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Paglia, Camille (b. 1947)  
 
page: 1  2  

In many ways, Sexual Personae's unusual combination of serious and wide-ranging intellectual exploration and outrageous and often irresponsible generalization predicted the parameters of Paglia's subsequent career.

Freed of the constraints that a more prestigious academic position might have imposed on her, Paglia was able to skewer many of academe's sacred cows, including the dominance of French theory in literary criticism and the privileging of high culture, but the costs of such freedom has been a tendency to stake out positions more for their shock value than their reasoned approach. As a public intellectual she has frequently been more of a provocateur than a serious commentator, someone who sometimes seems more interested in calling attention to herself than in engaging in serious dialogue.

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Paglia followed Sexual Personae with other books, including Sex, Art, and American Culture in 1992, Vamps and Tramps in 1994, an analysis of Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds published by the British Film Institute in 1998, and Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World's Best Poems in 2006. Though none of these have created the kind of intellectual excitement that her first book generated, they have sold well and solidified her reputation.

Paglia's essays have been widely published, and she writes regular columns on culture and politics for Interview Magazine and Salon. She continues to teach at the University of the Arts.

As a media star and cultural "expert," Paglia is distinguished by an unusually wide range of interest and by seemingly contradictory stances. She can speak expertly of figures as different as John Donne and Madonna, Alexander Pope and Robert Mapplethorpe and of works as distinct as Spenser's Faerie Queen and Paul Verhoeven's Basic Instinct. And though a self-described atheist, she extolls the social and cultural contributions of religion.

Her mordant criticisms of American feminism for inculcating a victim mentality, for a neglect of science, and for a distaste for Dionysian sexuality have caused some to label her anti-feminist, a charge that she vigorously disputes. "I belonged to a wing of feminism that was ostracized and silenced, and we suffered for decades during the hegemony of the puritanical anti-sex wing typified by Andrea Dworkin, Catharine MacKinnon and so forth," she stated in 2006. "So when I suddenly seemed to appear like a Jack-in-the box in the early 90s, with a book it had taken me 20 years to write, people were determined to say I was anti-feminist. I said, 'no I'm not, I'm anti you, I'm anti the feminist establishment.'"

In Vamps and Tramps, she declares, "I want a revamped feminism. . . . My generation of Sixties rebels wanted to smash the bourgeois codes that had become the authoritarian totems of the Fifties. The 'nice' girl with her soft, sanitized speech and decorous manners had to go. Thirty years later, we're still stuck with her--in the official spokesmen and the anointed heiresses of the feminist establishment. . . . Equal opportunity feminism, which I espouse, demands the removal of all barriers to woman's advance in the political and professional world--but not at the price of special protections for women which are infantilizing and anti-democratic."

In addition to criticizing the feminist establishment, Paglia has also lambasted pro-choice activists, date-rape victims, and gay organizations such as the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT-UP), which she has described as loud and whiny.

Paglia inveighs against what she has called the "gay Stalinism" of some activists, especially those influenced by Michel Foucault and Post-modernism, as opposed to what she calls the humanistic tradition that extends from Whitman and Wilde to Tennessee Williams and Allen Ginsberg.

She claims that the welcome relaxation of legal and social sanctions against homosexuality over the past 30 years has weakened the unsentimental powers of observation for which gay men and lesbians, as outsiders, were once renowned. "Gay men used to be ferocious exemplars of free thought and free speech. But within 15 years of the 1969 Stonewall rebellion, an insidious totalitarianism infected gay activism, parallel to what was occurring in feminism in the Catharine MacKinnon/Andrea Dworkin era. Intolerance and witch hunts became the norm," she declared in 2002.

Although she describes herself as a Democrat, she was very critical of President Clinton for bringing shame on the office of the Presidency. She describes herself as "pro-military," but she has vigorously opposed the War in Iraq and denounced the incompetence of the Bush administration. Her political stances are sometimes difficult to categorize, and are more often libertarian than liberal or conservative.

Paglia is an outspoken opponent of "political correctness" and what she sees as enforced liberalism on college campuses. A proud advocate of sexual deviance, she supports pornography--especially gay male porn--as a celebration of sexuality.

Since 1993, Paglia has lived with her partner, artist and teacher Allison Maddex. She co-parents Maddex's son Lucien, whom she legally adopted in 2002, but, with typical contrariness does not call herself his mother, since she does not believe that a child should have two mothers.

Tina Gianoulis

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    Bibliography
   

Boaz. Army. "A Sudden Blow: Camille Paglia." Publishers Weekly (April 18, 2005): 37-39.

Fox, Katrina. "Camille Paglia: Bigmouth Strikes Again." Diva Magazine (October 2006): http://www.divamag.co.uk/diva/features.asp?AID=1918

Paglia, Camille "Ask Camille: The Dangers of the Gay Agenda." Salon (October 28, 1998): http://www.salon.com/col/pagl/1998/10/28pagl.html

Sischy. Ingrid. "Small Talk: Camille Paglia on the Great Academic Meltdown of 2005." Interview 35.4 (May 2005): 58-61. 

Smith, Wendy.  "Camille Paglia: 'Why am I so angry all the time?'" Publishers Weekly (November 28, 1994): 39-41.

Wolcott, James. "Paglia's Power Trip."  Vanity Fair (September 1992): 238-46.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Gianoulis, Tina  
    Entry Title: Paglia, Camille  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2007  
    Date Last Updated December 24, 2007  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/paglia_c_ssh.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2007 glbtq, Inc.  
 

 

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