The Many Masks of CAMILLE PAGLIA : Part Poseur, Part Philosopher, Part Outrageous Neo-Feminist, the Myth-Making Writer Has Brought Sex, Sensationalism and Rock ‘n’ Roll to the Temple of Academia
TO USE THE PARLANCE OF THE time, mythology is making a comeback. I’m not referring to such modern myths as: There’s a giant alligator living in the sewers of Manhattan, Jimi Hendrix is alive and living on the same island as Jimmy Hoffa and Jim Croce, or Ted Koppel has no legs. I am referring to the ancient myths of Egypt, Greece and Rome--lore passed through the centuries by oracles, witches and pagans. Recently, these tales have been looked to more and more frequently for clues to the mysteries of human nature, for connections to those who lived in ages of the past.
For instance, have you been to Tower Records lately? Along with the philosophy of Anthrax, you can pick up the collected audio works of the late myth-monger Joseph Campbell, a one-man cottage industry in packaging the ancient. Or drop into any major bookstore. Prominently displayed are the outpourings of such archetype-questers as Robert Bly, Riane Eisler and Lynn Andrews, who have each led thousands of thirsty souls on journeys that are inward bound. And now, from the college campus to the rest of the world, comes humanities professor Camille Paglia with her 700-page historical tsunami, “Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson.”
Paglia’s book sold more than 17,000 copies in hardcover, a respectable showing for a scholarly work that cost $35. The paperback from Vintage Books was the publisher’s big fall title and appeared on the New York Times Best Sellers list for five weeks. Drawing on the power of myth in both her work and publicity campaign, Paglia launched her own success rocket with a feat of semantic contortion: She calls herself a feminist while simultaneously attacking other feminists who, she says, have attacked her. (Among other things, Paglia resurrects the dusty assertion that feminists are “dowdy,” conveniently ignoring dowdy members of other groups, such as the Republican Party.) Since she raised the specter of literary mud wrestling with her claims that she is locked in combat with myriad opponents, Paglia has been the object of generally uncritical analysis and coverage in dozens of venues, having appeared everywhere from Esquire to Spin magazine to Sonya Friedman’s TV show, “Sonya Live.” Yet, even when factoring in the current craving for prehistory, Paglia’s epic does not seem a likely candidate for the mass market. After all, this is an era when even Norman Mailer is criticized for writing a book that weighs too much.
“ ‘Sexual Personae’ seeks to demonstrate the unity and continuity of Western culture,” Paglia says in her preface. “I argue that Judeo-Christianity never did defeat paganism, which still flourishes in art, eroticism, astrology and pop culture. . . . My stress on . . . the biological basis of sex differences is sure to cause controversy. I see the mother as an overwhelming force who condemns men to lifelong sexual anxiety, from which they escape through rationalism and physical achievement. I show how much of Western life, art, and thought is ruled by personality, which the book traces through recurrent types or personae (‘masks’).”
If Harley-Davidson published Cliffs Notes, that would translate roughly as, “Hey, baby, ride on this.”
Although she has reached her conclusion not via Barstow but through years of scholarship, Paglia the brain loves to present herself as Paglia the brute. It’s one of her masks. The diminutive Ph.D. drives a red Grand Am. She loves Guns N’ Roses and football. She is a student and fan of raw power, an intellectual bleacher bum who sees male urination as “an arc of transcendence,” a professor who hates it when her heroes cry. Ear to the ground, she lives in the suburbs, hangs out in malls, watches Oprah. One of her most satisfying pleasures came recently when she was endorsed by another face in the crowd, actress-model Lauren Hutton. “She called me the greatest living American philosopher on John McLaughlin’s show,” Paglia tells my answering machine in an ongoing blitz of briefings, “and she was only on Page 9 !”
Trained on the world of antiquity, her image-rife writing style and her intellectual passion make “Sexual Personae” a stimulating and seductive read--even if you’re not interested in Goethe, Coleridge or Swinburne. For instance, of the cat and its high rank in Egyptian culture, Paglia writes, “Haughty, solitary, precise, (cats) are arbiters of elegance--that principle I find natively Egyptian. Cats are poseurs. They have a sense of persona--and become visibly embarrassed when reality punctures their dignity. Apes are more human but less beautiful: They posture but never pose. Hunkering, chattering, chest-beating, buttock-baring, apes are bumptious vulgarians lurching up the evolutionary road. The cat’s sophisticated personae are masks of an advanced theatricality. . . .”
