|Born||Camille Anna Paglia
April 2, 1947
Endicott, New York, United States
|Occupation||Professor, cultural critic|
|Subject||Popular culture, art, poetry, sex, film, feminism, politics|
Camille Anna Paglia (//; born April 2, 1947) is an American academic and social critic. Paglia, a self-described dissident feminist, has been a professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, since 1984. The New York Times has described her as "first and foremost an educator".
She is the author of Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990) and a collection of essays, Sex, Art, and American Culture (1992). Her other books and essays include an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, and Break, Blow, Burn (2005) on poetry. Her most recent book is Glittering Images (2012). She is a critic of American feminism and of post-structuralist theory as well as a commentator on multiple aspects of U.S. social culture such as its visual art, music, and film history.
Paglia is known for her critical views of many aspects of modern culture, including feminism and liberalism. She has been characterized variously as a "contrarian academic" and a feminist "bête noire," a "witty controversialist," and a maverick, Margaret Wente has called Paglia "a writer in a category of her own... a feminist who hates affirmative action; an atheist who respects religion" and "a Democrat who thinks her party doesn't get it." Martha Duffy writes that Paglia "advocates a core curriculum based mostly on the classics" and rails against "chic French theorists Michel Foucault and Jacques Lacan," and "has a strong libertarian streak — on subjects like pornography — that go straight to her '60s coming-of-age." Elaine Showalter has called Paglia a "radical libertarian," noting her socially liberal stands on abortion, sodomy, prostitution, drug use, and suicide. Paglia has denounced feminist academics and women's studies, celebrated popular culture and Madonna, and become a media celebrity, writing op-eds and gossip columns, appearing on television and telling her story to journalists.
Paglia has said that she is willing to have her entire career judged on the basis of her composition of what she considers to be "probably the most important sentence that she has ever written": "God is man's greatest idea."
Paglia's Sexual Personae was rejected by at least seven different publishers before it was published by Yale University Press, whereupon it became a best seller, reaching seventh place on the paperback best-seller list, a rare accomplishment for a scholarly book. 'Paglia called it her "prison book", commenting, "I felt like Cervantes, Genet. It took all the resources of being Catholic to cut myself off and sit in my cell." Sexual Personae has been called an "energetic, Freud-friendly reading of Western art", one that seemed "heretical and perverse", at the height of political correctness; according to Daniel Nester, its characterization of "William Blake as the British Marquis de Sade or Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson as 'self-ruling hermaphrodites who cannot mate' still pricks up many an English major’s ears".
Paglia is a devotee of Oscar Wilde and Walter Pater, cherishing "performance, artifice and play rather than earnestness." She has expressed admiration for Dorothy Parker and Mary McCarthy, as well as for models, singers and movie stars such as Elizabeth Taylor, Madonna, and Barbra Streisand.
In 2005, Paglia was named as one of the top 100 public intellectuals by the journals Foreign Policy and Prospect. In 2012, an article in The New York Times remarked that "[a]nyone who has been following the body count of the culture wars over the past decades knows Paglia".
Paglia was born in Endicott, New York, the elder daughter of Pasquale and Lydia Anne (née Colapietro) Paglia. Both her parents immigrated to the United States from Italy. Additionally, Paglia has stated that her father's side of the family were from the Campanian towns of Avellino, Benevento, and Caserta. Paglia attended primary school in rural Oxford, New York, where her family lived in a working farmhouse. Her father, a veteran of World War II, taught at the Oxford Academy high school, and exposed his young daughter to art through books he brought home about French art history. In 1957, her family moved to Syracuse, NY, so that her father could begin graduate school; he eventually became a professor of Romance languages at Le Moyne College. She attended the Edward Smith Elementary school, T. Aaron Levy Junior High and William Nottingham High School. In 1992 Carmelia Metosh, her Latin teacher for three years, said "She always has been controversial. Whatever statements were being made (in class), she had to challenge them. She made good points then, as she does now." Paglia thanked Metosh in the acknowledgements to Sexual Personae, later describing her as "the dragon lady of Latin studies, who breathed fire at principals and school boards".
