“The movement towards androgyny occurs in late phases of culture, as a civilization is starting to unravel. You can find it again and again and again through history. In the Greek art you could see it happening. All of a sudden the sculptures of handsome nude young men, athletes, that used to be very robust in the archaic period, suddenly begin to seem like wet noodles toward the end. And the people who live in such periods (late phases of culture)â€Šâ€”â€Šwhether itâ€™s the Hellenistic era, whether itâ€™s the Roman Empire, whether itâ€™s the Mauve decade of Oscar Wilde in the 1890s, whether itâ€™s Weimar Germanyâ€Šâ€”â€Špeople who live in such times feel that they are very sophisticated, theyâ€™re very cosmopolitan: â€œhomosexuality, heterosexuality, so what, anything goes, and so onâ€¦â€ But from the perspective of historical distance, you can see that itâ€™s a culture that no longer believes in itself. And then what you invariably get are people who are convinced of the power of heroic masculinity on the edges. Whether they be the Vandals and the Huns, or whether theyâ€™re the barbarians of ISIS, you see them starting to mass on the outsides of the culture. And thatâ€™s what we have right now. Thereâ€™s a tremendous disconnect between the infatuation with the transgender movement in our own culture and whatâ€™s going on out there.”
Yale Professor Cleanth Brooks 1906-1994, leading figure of the New Criticism.
In Quillette, Claire Lehmann interviews Camille Paglia on the current state of the Humanities in the universities, Leftist Ressentiment as Religion, and Feminism.
Claire Lehmann: You seem to be one of the only scholars of the humanities who are willing to challenge the post-structuralist status quo. Why have other humanities academics been so spineless in preserving the integrity of their fields?
Camille Paglia: The silence of the academic establishment about the corruption of Western universities by postmodernism and post-structuralism has been an absolute disgrace. First of all, the older generation of true scholars who still ruled the roost when I arrived at the Yale Graduate School in 1968 were not fighters, to begin with. American professors, unlike their British counterparts, had not been schooled in ferocious and satirical debate. They were courtly and genteel, a High Protestant middlebrow style. Voices were hushed, and propriety ruled at the Yale department of English: I once described it as â€œwalking on eggs at the funeral home.â€
An ossified New Criticism was then still ascendant. I had been trained in college in that technique of microscopic close analysis of the text, and it remains a marvelous tool for cultural criticism: I have applied it to everything from painting to pop songs. However, my strong view at the time (from my early grounding in archaeology) was that literary criticism had to recover authentic historical consciousness and also to expand toward psychology, which was still considered vulgar. Harold Bloom and Geoffrey Hartman (whose Yale careers had begun amid tinges of anti-Semitism) were moving in a different, more conceptual direction, heavy on European philosophy.
By the early 1970s, when I was writing my doctoral dissertation (Sexual Personae, directed by Bloom), change suddenly arrived from outside: deconstruction was the hot new thing, hastened along by J. Hillis Miller, who left Johns Hopkins for Yale. I thought Derrida and DeMan and the rest of that crew were arrant nonsense from the start, a pedantic diversion from direct engagement with art. About the obsequious Yale welcome given to the pratlings of one continental â€œstarâ€ visitor, I acidly remarked to a fellow grad student sitting next to me, â€œTheyâ€™re like high priests murmuring to each other.â€
The New Criticism desperately needed supplementation, but that opaque hash (so divorced from genuine art appreciation) was certainly not it. I was disgusted at the rapid spread of deconstruction and post-structuralism throughout elite U.S. universities in the 1970s, when I was teaching at my first job at Bennington College. The reason it happened is really quite prosaic: a recession hit in the 1970s, and the job market in academe collapsed. Fancy-pants post-structuralism was the ticket to ride for ambitious, beady-eyed young careerists on the make. Its coy, showy gestures and clotted lingo were insidersâ€™ badges of claimed intellectual superiority. But the whole lot of them were mediocrities from the start. It is doubtful that much if any of their work will have long-term traction.
As I argued in my long attack on post-structuralism, â€œJunk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolfâ€ (Arion, Spring 1991; reprinted in my first essay collection, Sex, Art, and American Culture), Lacan, Derrida, and Foucault were already outmoded thinkers even in France, where their prominence had been relatively brief. There was nothing genuinely leftist in their elitist, monotonously language-based analysis. On the contrary, post-structuralism was abjectly reactionary, resisting and reversing the true revolution of the 1960s American counterculture, which liberated the senses and reconnected the body and personal identity to nature, in the Romantic manner. It is very telling that Foucaultâ€™s principal inspiration, by his own admission, was Samuel Beckettâ€™s Waiting for Godot, which I loathed as a college student for its postwar passivity and nihilism. (As a teacher, I admire Godot as a play but still reject its parochial and at times juvenile world-view.)
Post-structuralism, along with identity politics, made huge gains in the 1970s, as the old guard professors proved helpless against a rising tide of rapid add-on programs and departments like womenâ€™s studies and African-American studies. The tenured professoriate seemed not to realize that change of some kind was necessary, and thus they failed to provide an alternative vision of a remodeled university of the future. I myself was lobbying for interdisciplinary innovation in the humanitiesâ€”something that remained highly controversial right through the 1980s, when there were fierce battles over it where I was then teaching (during the merger of the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts with the Philadelphia College of Art to form the present University of the Arts). Another persistent proposal of mine has been for comparative religion to become the undergraduate core curriculum, an authentically global multiculturalism
Most established professors in the 1970s probably believed that the new theory trend was a fad that would blow away like autumn leaves. The greatness of the complex and continuous Western tradition seemed self-evident: the canon would surely stand, even if supplemented by new names. Well, guess what? Helped along by a swelling horde of officious, overpaid administrators, North American universities became, decade by decade, political correctness camps. Out went half the classics, as well as pedagogically useful survey courses demonstrating sequential patterns in history (now dismissed as a â€œfalse narrativeâ€ by callow theorists). Bookish, introverted old-school professors were not prepared for guerrilla warfare to defend basic scholarly principles or to withstand waves of defamation and harassment.
However, it is indeed difficult to understand why major professors already in safe, powerful positions avoided direct combat. For example, although he had made passing dismissive remarks about post-structuralism (â€œFoucault and soda waterâ€), Harold Bloom never systematically engaged or critiqued the subject or used his access to the general media to endorse debate, which was left instead to self-identified conservatives. The latter situation was clearly counterproductive, insofar as it enabled the bourgeois faux leftists of academe to define themselves and their reflex gobbledygook as boldly progressive.
Nevertheless, the poisons of post-structuralism have now spread throughout academe and have done enormous damage to basic scholarly standards and disastrously undermined belief even in the possibility of knowledge. I suspect history will not be kind to the leading professors who appear to have put loyalty to friends and colleagues above defending scholarly values during a chaotic era of overt vandalism that has deprived several generations of students of a profound education in the humanities. The steady decline in humanities majors is an unmistakable signal that this once noble field has become a wasteland.
Do you believe that politics and in particular social justice (i.e., anti-racism and feminism) are becoming cults or pseudo-religions? Is politics filling the void left by the receding influence of organized religion?
Paglia: This has certainly been my view for many years now. I said in the introduction to my art book, Glittering Images (2012), that secular humanism has failed. As an atheist, I have argued that if religion is erased, something must be put in its place. Belief systems are intrinsic to human intelligence and survival. They â€œframeâ€ the flux of primary experience, which would otherwise flood the mind.
But politics cannot fill the gap. Society, with which Marxism is obsessed, is only a fragment of the totality of life. As I have written, Marxism has no metaphysics: it cannot even detect, much less comprehend, the enormity of the universe and the operations of nature. Those who invest all of their spiritual energies in politics will reap the whirlwind. The evidence is all around usâ€”the paroxysms of inchoate, infantile rage suffered by those who have turned fallible politicians into saviors and devils, godlike avatars of Good versus Evil.
My substitute for religion is art, which I have expanded to include all of popular culture. But when art is reduced to politics, as has been programmatically done in academe for 40 years, its spiritual dimension is gone. It is coarsely reductive to claim that value in the history of art is always determined by the power plays of a self-referential social elite. I take Marxist social analysis seriously: Arnold Hauserâ€™s Marxist, multi-volume A Social History of Art (1951) was a major influence on me in graduate school. However, Hauser honored art and never condescended to it. A society that respects neither religion nor art cannot be called a civilization.
