Fierce. Honest. Libertarian.
Author and professor Camille Paglia speaks her own mind, uses logic rather than histrionics to make her arguments, and is unafraid of blowback from her critics. Though a lifelong Democrat and a supporter of Bernie Sanders, she refused to vote for Hilary Clinton, regarding her as a “liar.” She has called into question climate change, despises political correctness, rejects the postmodernism that has wormed its way into our universities, and has taken to task our current obsession with transgender issues. She contends that by their refusal to listen to all women and to allow for dissent in their ranks, radical feminists are killing feminism.
In her latest collection of essays, Provocations (Pantheon Books, 2018, 684 pages), Paglia addresses not only these topics, but also the arts, “both erudite and popular,” free speech, sex and gender, education, literature, culture, and politics. To each subject, she brings wit—sometimes acerbic—knowledge, style, and best of all, fearless passion.
Look, for example, at her thoughts on transgender issues. In her “Introduction”, Paglia declares: “…despite my lifelong transgender identity, I do not accept most of the current transgender agenda, which denies biological sex differences, dictates pronouns, and recklessly promotes medical and surgical interventions.” In her interview “Feminism And Transgenderism,” she elaborates: “It is certainly ironic how liberals who posture as defenders of science when it comes to global warning…flee all reference to biology when it comes to gender…The cold biological truth is that sex changes are impossible. Every single cell of the human body (except for blood) remains coded with one’s birth gender for life.”
Yikes? And she still holds a professorship in our age of virtue signaling?
For most of her life, Paglia has taught humanities and media studies in universities. In “Free Speech And The Modern Campus,” she takes on political correctness and the consequent speech codes. Here she gives us her vision of a true liberal classroom: “The teacher as an individual citizen may and should have strong political convictions and activities outside the classroom, but in the classroom, he or she should never take ideological positions without at the time frankly acknowledging them as opinion to the students and emphasizing that all students are completely free to hold and express their own opinions on any issue, no matter how contested, from abortion, homosexuality, and global warming to the existence of God or the veracity of Darwin’s theory of evolution.”
Besides being struck by her marvelous faculty for language, most readers of these essays will find themselves, as I mentioned earlier, entranced by Paglia’s erudition and the sweeping range of subjects examined. Here is just a sampling of those subjects via her chapter titles: “Movie Music,” “Women And Law,” “Teaching Shakespeare To Actors,” “Western Love Poetry,” “No To The Invasion Of Iraq,” “Cults And Cosmic Consciousness,” “Religion And The Arts In America,” “St. Teresa of Avila.”
Paglia boldly bundles her own contradictions into her work. In “Resolved: Religion Belongs In The Curriculum,” for example, this atheist argues convincingly for a reintegration of art and religion, listing the benefits of making the “…study of comparative religion the core curriculum of university humanities programs everywhere.” Here is an academic who in “Vocational Education And Revalorization Of The Trades” advocates for “vocational and technical schools geared to concrete training in a craft or trade.” Here is a feminist who defends Helen Gurley Brown, the feminist who “most offended feminists for her tenderness toward men.”
In her Introduction, Paglia asserts that Provocations is “not for those who believe…they have found the absolute truth about mankind, present or future…not for those who see women as victims and men as the enemy…not for those who see human behavior as wholly formed by oppressive social forces….”
No—Provocations “is instead for those who elevate free thought and free speech over all other values…for those who see women as men’s equals who….do not plead for special protection for women as a weaker sex…for those who see life in spiritual terms as a quest for enlightenment….”
Thank you, Camille Paglia, for your words, your grit, and most especially, for your intelligent take on a culture that often seems closer to Bedlam than to sanity.