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August 19, 2005

Camille Paglia: On A Mission

Author, teacher and feminist Camille Paglia is on a mission to restore the arts to their former prominence in this country. On a website called The Morning News, sheÕs interviewed by Robert Birnbaum. The topic is her latest book Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-Three of the WorldÕs Best Poems, but the conversation eventually turns to the state of the arts and humanities in America. To say the least, Paglia is not encouraged by what she sees. Birnbaum is ready to blame those on the right side of the spectrum but Paglia, surprisingly, has some harsh words for the left. This interview has a plethora of wisdom from Paglia, but for the sake of brevity, I am only going to highlight some of it. Be sure to read the whole thing on your ownÑitÕs worth the time.

CP: IÕm on a crusadeÑitÕs to say to the poets and the artists, ÒStop talking to each other. Stop talking to coteries. I despise coteries in any form. You are speaking to a coterie, OK. Stop the snide references to the rest of the world who didnÕt vote with you in the last election.Ó This is big. Because we have all separated again. After 9/11, everyone was united. We are separated again thanks to what has happened in politics. People in the art world are full of sanctimonious sense of superiority to most of America. But they must address America, learn to address America. Yes, have your friends, have the people who support what you are doing in the art world, but you have to recover a sense of the general audience and the same thing I am saying to the far right, get over the sneering at art, the stereotypingÑ

RB: They started it.

CP: Wait a minute. The far right wouldnÕt have any opinions about art if it werenÕt for those big incidents in the late Ô80s to the Ô90s when some stupid work was committing sacrilege.

Huge, absolutely huge. She goes on to discuss how the artistic left denigrates Catholic symbols in its works, while leaving Islamic, Jewish, and other religions alone. WhatÕs interesting her is that Paglia not only recognizes that the artistic left is looking to be a thorn in the side of the religious right, but she isnÕt afraid to say it. SheÕs not worried about reactions to her words, because sheÕs on a mission. She says that by holding themselves above the Òrabble,Ó the artistic left no longer connect with society at large. And if they no longer connect, why would the ÒrabbleÓ care about their message? She goes on to say that as a result of tweaking the noses of those on the right, public support of arts funding has diminished.

Just take a look at this bombshell regarding the effects of multi-culturalism:

CP: It isnÕt fertile for the arts and therefore something is necessary. Artists, cultural organizations and the universities and primary schools have the obligation to put art more to the forefront. Instead of 30 years of badmouthing Western cultureÑ

RB: [laughs]

CP: And trashing itÑI am for multi-culturalismÑitÕs about the great artistic traditions of the world, whether itÕs Chinese culture, Hindi, whatever it is we are tracing in terms of history, chronologyÑchronology is outÑvalue, greatness, quality. My god, Japanese culture, Chinese culture, high culture. That was about quality. But the idea of quality has been divorced in the discussion of the arts in our universities because, ÒOh itÕs just a mask for ideology. There is no such thing as greatness. These are all completely subjective. For people who want to protect their own power eliteÑdead white European males.Ó This is the garbage that has come outÉ.

CP: But also itÕs up to the teachers to provide the counterbalance of art and thatÕs what American education is failing to do. There is a kind of humanitarian do-gooder mentality abroad in the public schools these days, which is like, ÒWe all get along. HereÕs our quota. We are going to read the poem by the African American, the poem by the Native American. The poem by the Chicano.Ó Like that. There is no more quality. So we are not giving the kids anything to sustain them. Heaven forbid there should be anything about religion or sex. The far right keeps the sexual outÑnudes from the history of painting. And the left keeps anything from religion out. The things that are the most substantive are not there.

Quality. Exactly. Take the good and reject the bad from all cultures. Western culture does have its good points like any other culture, something the left is loathe to admit.

Taking on the issue of Thomas Frank and his book WhatÕs the Matter With Kansas?, Paglia says, ÒThe idea that working people are voting against their interests seems to meÑIÕm sorry, I find that to be one of the most condescending, twisted things that has now taken root. ItÕs now in the media everywhere. That is twistedÉThe people are voting against their interests? Who knows that? Tom Frank knows that? Tom Frank knows what is in the peopleÕs best interest? ItÕs an outrage.Ó When I read this, I almost cheered.

ThereÕs more, much more. Honestly, you have to read this article yourselfÉI simply cannot cover it all. But the final quotes from Paglia, as she discusses the state of the study of humanities in our colleges and universities, really sum up her feelings:

CP: Sweep out all this stuff, this post-modernist, structuralism stuff which hasnÕt led to anything but a lot of very successful, tenure and promotion and salaries. This naivete of the alternative press about the academy. The idea that people who are mouthing leftist platitudes are leftists. Some of these people I knew in grad school. These people are crass materialists, OK?

RB: [laughs]

CP: They boast about having two houses and they mouth leftist platitudes. There was a financial reward to mouthing leftism in this period. The alternative press which should have been the watch dogsÑ

RB: The alternative press is the same way.

CP: What I am saying is they think thatÕs leftism and ÒI donÕt want to join the chorus of people on the right who are decrying whatÕs going on in academe,Ó so the entire two generations of embezzlers and crooks, as far as I am concerned, took over the universities and forced out interesting grad students and faculty and they took up other careers. And destroyed the humanities.

I wish all Democrats and leftists were like Camille Paglia. Then we'd get real political discourse, not ranting and raving.

*Cross-posted on Lifelike Pundits*

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