Reading Camille Paglia on Sarah Palin

I really enjoy reading Camille Paglia.  Sure some of her ideas are horrifying.  But she is far scarier to modern feminists than she is to me, or probably ought to be to you.

And, boy, can she write.   Though I suspect she is paid by the word.

Here is a recent piece from Ms. Paglia on Salon about Gov. Sarah Palin, forwarded to me by a friend.  My emphases here to items which either delighted my writer’s ear or got under my skin.

Although nothing will sway my vote for Obama, I continue to enjoy Sarah Palin’s performance on the national stage. During her vice-presidential debate last week with Joe Biden (whose conspiratorial smiles with moderator Gwen Ifill were outrageous and condescending toward his opponent), I laughed heartily at Palin’s digs and slams and marveled at the way she slowly took over the entire event. I was sorry when it ended! But Biden wasn’t — judging by his Gore-like sighs and his slow sinking like a punctured blimp. Of course Biden won on points, but TV (a visual medium) never cares about that.

The mountain of rubbish poured out about Palin over the past month would rival Everest. What a disgrace for our jabbering army of liberal journalists and commentators, too many of whom behaved like snippy jackasses. The bourgeois conventionalism and rank snobbery of these alleged humanitarians stank up the place. As for Palin’s brutally edited interviews with Charlie Gibson and that viper, Katie Couric, don’t we all know that the best bits ended up on the cutting-room floor? Something has gone seriously wrong with Democratic ideology, which seems to have become a candied set of holier-than-thou bromides attached like tutti-frutti to a quivering green Jell-O mold of adolescent sentimentality.

And where is all that lurid sexual fantasy coming from? When I watch Sarah Palin, I don’t think sex — I think Amazon warrior! I admire her competitive spirit and her exuberant vitality, which borders on the supernormal. The question that keeps popping up for me is whether Palin, who was born in Idaho, could possibly be part Native American (as we know her husband is), which sometimes seems suggested by her strong facial contours. I have felt that same extraordinary energy and hyper-alertness billowing out from other women with Native American ancestry — including two overpowering celebrity icons with whom I have worked.

One of the most idiotic allegations batting around out there among urban media insiders is that Palin is "dumb." Are they kidding? What level of stupidity is now par for the course in those musty circles? (The value of Ivy League degrees, like sub-prime mortgages, has certainly been plummeting. As a Yale Ph.D., I have a perfect right to my scorn.) People who can’t see how smart Palin is are trapped in their own narrow parochialism — the tedious, hackneyed forms of their upper-middle-class syntax and vocabulary.

As someone whose first seven years were spent among Italian-American immigrants (I never met an elderly person who spoke English until we moved from Endicott to rural Oxford, New York, when I was in first grade), I am very used to understanding meaning through what might seem to others to be outlandish or fractured variations on standard English. Furthermore, I have spent virtually my entire teaching career (nearly four decades) in arts colleges, where the expressiveness of highly talented students in dance, music and the visual arts takes a hundred different forms. Finally, as a lover of poetry (my last book was about that), I savor every kind of experimentation with standard English — beginning with Shakespeare, who was the greatest improviser of them all at a time when there were no grammar rules.

Many others listening to Sarah Palin at her debate went into conniptions about what they assailed as her incoherence or incompetence. But I was never in doubt about what she intended at any given moment. On the contrary, I was admiring not only her always shapely and syncopated syllables but the innate structures of her discourse — which did seem to fly by in fragments at times but are plainly ready to be filled with deeper policy knowledge, as she gains it (hopefully over the next eight years of the Obama presidencies). This is a tremendously talented politician whose moment has not yet come. That she holds views completely opposed to mine is irrelevant.

Even if she disappears from the scene forever after a McCain defeat, Palin will still have made an enormous and lasting contribution to feminism. As I said in my last column, Palin has made the biggest step forward in reshaping the persona of female authority since Madonna danced her dominatrix way through the shattered puritan barricades of the feminist establishment. In 1990, in a highly controversial New York Times op-ed that attacked old-guard feminist ideology, I declared that "Madonna is the future of feminism" — a prophecy that was ridiculed at the time but that turned out to be quite true. Madonna put pro-sex feminism on the international map.

But it is now 18 years later — the span of an entire generation. The instabilities and diminishments for young women raised in an increasingly shallow media environment have become all too obvious. I had grown up in a vibrant pop culture with glorious women stars of voluptuous sensuality — above all Elizabeth Taylor, sewn into that silky white slip as the vixen Manhattan call girl of "Butterfield 8." In college, I feasted on foreign films starring sexual sophisticates like Jeanne Moreau, Anouk Aimée and Catherine Deneuve. Sex today, however, has become brittle and superficial. Except for the occasional diverting flash of Lindsay Lohan’s borrowed bosom, I see nothing whatever that is worth a second glance. Pro-sex feminism has worked itself out and, like all movements, has degenerated into clichés. And even Madonna, with her skeletal megalomania, looks like a refugee from a horror movie.