In service of her celebration of theater, Paglia revisits Western works of art and literature with a pair of X-ray (and X-rated) specs. Her tour includes eye-popping stops at the “Mona Lisa” (now unmasked--or re-masked--as “a dominatrix”), the Marquis de Sade (wherein “force, not love, is the law of the universe”), William Blake (uh-oh--he’s a “British Sade”), Emily Bronte (who infused “Wuthering Heights” with “outbreaks of violence . . . whipping, slapping, thrashing, cuffing, pinching . . .”) and Emily Dickinson (who appears in full Halloween drag as--who else?--the “American Sade”).
Naturally, there is a B-list at Paglia’s masked ball. With the exception of Archimedes, Nostradamus and Norman Fell, everyone from the Venus of Willendorf to Jack the Ripper to Lucille Ball is linked in this perverse daisy chain of history. And so are the rest of us. In Paglia’s estimation, life is a dark and stormy night. We move through it with a flashlight from Pic ‘N’ Save, unable to break free of a sinister and primal force. It is the force that drives a man to become either a serial killer or a brilliant composer. It’s the force that drives a woman to either devour men or help them become brilliant composers.
Of course, this is a controversial and, some believe, retrogressive view. And Paglia herself is not exemplary of it, because, according to Paglia, she is one of the few women in history who has made a jailbreak from the female condition.
“MY MIND IS ALWAYS RACING, RACING, RACING,” EXPLAINS THIS FUGITIVE FROM biological fate in an eatery near her office at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. As we speak, Paglia takes pride in ordering red meat, more evidence (in her view) of the human enslavement to the power of flesh and blood. She claims that various members of the press have been fascinated by her carnivorous nature. (Later, I check the clips and this turns out to be true. Perhaps it’s not for nothing that journalists are often referred to as a pack of dogs.) Lunch arrives, and hours after we’ve finished, Paglia is still rapping, rapping, rapping at the Establishment’s chamber door. “I see connections everywhere,” Paglia says. “My book is like Watts Towers--I took all these things and built a cathedral of ideas, a little of this, a little of that, that’s why I talk so fast, my words can’t keep up with my thoughts, I’m a maniac, I’m hysterical, I ride these waves and I go where they take me. I’m a brain-surfer.”
And unlike Timothy Leary, another egghead who may have been too cracked for his contemporaries (and who himself noted the connection between ocean waves and brain waves), Paglia has never taken any drugs. “I have a psychedelic mind,” she says. “It’s because I grew up on rock ‘n’ roll. My whole thing is rock ‘n’ roll. I am like Keith Richards, my idol. I hear these tunes going through my head all the time, my book is one long guitar solo, everything about me is I, I, I . Critics born before World War II don’t get me because I draw a line from Dionysus to Jimi Hendrix to Guns N’ Roses. I’m the first to make this connection.” (Not really. Rock critics have been doing it for years. The most recent connector of these particular dots is Danny Sugerman, who in his book “Appetite for Destruction” writes, that “The art of Shelley and Tennyson, of Picasso and Van Gogh proceeded from the same impulses that fueled Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Johnny Lydon, and now Guns N’ Roses front man Axl Rose . . . .”
Regardless of Paglia’s identification with hipsters--and the fact that she was cited by Rolling Stone as the “hot critic” of 1991--she is the darling of one very important pre-World War II baby. Paglia’s dissertation adviser at Yale was Harold Bloom, one of the deans of American criticism, and, as far as anyone knows, not an intimate of the Fender Stratocaster. “There is no book comparable in scope, stance, design or insight,” he says on the jacket of “Sexual Personae.” “It compels us to rethink the question of the literary representation of human sexuality.” And Anthony Burgess, another pre-love-generation critic, reviewed “Sexual Personae” as “a fine, disturbing book.”
But although Paglia has received tributes from inhabitants of both high and low culture, she seems to harbor a great bitterness about her prolonged quest for recognition. This specialist in tales from the dark side of human nature became a tenured humanities professor last fall at the University of the Arts, a school that the backbiting world of career academics regards as an academic gulag. “It took me 20 years to get published,” Paglia says, exaggerating slightly; excerpts of the book first appeared in a somewhat different form in the university journals Western Humanities Review and Raritan.
