Camille Paglia: Passionate Intellectual
I have a brilliant young friend who sends me links nearly every day to fascinating material on the web. I like to think of myself as web-savvy but I guess I’m not a natural surfer — I’m not that good at finding the latest stuff out there.
So I’m especially grateful to my friend because today he sent me a link to an interview with Camille Paglia, one of the few intellectuals I get excited about these days. Paglia is like a rock star in a room of doddering old Oxford dons: she’s passionate and contentious and unafraid of paradox and inconsistency. She lights up the room in a way that few intellectuals today can do, with their dispassionate, ironic, knowing tone.
Paglia has made no secret of the way she sees her debt to her Italian Catholic upbringing.
The interviewer writes in his intro about her lecture on “Hollywood and the Bible”: “Paglia is bombastic and contentious in front of a crowd, inviting fans and detractors alike to listen and testify. Billed as an atheist who had come to defend religion, she spoke first of her Italian-Catholic upbringing, using it as a springboard for an argument about teaching religion in the classroom as a historical compass and a commanding cultural presence. In response to a question on Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great, she said defiantly of its title, ‘I am willing to let my entire legacy rest on one sentence from Sexual Personae: ‘God is man’s greatest idea.’ Let his entire legacy rest on that.’”
There are other gems in the interview, such as: “We’re in a period of what Northrop Frye would have called the winter phase of irony and satire.”
And this exchange: “How is it possible to allow religion to enter back into curricula if we are, as you say, in the winter phase of irony and satire? Can religion ever be taken seriously from a secular-humanist point of view?
“Well, this is what’s wrong with education right now. It’s what’s wrong with post-structuralism. I don’t go in the direction of the cynical, looking for ways to question, to undercut, to dissolve meaning. As an Italian-American, as a very hot personality born under the sign of Aries, I’ve tried to drift things towards emotional extremes.”
Gotta love those Italian Catholic Arieses!