naomi Wolf is having a nervous breakdown.” And I thought, finally! Someone with insight!  

Then, the Salon interviewer veered onto questions concerning contemporary politics and policy.

Most topical was the question about how the Obama administration has handled the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Surprisingly, Paglia is utterly hostile to the Obama-Clinton foreign policy team. She calls out the mainstream media for coddling the president:

And what is the administration’s response to the murder of our ambassador? Nothing. Do we have a presidency or not? The ambassador’s journal was lying on the floor for CNN to find, and it took weeks for the FBI to get there and spend a day — after sensitive documents were stripped long ago. The State Department has clearly become a morass of political correctness. Hillary and U.N. ambassador Susan Rice should resign. Of course the mainstream media were mum for weeks about the Libyan scandal. And that just empowers the right-wing in the country. The media’s pampering and protection of Obama over the years simply led to his weakening — which was on excruciating public display at his first debate with Romney, who landed blow after blow.

From the first weeks of the new administration Paglia opposed Obamacare. As someone whose liberalism grants a crucial role to freedom, Paglia feels alienated from today’s Democratic party. At one point she asks:

Why has the GOP become the freedom party?

More substantively, she comments:

I began denouncing the Obamacare bill in my Salon column within two months after Obama’s inauguration. And I was also criticizing the President’s imprisonment within an insular circle of advisors who were not of sufficient quality and experience as administrators or strategists to sustain his presidency.

The way liberals lay down flat to accept this massive, totalitarian takeover of the American medical system was shocking to me. 

She continues:

What in the world has happened to the Democratic Party? Its passivity towards this awful takeover of our lives by a know-it-all government, as shown by the way Obama has governed by constantly going around Congress — appointing czars and one new layer of bureaucracy after another. And hardly a peep of protest from liberals. It’s like the movie of H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine” — Democrats have turned into the Eloi; they’re like sheep. They hear a signal, and it’s like pre-programmed spin in their heads — they just trot like sheep in one direction. I am voting Green in protest against the systemic corruption of my party.

It gets worse:

As someone who listens to talk radio, I must tell you that the issue of personal freedom and resistance to a swollen totalitarian government has become primary on the Right. 

….one of my target audiences is home-schooling moms — whose powerful voices I heard calling into conservative talk radio at the dawn of the Tea Party. They are formidable and capable personalities whom feminism has foolishly ignored.

As I posted the other day, Paglia is highly critical of contemporary art. In her interview she says that contemporary visual art has failed because the art world, has adopted a “knee-jerk hostility to religion.”

In her words:

One of the themes in my book is the current impoverishment of the art world because of its knee-jerk hostility to religion, which is everywhere. That kind of sneering at religion that Christopher Hitchens specialized in, despite his total ignorance of religion and his unadmirable lifestyle, was no model for atheism. I think Hitchens was a burden to atheism in terms of his decadent circuit of constant parties and showy blather. He was a sybaritic socialite and rouĂ© — not a deep thinker — whose topical, meandering writing will not last. 

She continues:

But spiritual quest was one of the great themes of the ’60s that has been lost and forgotten — that reverent embrace of all the world religions. This is why our art has become so narrow and empty. People in the humanities have sunk into this shallow, snobby, liberal style of stereotyping religious believers as ignorant and medieval, which is total nonsense. And meanwhile, the entire professional class in Manhattan and Los Angeles is doping themselves on meds and trying to survive in their manic, anxiety-filled world. And what are they producing that is of the slightest interest? Nothing. 


Sam L. said...

I say the visual arts are what they are because the "artists" have contempt for their audiences/possible-purchasers. Stick it to the rubes!

n.n said...

Something for Paglia to consider is that the right-wing in America is unlike any other. Its principles are defined in The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution. The right-wing philosophy in America is classical liberalism tempered by Judeo-Christian principles.

As for why Paglia dissents, she was a progressive, but today she is conservative. She is not a simple rebel with a cause and without a clue. She realizes that generational progress is inevitably regressive.

There are reasonably limits to change and its value must be qualified. Both the concepts of progress and change are ambiguous. They may be either negative or positive. The concept of liberalism without bounds is equivalent to anarchy and is a violation of human rights as defined by reasonable people living in a civilized society.

n.n said...

In any case, Paglia is an individual with whom reasonable compromise is likely possible. She is clearly not a fanatic in support of any cause or interest.

I like her perspective of religion. I would only suggest she consider that both theism and atheism are, in fact, religions, which were established and defended by their particular articles of faith. The only objective perspective would be classified as agnostic, which does not claim a hidden or special knowledge. Not about the existence of a God, gods, or supernatural beings, or lack thereof.

Ironically, many individuals of a theistic background, especially Jews and Christians, have demonstrated a greater comprehension of reality than their atheist counterparts. This is especially evident when we consider evolutionary principles (not evolution as a theory). Most notably the principle of species viability.

Anonymous said...

The GOP has always been the freedom party!!! The left has always been the party of slavery, the KKK and fascism. Can she be so naive so easily lead that she actually believes the propaganda of the left?? The GOP has ALWAYS the freedom party, the party of the constitution, the party of equal rights not special rights. They have not always been perfect in their individual actions but the party has ALWAYS been the freedom party and the Democrats have always been the party of opression and big government.

D.E. Cloutier said...

In a recent Wall Street Journal essay Paglia defined herself as a "libertarian Democrat."

You may find the piece interesting:

"How Capitalism Can Save Art"


Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thanks for your interest. I commented on that article in an earlier post about Paglia, called Camille Paglia and the Death of Art.