At a time when some people blame Ronald Reagan or Michael Milken for social and personal disasters (often making a convincing case), this hyperactive observer blows the whistle on, of all people, Susan Sontag. According to Paglia, Sontag, the pre-eminent social critic of the ‘70s, would not help her get published in the prestigious Partisan Review after Paglia had arranged for Sontag to speak at Bennington College in Vermont when Paglia was teaching there years ago. “I wanted to say, ‘I am your successor,’ ” Paglia says, “ ‘and I’m going to topple you.’ She didn’t have the wit to see it. I realized then that I could not count on women to help me.”
Paglia went on to tough out a tumultuous eight-year gig at Bennington (more on that later), a job drought and seven book rejections. Although many academics complain of the difficulty in achieving tenure and of the pressure to “publish or perish,” Paglia believes that she was graded more harshly than others. “I am the greatest woman intellectual since Simone de Beauvoir,” she says, now in her Muhammad Ali mask. “At some point I realized I would not be understood in my time.” She began to take pleasure in the idea of posthumous recognition, but there was to be no such satisfaction from the land of the white light.
In 1985, Yale University Press purchased “Sexual Personae,” reportedly for a small sum. When it was published in 1990, the controversy Paglia had hoped for was a tempest in a book bag, confined to academia and the small world of off-campus American intellectuals. Generally, this group can be defined as subscribers to the Nation, the Village Voice, the New York Review of Books, the New Republic, the New Statesman, the New York Times, the New Criterion--a lot of periodicals with the word new in the title.
Then, Paglia scored a career-boosting triple, and she went on to snag more column inches of ink than bad weather. With the exception of the New York Review of Books, the Village Voice and Mother Jones magazine, nearly all the articles about Paglia have been uncritical. This elevation of the academic provocateur to media star tells us more about how the press works than it does about the woman behind the mask of “Sexual Personae.”
The first thing that happened was this: Paglia was asked by the New York Times Op-Ed section to weigh in on Madonna. In December, 1990, “Madonna: Finally, a Real Feminist” appeared on that widely read page. Here, Paglia donned her Scud-launching mask and drafted her sister Italian-American in the holy war against other presumably less fun-loving women: "(Madonna) exposes the puritanism and suffocating ideology of American feminism, which is stuck in an adolescent, whining mode . . . rejecting (Freudian) ideas of ambiguity, contradiction, conflict, ambivalence. Its simplistic psychology is illustrated by the new cliche of the date-rape furor--'No’ always means ‘no.’ Will we ever graduate from the Girl Scouts? ‘No’ always has been, and always will be, part of the dangerous, alluring courtship ritual of sex and seduction, observable even in the animal kingdom,” she continued. (It comes as something of a surprise to Paglia that, for many women, the only time “no” means “yes” is on the California ballot.) “Feminism,” she concluded in her article, “says no more masks. Madonna says we are nothing but masks.”
Having hitched her Pontiac to Madonna’s star and invoked the spectacle of a cat fight with supposedly monolithic left-leaning felines, it’s not surprising that Paglia received a call from another newspaper. This time it was Newsday. Would Paglia write a piece about date rape?
And so occurred event No. 2--the publication in January, 1991, of the Newsday piece: “Rape: A Bigger Danger Than Feminists Know.” “What marital rape was to the ‘70s,” Paglia wrote in her Phyllis Schlafly mask, “date rape is to the ‘90s. . . . College men are at their hormonal peak. . . . A girl who lets herself get dead drunk at a fraternity party is a fool. . . . Feminists call this ‘blaming the victim.’ I call it common sense. . . . The date-rape debate is already smothering in propaganda churned out by Northeastern colleges and universities with their . . . uptight academic feminists and spoiled, affluent students. Beware of the deep manipulativeness of rich students who . . . love to turn the campus into hysterical psychodramas of sexual transgression, followed by assertions of parental authority and concern.”
Of course, the phone kept ringing. Was it feminists, finally dragooned into a theoretical slugfest? Not really. It was the press. Generally, when it comes to Paglia, feminists have maintained their supposedly nonexistent sense of humor and avoided her taunts. Susan Brownmiller, author of “Against Our Will,” regards Paglia as “a gnat who will go away at some point.” Robin Morgan, author of “Sisterhood Is Powerful” and editor of Ms., was too busy to comment. Karen DeCrow, a lawyer and former president of NOW, says Paglia “is an exception to her own rule. She says women are emotional and nurturing. But she’s not.” But more than that, says Robert Garcia, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan and now a UCLA law professor, “Paglia has made the discussion of date rape murkier than it already is by relying on stereotypes and making cleverly outrageous statements. Even if a woman is stupid, it does not follow that she should be raped.”
