by Damozel | I read Sexual Personae Vol. 1 in---what was it? 1992? A LONG time ago, anyway---and I really enjoyed it. I love reading other people's literary hallucinations, even when I don't buy into them, and Paglia's hypnotic hyper-visual prose style is exceedingly well suited to the discussion of painting and literature.
Though I couldn't agree less with her fundamental premises, I enjoyed reading her strange and wondrous reframings of my favorite works of art and literature. It was like looking at them...um, through a glass, and darkly. Some of her eerier interpretations (on Sade, on Blake, on Baudelaire, on Coleridge on Swinburne) are forever seared upon my memory, not necessarily in a good way or in accordance with my wishes.
So I wish she hadn't ruined it all for me by trying to get herself positioned as some sort of cultural (including popular culture) arbiter. Not satisfied with being a critic and commentator, she wanted to be Ye Supreme Arbiter of American Popular Culture.
It seems never to have occurred to her that once she moved from her areas of specialization into areas on which we all feel equally qualified to have an opinion---e.g., the transcendance of Madonna; the guitar supremacy of Keith Richards---her opinions would weigh no more than anyone else's.
Furthermore, the long, wavery, metaphor-crammed sentences in which she frames her arguments would come across not as proof the she is erudite beyond the dreams of her fellow citizens but that she is merely a presumptuous loony, like poor Actaeon at the moment of looking on the lunar goddess Diana bathing naked with her nymphs. Paglia knows, even if you don't, that if you take that liberty, you end up getting torn to shreds by Diana's dogs.
So why does she persist? (And why does Salon give her a soapbox from which to terrorize casual passersby?)
Though she's pretty crap as an arbiter of current popular culture, she's still a million times better ranting about the eternal all-encompassing supremacy of Madonna and Keith Richards. I don't mind reading and ruminating over her proofs of the latent sadomasochism in the poetry of Emily Dickinson; she made her case. But I draw the line at being told how to value the cultural icons of my own generation. Best guitar player in all the history of rock 'n roll? I'll be the judge of that.
But if Paglia's on doubtful ground when pontificating about pop culture, she goes tragically astray when she is "pumping and pumping her narcissistic bellows like a steam engine" (a phrase which, most ironically, she herself applied to Hillary Clinton; projection much?) on the subject of politics. On politics, she's pathetic. Nobody---NOBODY, except maybe Ann Althouse---takes her seriously.
So anyway, Betty Cracker gave her a RIGHTEOUS SEEING OFF that I somehow failed to find, an omission that must be redressed.
You think that’s easy? Her role as the sole arbiter of significance makes it impossible for poor Paglia to merely hold an opinion on any subject. She must instead confer mantles of cultural significance to an odd assortment of singers, actors, writers and politicians and defend her stamp of approval forever, no matter how events might overtake her original assessment.
For example, Paglia can’t merely admire a 3rd rate karaoke singer with a keen aptitude for marketing; she must declare Madonna the future of feminism and stick by that assessment, no matter how vapid or kooky the object of her devotion becomes over the years. That must be a heavy burden indeed....
But no burden can be heavier than the woman to whom Paglia passed the future of feminism torch after she personally snatched it from Madonna’s failing claws: Sarah Palin. Before the election, Paglia decreed Palin had “made the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna.” At least Madonna obliged Paglia by continuing to crank out crappy pop tunes for several hundred years after being identified as feminism’s future. But Palin’s quick post-election fizzle left Paglia scrambling for justifications of her faith. And she settled on, of all things, language.
According to Paglia, those of us who were mystified by Palin’s mangled syntax and incomprehensible sentence structure are the stupid ones, and snobs to boot:
See, we Palin critics are like those stuffy opera aficionados who failed to recognize the genius of Charlie Parker. And if that cultural reference is too musty for you, Paglia helpfully supplies a more recent one in her current Salon column -- Palin speaks like bloggers write:...
“So she doesn't speak the King's English -- big whoop! There is a powerful clarity of consciousness in her eyes. She uses language with the jumps, breaks and rippling momentum of a be-bop saxophonist.”
Really? Then perhaps she’d be kind enough to translate this passage for me:
English has evolved, and the world has moved on. There is no necessary connection between bourgeois syntax and practical achievement. I have never had the slightest problem with understanding Sarah Palin's meaning at any time.
“Sitting here in these chairs that I’m going to be proposing but in working with these governors who again on the front lines are forced to and it’s our privileged obligation to find solutions to the challenges facing our own states every day being held accountable, not being just one of many just casting votes or voting present every once in a while, we don’t get away with that. We have to balance budgets and we’re dealing with multibillion dollar budgets and tens of thousands of employees in our organizations."
The Palin thing is mainly (a) Paglia being a "contrarian" because she hasn't yet clocked that the internet is full of them and that contrarianism for its own sake is no longer shocking; and (b) Paglia getting back at all the people who were offended by her vicious over-the-top attacks on Hillary Clinton.
If we really HAVE reached the point when "a powerful clarity of consciousness" in the eyes of someone burbling abject nonsense overrides the inanity and meaninglessly of the nonsense, that's something we need to change. The point about words IS their meaning.
If you stand up there and sing "be bop de bop; bop bop bop blee dee doodle, doodle dee dee", you're exhibiting your qualifications to be a scat singer, not Vice President of the United States. After all, there is "a powerful clarity of consciousness" in my cat's eyes when she mews for attention, but I wouldn't consider her a suitable candidate for high office....errrrr, though no doubt to the driveller, other drivel sound as if it might make as much sense as any other drivel were you to reconstruct it. So perhaps there is sincerity in the praise Paglia heaped on Palin.
If so, how sad.
As BC says, it must be difficult being Paglia, dogged by the belief that people are actually hanging on your every pronouncement so that they'll know what to think about life, the universe, and everything. It isn't true of course, but a delusion is the same as reality if you happen to hold it.
Some time ago, Gavin of Sadly, No! wrote:
You know, imagine it’s 1991, the year Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson came out in paperback. Subtract eighteen years, and it’s 1973. It’s 1991 right now, and we’ve been listening to this woman say the same things, over and over, since 1973.
No, think about it: We’re listening to, like, Jesus Jones doing ‘Right Here Right Now,’ and Paglia has been talking since the first Bachman-Turner Overdrive album came out. Would anybody have put up with that then? Wouldn’t somebody long since have remarked, “Hey, okay, that Bachman-Turner Overdrive — stop playing that old stuff already, man; that stuff is so old“? Because honestly, it’s really gotten quite a bit past fresh at this point, hasn’t it?
BTW re: Molly Ivins and that seminal takedown which BC mentions (no doubt a reference to the dread and dangerous dagger-wielding "phallic woman," as illustrated by the Marquesa---or whatever she was---in Balzac's The Girl with the Golden Eyes) here's a wee excerpt:
One of her latest efforts at playing enfant terrible in intellectual circles was a peppy essay for _Newsday_, claiming that either there is no such thing as date rape or, if there is, it's women's fault because we dress so provocatively. Thanks, Camille, I've got some Texas fraternity boys I want you to meet.