Camille Paglia has always been a little batty — after all, she’s a self-identified feminist who has made her entire career out of raging against the feminist movement and generally promoting the subjugation of women. But her latest column in Salon is just… confusing. I know she’s always a bit disjointed and ranty and inconsistent — and perhaps more than anything, unbelievably narcissistic — but large sections of this just don’t make any sense.
So ok, maybe it’s not so different from her other columns after all. Still worth a mention, though, if only because my face just aged 10 years from reading it (I have a bad habit of furrowing my eyebrows when I’m trying to get through inane material). She starts off by going after Hillary Clinton, who she predictably says isn’t as good of a politician as everyone thinks, because she’s cold and aggressive and not as “warm” as Nancy Pelosi; and then she laments, “Why don’t we have a stronger Democratic female candidate?” Paglia thinks that “Dianne Feinstein, not Hillary Clinton, has already created the paradigm for a female commander in chief.” Because we can only have one!
After commenting on the handbags of Clinton’s campaign staffers, Paglia makes a quick slide into bizarre egomania. We learn that people worried about global warming are idiots who clearly don’t remember, I shit you not, Hurricane Camille in 1969. Because devastating hurricanes existed before Katrina, there is no global warming. We also learn the important tidbit that Paglia was traveling through Europe as a grad student when Camille hit. Because even global warming is pretty much about her.
Then she starts writing about Norman Mailer, which you know is going to be trouble:
Mailer’s “The Prisoner of Sex” (the original 1971 Harper’s essay, not the book) was an important statement about men’s sexual fears and desires. His jousting with Germaine Greer at the notorious Town Hall debate in New York that same year was a pivotal moment in the sex wars. I loved Greer and still do. And I also thought Jill Johnston (who disrupted the debate with lesbo stunts) was a cutting-edge thinker: I was devouring her Village Voice columns, which had evolved from dance reportage into provocative cultural commentary.
I excerpt that paragraph solely so we can all have a good laugh at the term “lesbo stunts,” and wonder what sort of stuntery is performed by lesbo stunt-women. (Extreme softball? Parachute-free muff-diving?)
Then it’s back to Camille:
Feminism would have been far stronger had it been able to absorb Mailer’s arguments about sex. If my own system seemed heterodox for so long, it’s because I appear to have been one of the few feminists who could appreciate and integrate all three thinkers — Mailer, Greer and Johnston. I’m sorry that Mailer, presumably cowed or pussy-whipped, abandoned the gender field. It would take Madonna, thanks to her influence on a generation of dissident young women, to bring authentically Dionysian ’60s feminism back from the dead. That pro-sex wing of feminism (to which I belong) has of course resoundingly triumphed, to the hissy consternation of the Puritans and the iconoclasts –those maleducated wordsmiths who don’t know how to respond to or “read” erotic imagery.
I’d rather not take feminist sex tips from a famously misogynist guy who got off on sexual violence, stabbed one of his many ex-wives, and had things like this to say:
I think when a woman goes through an abortion, even legalized abortion, she goes through hell. There’s no use hoping otherwise. For what is she doing? Sometimes she has to be saying to herself, “You’re killing the memory of a beautiful fuck.” I don’t think abortion is a great strain when the act was some miserable little screech, or some squeak oozed up through the trapdoor, a little rat which got in, a worm who slithered under the threshold. That sort of abortion costs a woman little more than discomfort. Unless there are medical consequences years later.
But if a woman has a great fuck, and then has to abort, it embitters her.
Call me crazy, but that doesn’t sound like the sex-positive feminism I know, and Normal Mailer is not a healthy sexual role model.
Then there’s more Camille:
Speaking of Madonna, one of the lousiest things Mailer ever wrote was his flimsy cover-story screed on her for Esquire in 1994. It was obvious Mailer knew absolutely nothing about Madonna and was just blowing smoke. I wonder if it’s this debacle that Woody Hochswender, who had worked at Esquire, is describing in a startling letter following Roger Kimball’s scathing Mailer critique, which is posted on that indispensable site, Arts & Letters Daily. Guess what — Esquire’s original proposal was for me to interview Madonna. Mailer was the sub!
When Madonna doesn’t want to meet with her, Camille “attributed Madonna’s skittishness at the time to her uncertainties about her education (she had dropped out of college after one semester to seek fame in New York).” Then somehow we get to Ellen, Natalie Wood (“Like Elizabeth Taylor, she was a child star who gracefully and seamlessly matured”), and a satirical play based on one of Camille’s books, which she seems to have brought up only to emphasize that it’s based on her work, and “I’m a character in it — a know-it-all psychotherapist sent as a deus ex machina by Hitchcock to straighten out Bodega Bay.”
And I’m feeling disoriented, and as if I can’t read anything else tonight without thinking, “But what does this have to do with Camille?”
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