Meanwhile, amid the media frenzy around those two articles, there was a parallel development. The issue of political correctness is now a major topic of debate. This is event No. 3 in the emergence of Camille Paglia as a social commentator. (At this point her status is truly official: In January she was profiled in Time magazine.) It appears as if the controversy about political correctness will rage for some time. This is due in part to Paglia and other centurions of Western tradition, who invoke images of a Francophilic Marxist mafia that is pillaging libraries and hauling copies of the so-called 100 great books off to the nearest dumpster.
“You don’t realize what’s going on in the academy,” Paglia says. “I am telling you that students are being forced, I tell you, to read crap. When they are told to read certain writers and tested only on those writers, excuse me, this is being forced. This is not free speech.” She likens herself to St. Teresa of Avila, who tried to reform convents in the 16th Century. “It’s time to clean house,” she says, referring to women’s studies programs, which she regards as havens for mediocre minds who make students engage in politically correct pursuits, such as studying the French deconstructionists Jacques Lacan, Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault.
“The fashionable French posturing--'There are no facts'--has got to stop,” Paglia says, now as Our Miss Brooks. ". . . ‘The Second Sex’ . . . is the only thing undergraduate sex studies needs. Add Freud to De Beauvoir and you have intellectual training at its best.” In other words, it’s Paglia’s version of political correctness. “Women’s studies is a jumble of vulgarians, bunglers, whiners, French ‘faddicts,’ apparatchiks, doughface party-liners, pie-in-the-sky utopianists and bullying, sanctimonious sermonizers. . . . Every year feminists provide more evidence for the old charge that women can neither think nor write.”
When pressed, Paglia admits that, in addition to De Beauvoir and Freud, perhaps other works should be studied. “Sexual Personae,” for example. But she has tried to bring her message to women in academia before. “Two years ago,” she says, “I tried to join the feminists. I tried to get a job with the Amherst (College) women’s studies program. But they said no.” And, as Paglia is still not teaching there, they evidently meant it. (“No” means “no” about 25% of the time, she reluctantly admits).
Whatever one thinks of her analysis of human nature, she is infallible on one point: There are a lot of people who slip through the educational system without learning how to think. She recently delivered a sold-out lecture on “American Intellectual Life in Crisis” at the New York Public Library. As verbal SAT scores reach an all-time low, and employers report that many college graduates can barely compose a memo, any discussion of this topic is important. But until Paglia touched down, such discussion was juice-free. “I had always been intent on getting fame,” she says. “I can’t explain it. I’m an Aries, I’m like the knight errant in the Middle Ages, I identify with the Magi, you know the pagan astrologers bearing gifts; what I have always hated about Christianity is the identification with people who are weak and wear bad clothes. . . . I identify with the Romans and Egyptians, the cult of the personality.”
“THE TIME . . . 1955. THE PLACE . . . UPSTATE NEW YORK. GIRLS PLAYED HOUSE and boys pulled the legs off insects. But some children were different. Some went against the grain. Case in point,” as Rod Serling might have intoned, “Camille Paglia.” Paglia likens her book to “The Twilight Zone,” and feels a kinship with the creator of the series who, like Paglia, grew up near Syracuse. “I dressed up as Napoleon for Halloween,” Paglia recalls. “It was the only holiday I liked. I knew I was different. I was dressing up as men way before the feminists. Looking back on it, I realize it was some sort of gender dysfunction. I was in the wrong body. I wrote my book instead of getting a sex change. What convinced me I was a woman was breasts. But even then, I didn’t feel like one. I was never this nice, nice, nice kind of person. My sister is nice.”
Paglia’s father (who died recently) taught Romance languages at a Jesuit school. Her mother worked at a bank and helped to make ends meet by sewing. Like many families of that era, the Paglias tried to assimilate, to mask certain aspects of their Italian lineage. Paglia rejected the attempt to fit in. “I love Mafia references,” she says in her campus cubicle. “The whole thug thing is great. ‘The Godfather (Part) II’ is one of my favorite movies. Don Corleone is always thinking, thinking. Italians remember everything; they are memorious. That’s what I’m doing now. I have a list, people who helped me, people who didn’t. Who wants to be like A. Bartlett Giamatti?” she asks, referring to the late baseball commissioner. “Who ever heard of an Italian being called ‘A. Bart’? But my parents’ generation, they think it’s fine. I don’t, it’s disgusting. That’s why I get along with Harold Bloom. He’s Jewish and he never tried to soften himself. He doesn’t smoke a pipe; he doesn’t wear tweed. I love that. Jews are the only people who can stand me, because I question everything and I’m so loud. I sound like Fran Drescher,” Paglia says, referring to the actress with the distinctive, whiny voice. “My parents would have preferred me to be quiet.”
