Traducere // Translate

If you are an artist and you don’t recognize the name of Moses,” Pagliasays, “then the West is dead. It’s over. It has committed suicide.

20101113TC_045 by Exclusiva!BR

The art world is in spiritual crisis—it has not had a new idea in years. So argues the cultural critic and feminist provocateur Camille Paglia in her new book,Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars. The book—intended as a companion piece to her 2005 volume of poetry criticism, Break, Blow, Burnis a slim survey of Western art in 29 essays, each focusing on a single work of art. The works include the idols of Cyclades (circa 3500­–2300 B.C.), Bernini’s Chair of Saint Peter (circa 1647–53), Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907), and some surprises—like the Star Wars film Revenge of the Sith by George Lucas. The format of the book, Paglia explains in her introduction, is based on Catholic breviaries of devotional images, “like mass cards of the saints.” Recently I spent an afternoon with Paglia at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where we spoke about her new book, religion, and the state of art and culture today.

For Paglia, the spiritual quest defines all great art—all art that lasts. But in our secular age, the liberal crusade against religion has also taken a toll on art. “Sneering at religion is juvenile, symptomatic of a stunted imagination,” Paglia writes. “Yet that cynical posture has become de rigueur in the art world—simply another reason for the shallow derivativeness of so much contemporary art, which has no big ideas left.” Historically the great art of the West has had religious themes, either explicit or implicit. “The Bible, the basis for so much great art, moves deeper than anything coming out of the culture today,” Paglia says. As a result of its spiritual bankruptcy, art is losing its prominence in our culture. “Art makes news today,” she writes, “only when a painting is stolen or auctioned at a record price.”

As a professor of liberal studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she has spent her academic career teaching future artists, Paglia has seen this crisis of the art world unfold firsthand. Winding her way through the corridors of the Philadelphia museum, stopping occasionally to marvel at an ancient Roman bust or a medieval depiction of the Virgin and child, she tells me two stories.

In the late 1980s Paglia taught an introductory art-history course called Arts and Civilization to freshmen. When it came time to cover the Renaissance, Paglia decided to introduce her students to Michelangelo’s two-part panel from the Sistine Chapel ceiling,Temptation and Expulsion From the Garden. After Paglia’s lecture on this scene from the Book of Genesis, a student approached the professor. In Paglia’s telling, this student “cheerfully said that she was so happy to learn about that because she had always heard about Adam and Eve but never knew what they referred to!”

More recently, in the early 2000s, Paglia was teaching a course that she founded in the 1980s, Art of Song Lyrics, which was directed at musicians and included a spiritual called “Go Down, Moses.” But she said few recognized who Moses was or knew his story well. “If you are an artist and you don’t recognize the name of Moses,” she says, “then the West is dead. It’s over. It has committed suicide.”

More than 20 years ago, Paglia took another journey through art in her breakout book Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. It launched her career as an irrepressible and politically incorrect cultural critic who was suddenly everywhere on the media circuit, speaking on topics ranging from Madonna and Elizabeth Taylor to date rape and educational reform. In the book, Paglia argued that Western culture has been a succession of shifting sexual personae (Mona Lisa is the original dominatrix; Dickinson was Amherst’s Madame de Sade). The book contained all the Paglia hallmarks: an infatuation with sex and beauty, strong prose, and an evisceration of feminism. Needless to say, Sexual Personae raised hackles and branded Paglia as theenfant terrible of academia and feminism.

That was then. While she is still more than willing to dig into what is left of the feminist movement—“feminism today is anti-intellectual” and “defined by paranoia,” she says—these days, she directs the venom of her sharp tongue to the dogmatic champions of secularism, liberals who narrow-mindedly dismiss religion and God. There is one, in particular, whom she cannot stand: the late Christopher Hitchens—like her, a libertarian-minded atheist. The key difference between the two is that he despised religion and God while Paglia respects both and thinks they are funda­mental to Western culture and art. Paglia calls Hitchens “a sybaritic narcissist committed to no real ideas outside his personal advancement.”


Paglia’s problem with Hitchens reflects her larger concern about the state of art and culture. The arts world’s dismissal of religion, which came to a head in the 1980s and 1990s in the controversies over sacrilege, turned baiting Christianity into a litmus test of being avant-garde. “Nothing is more hackneyed than the liberal dogma that shock value confers automatic importance on an artwork,” she writes in her new book. In rushing to defend third-rate works like Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ (1987) and Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), the art establishment backed itself into a partisan corner from which it has been unable to emerge. Thanks to this, many Americans consider the art world to be snobbish, effete, and debased. Paglia’s mission in Glittering Images is to change how ordinary Americans think of art. “Because of the spiritual hollowness of the art world, I wanted to show in my book that art is about the spiritual quest.” Paglia, the mother of a 10-year-old boy, is particularly concerned about the state of arts education among the youth. Few learn about art in their public schools, where religious themes are off-limits. “My aim,” she tells me, “was to write a slim book that would appeal to young people. I wanted to reach people who have never opened an art book in their lives.”