She took a variety of names when she was at Spruce Ridge Camp, including Anastasia (her confirmation name, inspired by the film Anastasia starring Ingrid Bergman); Stacy; and Stanley. A crucially significant event for her was when the outhouse exploded after she poured too much lime into the latrine. "It symbolized everything I would do with my life and work. Excess and extravagance and explosiveness. I would be someone who would look into the latrine of culture, into pornography and crime and psychopathology... and I would drop the bomb into it".[page needed]
For over a decade, Paglia was the partner of artist Alison Maddex. Paglia legally adopted Maddex's son (who was born in 2002). In 2007, the couple separated.
Paglia entered Harpur College at Binghamton University in 1964. The same year, Paglia's poem "Atrophy" was published in the local newspaper. She later wrote that the biggest impact on her thinking were the classes taught by poet Milton Kessler. "He believed in the responsiveness of the body, and of the activation of the senses to literature... And oh did I believe in that". She graduated from Harpur as class valedictorian in 1968.
According to Paglia, while in college she punched a "marauding drunk," and takes pride in having been put on probation for committing 39 pranks.
Paglia attended Yale as a graduate student, and she claims to have been the only open lesbian at Yale Graduate School from 1968 to 1972. At Yale, Paglia quarreled with Rita Mae Brown, whom she later characterized as "then darkly nihilist," and argued with the New Haven, Connecticut Women's Liberation Rock Band when they dismissed the Rolling Stones as sexist. Paglia was mentored by Harold Bloom. Sexual Personae was then titled "The Androgynous Dream: the image of the androgyne as it appears in literature and is embodied in the psyche of the artist, with reference to the visual arts and the cinema."
Paglia read Susan Sontag, and aspired to emulate what she called her "celebrity, her positioning in the media world at the border of the high arts and popular culture." Paglia first saw Sontag in person on October 15, 1969 (Vietnam Moratorium Day), when Paglia, then a Yale graduate student, was visiting a friend at Princeton. In 1973, Paglia, a militant feminist and open lesbian, was working at her first academic job at Bennington College. She considered Sontag a radical who had challenged male dominance. The same year, Paglia drove to an appearance by Sontag at Dartmouth, hoping to arrange for her to speak at Bennington, but found it difficult to find the money for Sontag's speaking fee; Paglia relied on help from Richard Tristman, a friend of Sontag's, to persuade her to come. Bennington College agreed to pay Sontag $700 (twice what they usually offered speakers but only half Sontag's usual fee) to give a talk about contemporary issues. Paglia staged a poster campaign urging students to attend Sontag's appearance. Sontag arrived at Bennington Carriage Barn, where she was to speak, more than an hour late, and then began reading what Paglia recalled as a "boring and bleak" short story about "nothing" in the style of a French New Novel.
As a result of Sontag's Bennington College appearance, Paglia began to become disenchanted with her, believing that she had withdrawn from confrontation with the academic world, and that her "mandarin disdain" for popular culture showed an elitism that betrayed her early work, which had suggested that high and low culture both reflected a new sensibility.
In the fall of 1972, Paglia began teaching at Bennington College, which hired her in part thanks to a recommendation from Harold Bloom. At Bennington, she befriended the philosopher James Fessenden, who first taught there that very semester.
Through her study of the classics and the scholarly work of Jane Ellen Harrison, James George Frazer, Erich Neumann and others, Paglia developed a theory of sexual history that contradicted a number of ideas in vogue at the time, hence her criticism of Marija Gimbutas, Carolyn Heilbrun, Kate Millett and others. She laid out her ideas on matriarchy, androgyny, homosexuality, sadomasochism and other topics in her Yale Ph.D. thesis Sexual Personae: The Androgyne in Literature and Art, which she defended in December 1974. In September 1976, she gave a public lecture drawing on that dissertation, in which she discussed Edmund Spenser's Faerie Queene, followed by remarks on Diana Ross, Gracie Allen, Yul Brynner, and Stéphane Audran.
Paglia "nearly came to blows with the founding members of the women's studies program at the State University of New York at Albany, when they categorically denied that hormones influence human experience or behavior". Similar fights with feminists and academics culminated in a 1978 incident which led her to resign from Bennington a year later. After a lengthy standoff with the administration, Paglia accepted a settlement from the college and resigned the following year.
Paglia finished Sexual Personae in the early 1980s, but could not get it published. She supported herself with visiting and part-time teaching jobs at Yale, Wesleyan, and other Connecticut colleges. Her paper, "The Apollonian Androgyne and the Faerie Queen", was published in English Literary Renaissance, Winter 1979, and her dissertation was cited by J. Hillis Miller in his April 1980 article "Wuthering Heights and the Ellipses of Interpretation", in Journal of Religion in Literature, but her academic career was otherwise stalled. In a 1995 letter to Boyd Holmes, she recalled: "I earned a little extra money by doing some local features reporting for a New Haven alternative newspaper (The Advocate) in the early 1980s". She wrote articles on New Haven's historic pizzerias and on an old house that was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
In 1984, she joined the faculty of the Philadelphia College of Performing Arts, which merged in 1987 with the Philadelphia College of Art to become the University of the Arts.
Paglia is on the editorial board of the classics and humanities journal Arion and has been writing a monthly column for Salon.com since the late 1990s (currently on hiatus). Paglia has announced that she is currently working on "a study of the visual arts intended as a companion book to Break, Blow, Burn".
Paglia cooperated with Carl Rollyson and Lisa Paddock in their writing of Susan Sontag: The Making of an Icon, sending them detailed letters from which they quoted with her permission. Rollyson and Paddock note that Sontag "had her lawyer put our publisher on notice" when she realized that they were investigating her life and career.
Paglia participates in the decennial poll of film professionals conducted by Sight & Sound which asks participants to submit a list of what they believe to be the ten greatest films of all time. According to her responses to the poll in 2002 and 2012, the films Paglia holds in highest regard include Ben-Hur, Citizen Kane, La Dolce Vita, The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II, Gone with the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, North by Northwest, Orphée, Persona, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Ten Commandments, and Vertigo.
Some feminist critics have characterized Paglia as an "anti-feminist feminist," critical of central features of much contemporary feminism but holding out "her own special variety of feminist affirmation." Elaine Showalter notes Paglia's admiration for Simone de Beauvoir and The Second Sex ("the supreme work of modern feminism... its deep learning and massive argument are unsurpassed") as well as Germaine Greer, but Time magazine critic Martha Duffy wrote that Paglia "does not hesitate to hurl brazen insults" at several feminists including Greer, whom Paglia accused of becoming "a drone in three years" as a result of her early success; Paglia also called activist Diana Fuss' output "just junk – appalling!" Showalter calls Paglia "unique in the hyperbole and virulence of her hostility to virtually all the prominent feminist activists, public figures, writers and scholars of her generation", mentioning Carolyn Heilbrun, Judith Butler, Carol Gilligan, Marilyn French, Zoe Baird, Kimba Wood, Susan Thomases, and Hillary Clinton as targets of her criticism.
Paglia has accused Kate Millett of starting "the repressive, Stalinist style in feminist criticism." Paglia has repeatedly criticized Patricia Ireland, former president of the National Organization for Women, calling her a "sanctimonious", unappealing role model for women whose "smug, arrogant" attitude is accompanied by "painfully limited processes of thought". Paglia contends that under Ireland's leadership, NOW "damaged and marginalized the women's movement". Paglia has called feminist philosopher Martha Nussbaum a "PC diva", and accused her of borrowing her ideas without acknowledgement. She further contends that Nussbaum's "preparation or instinct for sex analysis is dubious at best".