Paglia is reluctant to discuss her parents beyond a mythological level. In keeping with her world view, family life is all about archetypes, about masks, about “this Italian thing.” Although she is a Freudian in terms of her academic training, she has never really been in therapy, doesn’t feel the need to peer behind her family’s sexual personae. “I tried therapy once for 15 minutes,” she says. “But I realized I would never be able to make the transference.” Yet it seems only fair to press for further details from a woman who became disillusioned with heroine Martina Navratilova when she looked for support to “Big Mama” (as Paglia refers to Navratilova’s former girlfriend Judy Nelson) after losing a point during a tennis match; a woman who, regardless of her penchant for storing slights, has years after the fact gone running to the public with a tale of being snubbed by Susan Sontag; a woman who accuses date-rape victims of acting out family psychodramas.
Paglia finally relents. “I think my mother would have preferred a more conventional daughter,” she admits. “But she is certainly proud of my achievements. Fortunately, my sister Lenora loves to cook and sew, and that’s made up a lot for my total impatience as an adolescent with sewing and homemaking. I suppose that as the culture changed, I have seemed less odd.” Has her mother read her book? Paglia doesn’t know. She points out that she’s wearing an outfit that her mother selected. “See, Mom?” she says, moving closer to the tape recorder. “I’m wearing what you bought.” (It’s a plain white blouse, a plain gray skirt, a plain pair of black pumps; all in all, the effect is kind of . . . dowdy.) Then, away from the tape recorder: “She’ll like that.” Then, an afterthought: “Forty-four and my mother still buys my clothes.”
It has only been recently that Paglia started to wear clothes befitting a traditional Italian daughter. While a student at the State University of New York at Binghamton, she entered her “mod” period and wore the regulation gear of that particular counterculture style. Later, during her teaching stint at Bennington, she became “an Amazon feminist"--in all senses of the word. Sometimes engaged in fistfights with students and other teachers, she was known to kick people with her Frye boots, becoming notorious for both her paganistic display of rage and her unveiling of darkness in the classics. Rumors began to circulate: Paglia was a witch; Paglia was into voodoo. At one point, much of the campus was spellbound by a story that had Paglia causing a (male) student’s plane to crash because she had a crush on his girlfriend. “She was a brilliant teacher,” recalls a student. “And very powerful.”
At any rate, after eight years at the bohemian New England enclave, Paglia either left or was fired. As she tells it, “lawyers were involved.” As Bennington tells it, “No comment.” Regardless of the circumstances of her departure, her reputation as a controversial academic was sealed. It would be several more years before she would get another steady teaching job. “I always rebelled against the kind of toadying that goes on in academia,” Paglia says. “I always thought that the most qualified person should get the job. But does that happen? No.”
Just as the University of the Arts may not have been Paglia’s first job choice several years ago, Paglia’s class on women and sex roles was not the first choice of former student Nina Lucas. “I took it to fulfill a humanities requirement,” she says. “I thought it was going to be formidable and man-hating, but it changed my life. Dr. Paglia is very grand; she has this enormous personality. She knows about Tennyson and who is doing what to whom in Hollywood. But at the same time she’s very strict. You can’t talk out of turn. She’s like Miss Crabtree on speed--'No smoking--even Hall’s Mentho-lyptus will disturb me.’ I think she appeals to us as girlfriends who have been disaffected by their fathers.”
When Paglia is not teaching, or writing or observing, she is . . . teaching, writing, or observing. “I don’t know what it is about Philadelphia,” she says, “but I haven’t had an affair in seven years.” Actually, her fame seems to have ended this pattern. “Recently, a handsome Hollywood actor of my generation sent me his glossies, and we’ve been talking,” she says. “And, over the past couple of months, I’ve been dating--mostly men and one woman. Romantically, I’m not interested in any woman who’s not interested in men.” Still, Paglia enjoys playing solitaire. “I’m like this giant corporation; I have the whole world in my head--what would I want from a relationship? I see too much and it cripples me. . . . Who could be more interesting than me? It could be my fate to remain a nun.”
