20 Years after Sexual Personae: Has Camille Paglia Become a Big Wash Out?

At Pajama’s Media, Bruce Bawer takes after Camille Paglia, most especially for her failure to extensively critique Islam, which is, he says, among “the most serious issues of our time”:

[O]n Canadian TV earlier this year, the once feisty, vivacious Paglia looked sad and exhausted, and came off as an old grouch, carping that Christopher Hitchens and other critics of religion are “cynics” who “just sneer. … I don’t want young people learning how to sneer” — this from a woman who became famous for sneering at icons and ideologies. Her Canadian interviewer had just taped a talk with Hitchens, whose fiery denunciation of religion in general and of Islam in particular formed a dramatic contrast with Paglia, whose admission to the same interviewer that we in the West “need to be concerned about the passion in jihadism” was itself curiously, uncharacteristically dispassionate, and whose focus was, in any event, not on jihad but on what she described as the failure of secular humanism. Then, . . . [in September 2010] the London Times ran what seems to be the longest essay Paglia has published in years. It was touted by the newspaper as “explosive.” What was it about? Banning burkas? Suicide bombing? Female genital mutilation?  No, it was about Lady Gaga. Paglia, who had once celebrated Madonna — and herself — as products of savvy marketing, now attacked Lady Gaga as a “manufactured personality.” If Madonna embodied sensuality, Lady Gaga, Paglia charged, is plastic and post-sexual. The essay bore the absurdly overblown title “Lady Gaga and the Death of Sex.” Online, most of it was behind the Times’s pay wall, but more than enough of it was available for free — nine hundred-odd words — to give readers a fair idea of where Paglia was going. The piece reeked of desperation: one had the impression that she was going all-out to appear with-it, to communicate to the world that she was still, as the Times put it, “America’s foremost cultural critic.” But instead, all her Lady Gaga piece accomplished was to affirm her irrelevance.

Ouch. And Bawer concludes his essay on Paglia this way:

Twenty years after Paglia herself stepped onto the international stage — and nine years after the destruction of the World Trade Center — what can we say about the state of her own reputation? Is there still hope that Paglia will step up to the plate and produce anything remotely resembling a major work about the religion that represents the greatest threat to women’s equality in the world today? Or is it time to write her off as a trivial-minded sniper at vapid celebrities, a has-been who, quite simply, has nothing useful whatsoever to say about the most serious issues of our time?

Aside from her rather trivial Lady Gaga piece, Camille Paglia has, indeed, seemed to fall off of the Internet’s radar this past year. In January of 2010, for example, she dropped her monthly Salon column, nevertheless promising the following:

I will return to Salon this fall, after my book has gone into production.

She’s writing a book on art. But it’s now winter, and she has not come back to Salon, nor is a forthcoming book being promoted yet at Amazon.

And it would be interesting to get her take on Islam, especially in relation to women (since she offers herself up as a feminist). I wonder what’s going on with her.

Maybe she’s decided that she’s not a robot?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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4 Responses to 20 Years after Sexual Personae: Has Camille Paglia Become a Big Wash Out?

  1. Paglia will surprise us yet. I”ve poked her twice about finishing S.P. Vol II!

  2. santitafarella says:


    That is a book I’ve been looking forward to for years. I do hope she is able to complete it. If you are a friend of hers, keep encouraging her. She is a treasure.


  3. Pingback: Sweeping the Prudes into the Dust Bin of History: Camille Paglia on Elizabeth Taylor | Prometheus Unbound

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