Many feminists have criticized Paglia; Christina Hoff Sommers calls her "Perhaps the most conspicuous target of feminist opprobrium," noting that the Women's Review of Books described Sexual Personae as a work of "crackpot extremism," "an apologia for a new post-Cold War fascism," and patriarchy's "counter-assault on feminism." Sommers relates that when Paglia appeared at a Brown University forum, feminists signed a petition censuring her and demanding an investigation into procedures for inviting speakers to the campus.
Naomi Wolf traded a series of sometimes personal attacks with Paglia throughout the early 1990s. In The New Republic, Wolf labeled Paglia "the nipple-pierced person's Phyllis Schlafly who poses as a sexual renegade but is in fact the most dutiful of patriarchal daughters" and characterized Paglia's writing as "full of howling intellectual dishonesty". In 1991, Paglia referred to Wolf as a "twit".
Gloria Steinem said of Paglia that, "Her calling herself a feminist is sort of like a Nazi saying they're not anti-Semitic." Paglia said that Steinem, whom she accused of not having read her, had compared her to Hitler and Sexual Personae to Mein Kampf. Paglia called Steinem "the Stalin of feminism."
Katha Pollitt has characterized Paglia as one of a "seemingly endless parade of social critics [who] have achieved celebrity by portraying not sexism but feminism as the problem." Pollitt writes that Paglia has glorified "male dominance," and has been able to get away with calling the Spur Posse California high school date-rape gang "beautiful," among other things "that might make even Rush Limbaugh blanch," because she is a woman.
Paglia's view that rape is sexually motivated has been endorsed by evolutionary psychologists Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer; they comment that "Paglia... urges women to be skeptical toward the feminist 'party line' on the subject, to become better informed about risk factors, and to use the information to lower their risk of rape."
Paglia is critical of the influence modern French writers have had on the humanities, claiming that universities are in the "thrall" of French post-structuralists, that in the works of Jean Baudrillard, Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault, she never once found a sentence that interested her and that Post-structuralism has broken the link between the word and the thing, and thus endangers the western canon. François Cusset writes that Paglia, like other major American public intellectuals after World War II, owes her broader recognition mainly to the political repercussions of polemics that first erupted on college campuses, in her case to a polemic against foreign intellectualism. He says she achieved phenomenal success when she called Foucault a "bastard", thereby providing (together with Alan Sokal's Social Text parody) the best evidence for Paul de Man's view that theory should be defined negatively, based on the opposition it arouses. However, Paglia's assessment of French writers is not purely negative. She has called Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex (1949) "brilliant", and identified Jean-Paul Sartre's work as part of a high period in literature. Paglia has praised Roland Barthes' Mythologies (1957) and Gilles Deleuze's Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty (1967), while finding both men's later work flawed. Of Gaston Bachelard, who influenced Paglia, she wrote "[his] dignified yet fluid phenomenological descriptive method seemed to me ideal for art", adding that he was "the last modern French writer I took seriously".
Paglia characterizes herself as a Clinton Democrat and libertarian. She opposes laws against prostitution, pornography, drugs, and abortion. Paglia criticized Bill Clinton for not resigning after the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which she says "paralyzed the government for two years, leading directly to our blindsiding by 9/11." In the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign she voted for the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, "[because] I detest the arrogant, corrupt superstructure of the Democratic Party, with which I remain stubbornly registered." In the 2004 U.S. presidential election, Paglia supported John Kerry; and in 2008, she supported Barack Obama. In 2012, she supported Green Party candidate Jill Stein. Some of her views have been characterized as conservative.
In Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (1990) Paglia argues that human nature has an inherently dangerous Dionysian or chthonic aspect, especially in regard to sexuality. Culture and civilization are created by men and represent an attempt to contain that force. Women are powerful, too, but as natural forces, and both marriage and religion are means to contain chaotic forces. A best seller, it was described by Terry Teachout in a New York Times book review as flawed, but "...every bit as intellectually stimulating as it is exasperating". Martha Duffy wrote that the book had a "neoconservative cultural message" which was well received, but rejected by many feminists. In a review of Sexual Personae, feminist author Molly Ivins accused Paglia of historical inaccuracy, demagoguery of second-wave feminists, egocentrism, and writing in sweeping generalizations. In his review, Anthony Burgess described Sexual Personae as "a fine disturbing book" that "seeks to attack the reader's emotions as well as his or her prejudices". Germaine Greer writes that Paglia's insights into Sappho are "vivid and extremely perceptive", but also "unfortunately inconsistent and largely incompatible with each other".
Sex, Art and American Culture
Sex, Art and American Culture: Essays (1992) is a collection of short pieces, many published previously as editorials or reviews, and some transcripts of interviews. The essays cover such subjects as Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, rock music, Robert Mapplethorpe, Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination, rape, Marlon Brando, drag, Milton Kessler, and academia. It made the New York Times bestseller list for paperbacks.
Vamps and Tramps
Vamps and Tramps: New Essays (1994) is a collection of 42 short articles and a long essay, "No Law in the Arena: a Pagan Theory of Sexuality". It also contains a collection of cartoons from newspapers about Paglia. Writing for the New York Times, Wendy Steiner wrote "Comic, camp, outspoken, Ms. Paglia throws an absurdist shoe into the ponderous wheels of academia". Michiko Kakutani, also writing for the New York Times, wrote: "Her writings on education... are highly persuasive, just as some of her essays on the perils of regulating pornography and the puritanical excesses of the women's movement radiate a fierce common sense... Unfortunately, Ms. Paglia has a way of undermining her more interesting arguments with flip, hyperbolic declarations".
In 1998, and in commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the release of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, the British Film Institute commissioned Paglia to write a book about the film. Paglia's 96-page book interprets the film as "in the main line of British Romanticism descending from the raw nature-tableaux and sinister femme-fatales of Coleridge." Paglia uses a psychoanalytic framework to interpret the film as portraying "a release of primitive forces of sex and appetite that have been subdued but never fully tamed".
Break, Blow, Burn
Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World's Best Poems (2005) is a collection of 43 short selections of verse with an accompanying essay by Paglia. The collection is primarily oriented to those unfamiliar with the works. Clive James noted that Paglia tends to focus on American works as it moves from Shakespeare forward through time, with Yeats, following Coleridge, as the last European discussed, but emphasized her range of sympathy and her ability to juxtapose and unite distinct art forms in her analysis. Christopher Nield remarked that Paglia has "a rare gift to capture a poem’s mood and scene in terse, spiky phrases of descriptive insight" and exhibits moments of brilliance, but also notes that some of her selections from recent writers fall flat. He also praises her pedagogical slant towards basic interpretation, suggesting that her approach might be what is required to reinvigorate studies in the humanities.
Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars (2012) is a series of essays about notable works of art from ancient to modern times, published in October 2012. Writer John Adams of the New York Times Book Review was sceptical of the book, accusing it of being "so agenda driven and so riddled with polemic asides that its potential to persuade is forever being compromised." Gary Rosen of the Wall Street Journal, however, praised the book's "impressive range" and accessibility to readers.
- Paglia, Camille (1974), Sexual Personae: The Androgyne in Literature and Art (DISSERTATION)
- Paglia, Camille (1990), Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, ISBN 0-679-73579-8
- Paglia, Camille (1992), Sex, Art and American Culture: Essays, ISBN 0-679-74101-1
- Paglia, Camille (1994a), Vamps and Tramps: New Essays, ISBN 0-679-75120-3
- The Birds (BFI Film Classics) (1998) ISBN 0-851-70651-7
- Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World's Best Poems (2005) ISBN 0-375-42084-3
- Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars (2012) ISBN 978-0-375-42460-1