For years, Paglia considered herself gay, a situation she cryptically ascribes to either “too much or not enough mothering.” Now she outs herself--and others--as bisexual. “We are born bisexual,” she says, “and our culture guides us into one choice or the other. Role models must take the lead and talk about this. I’ll say it: I’m an equal-opportunity employer.”
That may be true in Paglia’s personal life, but her analysis of art and history assigns scant importance to the contributions of women. “Male aggression and lust are the energizing factors in culture,” she writes in her book. “They are men’s tools of survival in the pagan vastness of female nature. . . . If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.” Anticipating a negative reaction to that generalization, Paglia indulges in a bit of Lacanesque analysis, deconstructing her method as “a form of sensationalism,” as if her theories minus the emotion mean something else.
In fact, she frequently deconstructs many of her seemingly most fervent beliefs. For instance, of recent high-profile rape trials Paglia says: “Rape is a serious charge, but this whole thing is getting out of control.” Of the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings, she says: “I think sexual harassment is one of the great innovations of contemporary feminism. But this excellent concept is being abused by special-interest groups.” (Question: Aren’t those in power also members of a “special-interest group”? Just wondering.) At any rate, in spite of the recent flurry of media valentines, there are those who don’t buy Paglia’s disclaimers.
“Paglia reaffirms prejudices in society,” says Riane Eisler, author of “The Chalice & the Blade,” a well-researched book that posits the existence of “goddess culture,” a pre-Christianity nature-worshiping way of life in which war was absent. “Paglia is like a kapo (a concentration camp trusty),” Eisler says. “It’s sad but understandable that some women would take on that psychology. There must be an enormous amount of self-hatred in this woman. We have been excluded from culture until 100 years ago. We have been barred from education. We are just beginning to find out about our past.”
Continuing on this theme, Ilya S. Perlingieri, a professor of art history at San Diego State, says that “Paglia has completely ignored the history of women in art. Art history is written by men. It’s only during the past 20 years that we have begun to see scholarly writing on women artists.” For instance, according to Perlingieri, one woman artist whom Paglia should have mentioned in her chapter on Renaissance art is Sofonisba Anguisciola, a protegee of Michelangelo. “She was the first woman painter of the Renaissance with an international reputation,” says Perlingieri, who chronicles her work in a forthcoming book to be published by Rizzoli. “The fact that Paglia has left out half the population in her discussion of art is a serious problem.”
With the exception of De Beauvoir, Paglia dismisses feminist analysis of almost everything as “sentimental crap.” Yet even her most learned fans are disturbed by this tic of hers. Says Richard Rorty of the philosophy department at the University of Virginia: “She is extremely witty, a very daring critic. But she is unjustly curt about feminists. She blames all for the sins of a few.” And, in her attack on the so-called practitioners of political correctness, “she condemns a whole generation of scholars,” Rorty says. “It just isn’t so. The importance of P.C. has been exaggerated by the political right.”
Such exaggeration propels many careers these days. It has also produced a controversy that clouds greater issues, such as how other, more insidious forms of censorship determine what we think. In her quest for the mask of philosopher-queen, Paglia may have “toppled” Susan Sontag. But her attacks on women detract from interesting aspects of her work and serve only to dishonor the throne. Still, it seems as if she may not be a short-term ruler. There are more books along the way: This year Vintage will publish a collection of Paglia’s recent essays, tentatively titled “Sex, Art and American Culture,” and then comes Volume II of “Sexual Personae.” There will be more women in attendance--primarily as movie and TV stars. It “will show how movies, television, sports and rock music embody all the pagan themes of classical antiquity,” Paglia says, joining such academic commentators as Leslie Fiedler (“Freaks: Myths and Images”) and Leo Braudy (whose book “The Frenzy of Renown,” discusses the function of our celebrity pantheon as today’s “gods and demigods”).
Here are a few tidbits from Paglia’s next volume: The television show “Knots Landing” is “all about hair.” Mick Jagger is Dionysus. So are the Los Angeles Raiders. All hail football! Baseball is dead! “Football is my religion,” Paglia says, now in her Vince Lombardi mask. “People don’t know how to take a hit.”
Meanwhile, the woman who has injected the national cocktail party with a massive shot of mythology is convinced of her legacy. Now, atop another Mardi Gras float, she dons the mask of Betty Friedan and announces her own epitaph: “She served no man.” To quote John Madden, hey, wait a minute! Clipping on Paglia! Twenty-yard penalty! Let’s go back to the line of scrimmage and try that play again. . . .