To that end she structures the book strategically: In the first part, she leads readers through a series of classic works of art—crowd pleasers—like theCharioteer of Delphi (circa 475 B.C.), Titian’s Venus With a Mirror (circa 1555), and Monet’s Irises (1900), hoping to gain the readers’ confidence. Then she introduces more difficult abstract and experimental works, like Jackson Pollock’s Green Silver (circa 1949), in an effort to show readers that these are equally beautiful and mystical. “These abstract artists are spiritual seekers,” she says. One of the highlights of Glittering Images is Paglia’s ability to capture the transcendental meaning of the more recent works, like Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field (1977). Is that lightning bolt cutting through the sky the wrath of God, Paglia wonders, or a flash of divine and artistic revelation?

If the great artists are all spiritual seekers, then contemplating great art is, to Paglia, a religious experience. “This,” she tells me, referring to the museum with open arms, “is my church.” And Paglia is looking for converts. As she writes in Glittering Images, “A society that forgets art risks losing its soul.”

Camille Paglia avec Champagne (Hipstamatic Contest Entry)

Christopher Hitchens was probably the greatest debater and rhetorician of his generation. The list of those whom he met in public debate over the last, say, 25 years of his life is too long to list here. I'm not aware of all his opponents, or even most of them, or of most of the people whose opinions he dealt with in print. To my knowledge they did not include Camille Paglia. 

Did Camille Paglia ever, even once, challenge Hitchens or dispute his ideas even indirectly while he was alive and able to argue back

Did she, while he was alive and able to respond, have the gall to label (or rather, libel) him as “a sybaritic narcissist committed to no real ideas outside his personal advancement"? 

I rather doubt it. Paglia would have found herself gravely outmatched by an intellect of exponentially greater learning and erudition than her own.  He would have taken her and her intellectual pretensions apart with little effort, and very likely have thrown the charges of being ambitious and a narcissist ("sybaritic" or otherwise) right back down her throat. 


"Paglia would have found herself gravely outmatched by an intellect of exponentially greater learning and erudition than her own."
That's one of the funniest things I've read here so far. I take it you are unfamiliar with Paglia's book *Sexual Personae*? I thought so. Paglia has a doctorate from Yale. How many doctorates from Ivy league or Oxbridge schools did Hitchens earn, again? Oh, that's right, zero.  Still, he's obviously Paglia's superior in erudition because... well... because expedicious1 says so.
As for Hitchens the "ferocious debater", I gather you also missed seeing him not merely being defeated, but utterly humiliated in debate with William Lane Craig? Yes, I thought so, as well.
What the Hitchens amen corner doesn't seem to get is that Paglia likely did not think Hitchens important enough to engage publicly. Did anyone notice that, even in this essay, she devotes a total of one sentence to Hitchens, merely to use him as an example? That should give an idea of how important Paglia thinks Hitchens is. While I am no uncritical admirer of Paglia's--her glibness, superficiality, and desire to play gadfly can be most irritating--she is dead on the money regarding Hitchens, whose greatest "achievement" was to popularize dish-queen cattiness in political analysis and discourse.

I have not read Paglia's book (I remember taking out of the library. I didn't finish it), but I saw and heard her interviewed many times during her media heyday many years ago, and feel that I gained some familiarity with her ideas. She is obviously very learned, but as you yourself concede, she is glib, superficial - and an undeniable poseur. Though her academic career and writing continue, it is no surprise that her popular fame and influence proved fleeting.

Do you suggest that just because Paglia has a PhD from Yale, she is more erudite than Hitchens? Not to dismiss the value of such a degree, but this is nonsense. Debate is what wins debates, not academic qualifications. In the course of my education - in history and economics - I ran across many PhDs (including ones from the Ivy Leagues) who were pedants with little ability to engage with events outside the narrow disciplines they had mastered. Hitchens' own academic qualification, a PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) degree from Oxford, is not something to be slighted. Nor is (or rather, was, sadly) the depth and breadth of his journalism, his experience of politics and revolutionary movements in many parts of the world, and his knowledge of literature and culture.

No, Hitchens is not a great debater because I say so. That's a silly statement. His rhetorical skills and learning were self-evident. Paglia, for her part, was not a debater of any note at all. She was and is a monologist - let's be honest, a motor-mouth. It's hard to even evaluate her as a debater, because, for all her exposure in the media, she appears, unlike Hitchens, to have rarely engaged in public debate at all.

You're entitled to your low opinion of Hitchens and his "dish-queen cattiness". I think that regardless of the positions that he took and the waspishness with which he expressed them, he had particular value in this dumbed-down, politically polarized era, for two reasons: first, his views crossed the ideological, political and cultural boundaries that have been imposed on public discourse, and secondly, provocative and opinionated as he was, Hitchens made people think.

Thanks for your mention of Hitchens debate with William Lane Craig. I look forward to watching it on YouTube.

Hitchens: erudite, witty, complex, and a gifted writer of lucid prose.
Paglia: superficial, mesmerized by flaccid popular culture, thematically simpleminded, and virtually incapable of writing a clear and precise sentence. Additionally a coward to wait until Hitchens died to criticize him.
Hitchens will last, Paglia isn't even interesting in her own time.
Hitchens, erudite and complex? Well, I suppose if your definition of complexity includes flip-flopping from liberal to neo-Con. I appreciate the laugh, though. 
I am no uncritical fan of Paglia's, either, as I've indicated, but to read all these huffy attacks from Hitchens' amen corner who feel they must defend their idol against even the slightest of slights is hilariously funny, all the more so because Paglia devotes at most one or two sentences to him in her essay--which is one or two sentences more than his importance rates, I would add.

Niciun comentariu: