Camille Strikes Again, this time At American University

Camille Paglia

, covering the event, writes,

Last week I attended a debate at American University between dissident feminist Camille Paglia and AU gender scholar Jane Flax. The topic: “Gender Roles: Nature or Nurture?” Flax gave a polite and respectable defense of an exhausted idea: “gender is a social construction.” But Paglia stole the show. She deftly reminded the audience that Mother Nature tends to get the final word—and is not a feminist. I watched the faces of astonished and fascinated undergraduates as Paglia shattered the sacred icons of contemporary gender studies. By the end of the evening, even three sullen hipsters sitting next to me seemed to be won over.

Paglia, a professor of humanities, is that rare intellectual who knows and loves high culture but also appreciates rock stars, drag queens, and soap operas.
Paglia herself comments that

Women’s studies programs were rushed into existence in the 1970s partly because of national pressure to add more women to faculties that were often embarrassingly all-male. Administrators diverting funds to these new programs were less concerned with maintaining scholarly rigor than with solving a prickly public relations problem. Hence women’s studies was from the start flash-frozen at that early stage of ideology. . . . No deviation was permitted from the party line, which was that all gender differences are due to patriarchy, with its monolithic enslavement and abuse of women by men. . . .

In her opening remarks, Paglia, said,

My own thinking on this issue of innate versus learned traits is heavily indebted to Romanticism. But I take the Late Romantic view, associated with mid to late nineteenth-century Decadents like Charles Baudelaire and Oscar Wilde, who saw nature as a beautiful but tyrannically mechanical force that we are obligated to resist and defy through the ever-evolving
permutations of culture. The precursor in this strain of perverse Romanticism was not Rousseau but the Marquis de Sade, whose voluminous writings had vast influence, including on Nietzsche, whom Michel Foucault, the deity of poststructuralism, claimed as his model.

I have argued, as in my first book, Sexual Personae, which was an expansion of my doctoral dissertation, that the historical and mythological identification of woman with nature is true—based on biological facts that we may find unpalatable in these emancipated times but that cannot be wished away or amended as of yet by science. But arriving at that highly controversial position was the result of a long process of observation, investigation, and reflection. Indeed, during my adolescence in upstate New York, I had angrily held a completely opposite point of view, which I was eventually forced to relinquish after the extensive research I did into both biology and anthropology for my dissertation.

I highly recommend this engaging intellectual and her entire talk can be located here.

2 thoughts on “Camille Strikes Again, this time At American University

  1. Paglia is something of a biological determinist and for this she is h-a-t-e-d. But she’s only a determinist in sexual terms. In no way is she is racial determinist. Furthermore, she believes each man and woman can overcome their respective existential meatsuits with a combination of willpower and art. In the end, I think of her as a Rainbow Nietzschean. A simpler way of putting Paglia’s paradox: she’s a left-wing elitist. I like her quite a bit, and since Gore Vidal died there is no other public intellectual slinging truth at Paglia’s level. As for right-wing intellectuals, I don’t think there’s been a real first-class character, a combination of brains, imp and showmanship, since Ezra Pound died. He was too much!

    In any case, nice post. Thanks for the update on Paglia’s megalomaniacal, but necessary, mission to restore common sense to learning.

    • Beautifully said! I too admired Vidal ( look for my colleague’s, Jay Parini’s, bio of him). I actually miss Buckley these days, which is quite a statement. What today I find “uncanny” is how quickly we dismiss certain thinking. I totally appreciate your right on comments – and I think we need more, particularly in our day and age. I appreciate your voice, truly!

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