Bertrand Russell on Aristotle
â€œI do not agree with Plato, but if anything could make me do so, it would be Aristotleâ€™s arguments against him.â€
Jean-Paul Sartre on Albert Camus
â€œCamusâ€¦ a mix of melancholy, conceit and vulnerability on your part has always deterred people from telling you unvarnished truths. The result is that you have fallen prey to a gloomy immoderation that conceals your inner difficulties and which you refer to, I believe, as Mediterranean moderation. Sooner or later, someone would have told you this, so it might as well be me.â€
Camille Paglia on Michel Foucault
â€œThe truth is that Foucault knew very little about anything before the seventeenth century and, in the modern world, outside France. His familiarity with the literature and art of any period was negligible. His hostility to psychology made him incompetent to deal with sexuality, his own or anybody elseâ€™s. â€¦ The more you know, the less you are impressed by Foucault.â€ …
Bertrand Russell on Georg Hegel
â€œHegelâ€™s philosophy is so odd that one would not have expected him to be able to get sane men to accept it, but he did. He set it out with so much obscurity that people thought it must be profound. It can quite easily be expounded lucidly in words of one syllable, but then its absurdity becomes obvious.â€
Noam Chomsky on Slavoj Å½iÅ¾ek
â€œThereâ€™s no â€˜theoryâ€™ in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to findâ€¦ some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a 12-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I canâ€™t. So Iâ€™m not interested in that kind of posturing. Å½iÅ¾ek is an extreme example of it. I donâ€™t see anything to what heâ€™s saying.â€
Slavoj Å½iÅ¾ek on Noam Chomsky
â€œWell, with all deep respect that I do have for Chomsky, myâ€¦ point is that Chomsky, who always emphasizes how one has to be empirical, accurateâ€¦ well, I donâ€™t think I know a guy who was so often empirically wrong.â€
Karl Popper on Ludwig Wittgenstein
â€œNot to threaten visiting lecturers with pokers.â€ (On being challenged by a poker-wielding Wittgenstein to produce an example of a moral rule; the discussion degenerated quickly from there.)
Karl Popper on Martin Heidegger
â€œI appeal to the philosophers of all countries to unite and never again mention Heidegger or talk to another philosopher who defends Heidegger. This man was a devil. I mean, he behaved like a devil to his beloved teacher, and he has a devilish influence on Germanyâ€¦ One has to read Heidegger in the original to see what a swindler he was.â€
Arthur Schopenhauer on Georg Hegel
â€œHegel, installed from above, by the powers that be, as the certified Great Philosopher, was a flat-headed, insipid, nauseating, illiterate charlatan who reached the pinnacle of audacity in scribbling together and dishing up the craziest mystifying nonsense.â€
Really intelligent leftists, like Camille Paglia, have an alarming tendency to talk exactly like conservatives.
In your view, whatâ€™s wrong with American feminism today, and what can it do to improve?
After the great victory won by my insurgent, pro-sex, pro-fashion wing of feminism in the 1990s, American and British feminism has amazingly collapsed backward again into whining, narcissistic victimology. As in the hoary old days of Gloria Steinem and her Stalinist cohorts, we are endlessly subjected to the hackneyed scenario of history as a toxic wasteland of vicious male oppression and gruesome female suffering. College campuses are hysterically portrayed as rape extravaganzas where women are helpless fluffs with no control over their own choices and behavior. I am an equal opportunity feminist: that is, I call for the removal of all barriers to women’s advance in the professional and political realms. However, I oppose special protections for women, which I reject as demeaning and infantilizing. My principal demand (as I have been repeating for nearly 25 years) is for colleges to confine themselves to education and to cease their tyrannical surveillance of students’ social lives. If a real crime is committed, it must be reported to the police. College officials and committees have neither the expertise nor the legal right to be conducting investigations into he said/she said campus dating fiascos. Too many of today’s young feminists seem to want hovering, paternalistic authority figures to protect and soothe them, an attitude I regard as servile, reactionary and glaringly bourgeois. The world can never be made totally safe for anyone, male or female: there will always be sociopaths and psychotics impervious to social controls. I call my system “street-smart feminism”: there is no substitute for wary vigilance and personal responsibility.
Briefly put, what is post-structuralism and what is your opinion of it?
Post-structuralism is a system of literary and social analysis that flared up and vanished in France in the 1960s but that became anachronistically entrenched in British and American academe from the 1970s on. Based on the outmoded linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and promoted by the idolized Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault, it absurdly asserts that we experience or process reality only through language and that, because language is inherently unstable, nothing can be known. By undermining meaning, history and personal will, post-structuralism has done incalculable damage to education and contemporary thought. It is a laborious, circuitously self-referential gimmick that always ends up with the same monotonous result. I spent six months writing a long attack on academic post-structuralism for the classics journal Arion in 1991, “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf” (reprinted in my first essay collection, Sex, Art, and American Culture). Post-structuralism has destroyed two generations of graduate students, who were forced to mouth its ugly jargon and empty platitudes for their foolish faculty elders. And the end result is that humanities departments everywhere, having abandoned their proper mission of defending and celebrating art, have become humiliatingly marginalized in both reputation and impact.
Helmut Newton, Shoe, Monte Carlo, 1983, Gelatin silver print from Private Property Suite I, 1983, printed 1984 in 75 copies.
Camille Paglia follows in the tradition of Susan Sontag and Roland Barthes by producing brilliantly written pieces of high criticism of ordinary elements of contemporary popular culture.
Helmut Newton, whose superb fashion photography was suffused with the perverse world view of his native Weimar Berlin, captured the disturbing complexities of the high heel in Shoe, a picture taken in Monte Carlo in 1983. Here we see the fashionable shoe in all its florid delicacy and dynamic aggression. The stance, with shifted ankle, seems mannish. Is this a dominatrix poised to trample her delirious victim? Or is it a streetwalker defiantly defending her turf? Or a drag queen scornfully pissing in an alley? The shoe, shot from the ground, seems colossal, a pitiless totem of pagan sex cult.
The luxury high heel as status marker is directed not toward men but toward other womenâ€”both intimate confidantes and bitter rivals. The high heel in its dazzlingly heraldic permutations (as dramatized in Sex and the City) is beyond the comprehension of most men: only women and gay men can tell the difference between a Manolo Blahnik and a Jimmy Choo. In full disclosure, I never wear these shoes and indeed deplore their horrifying cost at a time of urgent social needs. Nevertheless, I acknowledge and admire the high heel as a contemporary icon and perhaps our canonical objet dâ€™art.
At the Neiman Marcus department store at the King of Prussia Mall in suburban Philadelphia, a visitor ascending the escalator to the second floor is greeted by a vast horizon of welcoming tables, laden with designer shoes of ravishing allure but staggering price tags (now hovering between $500 and $900 a pair but soaring to $6000 for candy-colored, crystal-studded Daffodile pumps by Christian Louboutin). Despite my detestation of its decadence, this theatrical shoe array has for years provided me with far more intense aesthetic surprise and pleasure than any gallery of contemporary art, with its derivative gestures, rote ironies, and exhausted ideology.
Designer shoes represent the slow but steady triumph of the crafts over the fine arts during the past century. They are streamlined works of modern sculpture, wasteful and frivolous yet elegantly expressive of pure form, a geometric reshaping of soft and yielding nature. An upscale shoe department is a gun show for urban fashionistas, a site of ritual display where danger lurks beneath the mask of beauty.
Camille Paglia (who continues mysteriously to combine intelligence with being a fashionista and a democrat) says lots of amusing things in a Salon interview, most interestingly dismissing with contempt the concept of Hillary Clinton atop the democrat party ticket in 2016.
It remains baffling how anyone would think that Hillary Clinton (born the same year as me) is our partyâ€™s best chance. She has more sooty baggage than a 90-car freight train. And what exactly has she ever accomplished â€” beyond bullishly covering for her philandering husband? Sheâ€™s certainly busy, busy and ever on the move â€” with the tunnel-vision workaholism of someone trying to blot out uncomfortable private thoughts.
I for one think it was a very big deal that our ambassador was murdered in Benghazi. In saying â€œI take responsibilityâ€ for it as secretary of state, Hillary should have resigned immediately. The weak response by the Obama administration to that tragedy has given a huge opening to Republicans in the next presidential election. The impression has been amply given that Benghazi was treated as a public relations matter to massage rather than as the major and outrageous attack on the U.S. that it was.
Throughout history, ambassadors have always been symbolic incarnations of the sovereignty of their nations and the dignity of their leaders. Itâ€™s even a key motif in â€œKing Lear.â€ As far as Iâ€™m concerned, Hillary disqualified herself for the presidency in that fist-pounding moment at a congressional hearing when she said, â€œWhat difference does it make what we knew and when we knew it, Senator?â€ Democrats have got to shake off the Clinton albatross and find new blood. The escalating instability not just in Egypt but throughout the Mideast is very ominous. There is a clash of cultures brewing in the world that may take a century or more to resolve â€” and there is no guarantee that the secular West will win.
On the same subject, Vanderleun has posted a series of deathless quotations from the great woman, evidencing her high moral standards and sympathy for the little guy, compiled from 8 different books.
F**k off! Itâ€™s enough I have to see you shit-kickers every day! Iâ€™m not going to talk to you, too!! Just do your G*damn job and keep your mouth shut.â€ From the book â€ America Evitaâ€ by Christopher Anderson, p. 90; Hillary to her State Trooper bodyguards after one of them greeted her with â€œGood Morning.â€
Camille Paglia (who is a rebel, and will never ever be any good) finds life within the holier-than-thou democrat party left increasingly uncongenial. They are so conformist, so complacent… and so statist.
Why has the Democratic Party become so arrogantly detached from ordinary Americans? Though they claim to speak for the poor and dispossessed, Democrats have increasingly become the party of an upper-middle-class professional elite, top-heavy with journalists, academics and lawyers (one reason for the hypocritical absence of tort reform in the healthcare bills). Weirdly, given their worship of highly individualistic, secularized self-actualization, such professionals are as a whole amazingly credulous these days about big-government solutions to every social problem. They see no danger in expanding government authority and intrusive, wasteful bureaucracy. This is, I submit, a stunning turn away from the anti-authority and anti-establishment principles of authentic 1960s leftism. …
Throughout this fractious summer, I was dismayed not just at the self-defeating silence of Democrats at the gaping holes or evasions in the healthcare bills but also at the fogginess or insipidity of articles and Op-Eds about the controversy emanating from liberal mainstream media and Web sources. By a proportion of something like 10-to-1, negative articles by conservatives were vastly more detailed, specific and practical about the proposals than were supportive articles by Democrats, which often made gestures rather than arguments and brimmed with emotion and sneers. There was a glaring inability in most Democratic commentary to think ahead and forecast what would or could be the actual snarled consequences — in terms of delays, denial of services, errors, miscommunications and gross invasions of privacy — of a massive single-payer overhaul of the healthcare system in a nation as large and populous as ours. It was as if Democrats live in a utopian dream world, divorced from the daily demands and realities of organization and management.
But dreaming in the 1960s and ’70s had a spiritual dimension that is long gone in our crassly materialistic and status-driven time.
And, of course, they do. The supposed generosity of the bien pensants is really the purest selfishness. America’s pezzonovantes live limitlessly appetitive lives of aesthetic appreciation, worldly and even spiritual aspiration, of constant striving for success, power, personal advancement, and self affirmation. The sight of the poor, the uncomely, the disorderly, the untidied away aspects of cruel reality is disagreeable to them. Someone needs to do something about it. It is A PROBLEM. And all problems, from the viewpoint of the pseudogentsia, can be cleared away by simple transfer to the responsibility of the state with a generous allocation of other people’s tax dollars. Big Government is for the American left essentially just a larger-scale version of the building management they’re accustomed to calling upon to clean the elevator anytime someone has made a mess.
Just how much trouble Obamacare and the democrat party are in can be seen by the fact that they have actually managed to lose the confidence, and the support for their health care reform bill, of not only a majority of the public, but of even such an icon of the intellectual left as Camille Paglia.
In Salon, right now, today, (in addition to praising a topless photo of the 50-year-old Sharon Stone) avante-garde cultural commentator Paglia is agreeing with Sarah Palin and calling for Nancy Pelosi’s head. I love it.
(W)ho would have thought that the sober, deliberative Barack Obama would have nothing to propose but vague and slippery promises — or that he would so easily cede the leadership clout of the executive branch to a chaotic, rapacious, solipsistic Congress? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom I used to admire for her smooth aplomb under pressure, has clearly gone off the deep end with her bizarre rants about legitimate town-hall protests by American citizens. She is doing grievous damage to the party and should immediately step down.
There is plenty of blame to go around. Obama’s aggressive endorsement of a healthcare plan that does not even exist yet, except in five competing, fluctuating drafts, makes Washington seem like Cloud Cuckoo Land. The president is promoting the most colossal, brazen bait-and-switch operation since the Bush administration snookered the country into invading Iraq with apocalyptic visions of mushroom clouds over American cities.
You can keep your doctor; you can keep your insurance, if you’re happy with it, Obama keeps assuring us in soothing, lullaby tones. Oh, really? And what if my doctor is not the one appointed by the new government medical boards for ruling on my access to tests and specialists? And what if my insurance company goes belly up because of undercutting by its government-bankrolled competitor? Face it: Virtually all nationalized health systems, neither nourished nor updated by profit-driven private investment, eventually lead to rationing.
I just don’t get it. Why the insane rush to pass a bill, any bill, in three weeks? And why such an abject failure by the Obama administration to present the issues to the public in a rational, detailed, informational way? The U.S. is gigantic; many of our states are bigger than whole European nations. The bureaucracy required to institute and manage a nationalized health system here would be Byzantine beyond belief and would vampirically absorb whatever savings Obama thinks could be made. And the transition period would be a nightmare of red tape and mammoth screw-ups, which we can ill afford with a faltering economy.
As with the massive boondoggle of the stimulus package, which Obama foolishly let Congress turn into a pork rut, too much has been attempted all at once; focused, targeted initiatives would, instead, have won wide public support. How is it possible that Democrats, through their own clumsiness and arrogance, have sabotaged healthcare reform yet again? Blaming obstructionist Republicans is nonsensical because Democrats control all three branches of government. It isn’t conservative rumors or lies that are stopping healthcare legislation; it’s the justifiable alarm of an electorate that has been cut out of the loop and is watching its representatives construct a tangled labyrinth for others but not for themselves. No, the airheads of Congress will keep their own plush healthcare plan — it’s the rest of us guinea pigs who will be thrown to the wolves. …
…(W)hat do Democrats stand for, if they are so ready to defame concerned citizens as the “mob” — a word betraying a Marie Antoinette delusion of superiority to ordinary mortals. I thought my party was populist, attentive to the needs and wishes of those outside the power structure. And as a product of the 1960s, I thought the Democratic party was passionately committed to freedom of thought and speech.
But somehow liberals have drifted into a strange servility toward big government, which they revere as a godlike foster father-mother who can dispense all bounty and magically heal all ills. The ethical collapse of the left was nowhere more evident than in the near total silence of liberal media and Web sites at the Obama administration’s outrageous solicitation to private citizens to report unacceptable “casual conversations” to the White House. If Republicans had done this, there would have been an angry explosion by Democrats from coast to coast. I was stunned at the failure of liberals to see the blatant totalitarianism in this incident, which the president should have immediately denounced. His failure to do so implicates him in it.
As a libertarian and refugee from the authoritarian Roman Catholic church of my youth, I simply do not understand the drift of my party toward a soulless collectivism. This is in fact what Sarah Palin hit on in her shocking image of a “death panel” under Obamacare that would make irrevocable decisions about the disabled and elderly. When I first saw that phrase, headlined on the Drudge Report, I burst out laughing. It seemed so over the top! But on reflection, I realized that Palin’s shrewdly timed metaphor spoke directly to the electorate’s unease with the prospect of shadowy, unelected government figures controlling our lives. A death panel not only has the power of life and death but is itself a symptom of a Kafkaesque brave new world where authority has become remote, arbitrary and spectral. And as in the Spanish Inquisition, dissidence is heresy, persecuted and punished.