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Life Arts    H4'ed 3/24/17

Camille Paglia's New Book Is Timely (REVIEW ESSAY)

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From Munk Debates - Camille Paglia {MID-71024}

Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) March 24, 2017: With so-called President Trump now deliberately shaking up American culture in ways not endorsed by second-wave feminist zealots, the openly lesbian atheist Camille Paglia (born in 1947; Ph.D. in English, Yale University) of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia has now published a wide range of her previously published polemics in her hefty new 340-page book Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism (Pantheon, 2017) to help him shake up American culture under the influence of second-wave feminist zealotry.

In my estimate, Camille Paglia, unlike Trump, has set forth a coherent framework of thought, as I hope to delineate in the present review essay. Of course we are free to disagree with here framework of thought as we see fit. But my purpose here is not to set forth my disagreements with her, but simply to pass over them in favor of accentuating certain points with which I happen to agree with her. However, I admit that she has staked out positions on so many different topics, as the 36 contrarian chapters in her new book illustrate, that it can be challenging to follow her at times. (Do the math: divide 340 by 36. Some of the chapters are short op-ed essays.)

Up to the present time, Camille Paglia has not had an appreciable impact on second-wave feminist zealotry -- nor has anybody else. Nevertheless, she persists in fighting the good fight against second-wave feminist zealotry and misandry. Because the backlash against second-wave feminist zealotry contributed to Trump's decisive elector victory, perhaps the time has come for concerned citizens in the Democratic Party to revisit the misandry of second-wave feminist zealotry. But can liberals and progressives who want to see the Democratic Party evolve into a more powerful political force at all levels of American government draw any fruit from reading Camille Paglia's hefty new book?

Camille Paglia's first big book was Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Neferti to Emily Dickinson (Yale University Press, 1990), which she wrote originally as her doctoral dissertation in English at Yale University in the 1970s under the direction of the prolific literary critic and theorist Harold Bloom. From it, she branched out to publishing aesthetic commentaries on popular culture and polemics about certain trends in literary studies and in politics.

The main title of Camille Paglia's new book captures the libertarian spirit that animates her polemics -- a spirit expressed historically in classic British romanticism, perhaps most notably in Mary Wollstonecraft's book A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1790). Of course a variant libertarian spirit animates economic libertarians such as the Koch brothers, who have aligned themselves with certain other conservatives in the Republican Party, including social and cultural conservatives who are anti-abortion zealots.

In Camille Paglia's 2016 piece titled "On Abortion" (pages 277-283), she quotes herself as saying the following in her 1994 manifesto titled "No Law in the Arena": "'As a libertarian, I support unrestricted access to abortion [as do many second-wave feminist zealots in the Democratic Party] because I have reasoned that my absolute right to my body takes precedence over the brute claims of mother nature, who wants to reduce women to their animal function as breeders'" (quoted on page 283).

In the book Render Unto Darwin: Philosophical Aspects of the Christian Right's Crusade Against Science (Open Court, 2007), James H. Fetzer uses deontological moral theory to construct a more carefully nuanced position of abortion that I agree with (pages 95-120).

In the above-quoted passage, Camille Paglia's use of the expression "mother nature" strikes me as sentimentalism. Elsewhere, she says, "Mythology's identification of woman with nature is correct" (page 18; also see pages 12 and 212). She goes on to say, "Male bonding and patriarchy were the recourse to which man was forced by his terrible sense of women's power, her imperviousness, her archetypal confederacy with chthonian nature" (page 18).

Camille Paglia explicitly acknowledges that she borrows the term "chthonian" from the British classicist Jane Harrison's use of it to describe pre-Olympian Greek religion (page 9). It means "'of the earth' -- but earth's bowels, not its surface" (page 9). I will return to Camille Paglia's discussion of "surface" momentarily. As Camille Paglia uses the term chthonian, it includes not only all of what both Freud and Jung refer to as the personal unconscious, but also what Jung refers to as the collective unconscious.

But in second-wave feminist zealotry, patriarchy is an unforgivable and inexcusable misfortune that must be roundly denounced and perhaps extirpated from the face of the earth -- not explained away sympathetically as Camille Paglia explains here.

Now, my favorite scholar if the American Jesuit polymath Walter J. Ong (1912-2003; Ph.D. in English, Harvard University, 1955) of Saint Louis University, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri. Sadly, his work represents one road not taken by Camille Paglia, even though she happens to follow Ong's example of drawing on the Jungian Israeli psychoanalyst and theorist Erich Neumann in her 1990 book Sexual Personae (pages 42, 43, 47, 52, 88, 93, and 380), mentioned above. In the books Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture (Cornell University Press, 1971, 10-12 and 18) and Fighting for Life: Contest, Sexuality, and Consciousness (Cornell University Press, 1981, pages 18-19, 25, 92, 100, 111, 115, and 148), the published version of Ong's 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University, Ong draws extensively on Neumann's thought.

Coincidentally, the trajectory of Harold Bloom's thought led him to publish the book Agon: Toward a Theory of Revisionism (Oxford University Press, 1982). The Greek word agon means contest, struggle, the topic of Ong's 1981 book, a topic he also explores in his book The Presence of the Word: Some Prolegomena for Cultural and Religious History (Yale University Press, 1967), the expanded version of Ong's 1964 Terry Lectures at Yale University.

Camille Paglia says, "Western woman is in an agonistic relation to her own body" (page 16). The Freudian psychiatrist Karl Stern develops a similar argument in his book The Flight from Woman (Noonday Press, 1966), which Ong discusses in his book In the Human Grain: Further Explorations of Contemporary Culture (Macmillan, 1967, page 189).

In the book Hillary's Choice (Random House, 1999, pages 48-49 and 66), Gail Sheehy reports that young Hillary Rodham (born in 1947) read Ong's 1967 book In the Human Grain in the summer of 1967 and was deeply impressed with it.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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