The next phase of feminism must circle back and reappropriate the ancient persona of the mother — without losing career ambition or power of assertion. Betty Friedan, who had first attacked the cult of postwar domesticity, had long warned second-wave feminists such as Gloria Steinem about the damaging exclusion of homemakers from their value system. The animus of liberal feminists toward religion must also end (I am speaking as an atheist). Feminism must reexamine all of its assumptions, including its death grip on abortion, if it wishes to survive[Paglia’s view of abortion is chilling, btw.  She readily admits that it is murder of a human being, but.. that’s just the way it goes.  The strong treat the weak the way they want.  It’s the "the extermination of the powerless by the powerful", and that’s reality.]

The hysterical emotionalism and eruptions of amoral malice at the arrival of Sarah Palin exposed the weaknesses and limitations of current feminism. But I am convinced that Palin’s bracing mix of male and female voices, as well as her grounding in frontier grit and audacity, will prove to be a galvanizing influence on aspiring Democratic women politicians too, from the municipal level on up. Palin has shown a brand-new way of defining female ambition — without losing femininity, spontaneity or humor. She’s no pre-programmed wonk of the backstage Hillary Clinton school; she’s pugnacious and self-created, the product of no educational or political elite — which is why her outsider style has been so hard for media lemmings to comprehend. And by the way, I think Tina Fey’s witty impersonations of Palin have been fabulous. But while Fey has nailed Palin’s cadences and charm, she can’t capture the energy, which is a force of nature.

This woman can write.  "That she holds views completely opposed to mine is irrelevant."

I suppose some of you will now leap in with dopey political comments, instead of addressing what Paglia addresses or talking about how she writes.   I will tolerate you for a while and then I will, Paglia-like, exterminate both your comments and you from the blog.  Too bad.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TJM says:

    Father Z, we share this in common. Although I disagree with many of Camille Paglia’s views, she has a wonderful way of expressing
    herself. She is dead on about the older form of feminism. Tom

  2. Tim Ferguson says:

    Paglia always reminds me of someone who, were real and fictional worlds to merge, would make a frightening but captivating soulmate to Howard Roark from the Fountainhead.

  3. shadrach says:

    Paglia does write journalism in a Nietzschean style, but of course she is much less profound a philosopher than Nietzsche was, although equally wrong. Your typo ‘Paglia-lie’, however, might be a Freudian slip, because she obviously was watching a different Palin-Biden debate. Furthermore Paglia’s suggestion that the Gibson or Couric interviews were brutally edited is obviously wrong. Palin just couldn’t answer the questions.

  4. Felicitas says:

    I am a huge fan of Camille Paglia, even though like you, Fr., I don’t agree with most of her political positions. She is honest and pragmatic and she is not afraid to speak the truth, no matter how many enemies it makes her.

    Before my conversion I agreed with her position on abortion. It is the lack of belief in God that causes that attitude. But remember, those people are halfway there in acknowledging that abortion is the taking of a human life. Pray always for them – some of them will hear the call. It worked on me.

  5. Tim: She indeed has a certain Ayn Rand-y quality.

  6. HGB says:

    “I will tolerate you for a while and then I will, Paglia-like, exterminate both your comments and you from the blog. Too bad.”

    I agree, we get too many dopey political comments as it is. The way you expressed it made me laugh, though. Thanks for that.

  7. Andy K. says:

    Snap. That was good.

  8. Paglia is behind the curve. Paglia and the old-guard feminists have been forced to get with the times because they are stunned by the numbers of women (women, who a few years ago, they barely deigned to acknowledge the existence of) who are backing Sarah Palin.

    True women already figured out long ago that the old-guard feminism was irrelevent and had nothing to say to them. This is part of the reason the “new feminism” as Ms. Paglia would call it, has embraced Sarah Palin’s inclusion on the McCain ticket with great excitement.

    Frankly, I’d rather see Palin the lead on the Republican ticket than McCain.

  9. Jordanes says:

    Frankly, I’d rather see Palin the lead on the Republican ticket than McCain.

    You and a lot of people, Cathy. . . .

  10. Artsgolfer says:

    She really is a breath of fresh liberal air….someone who recognizes the
    lunacy of liberal actions….she is someone who could be a convert. It is
    almost if she is on the path to truth just has not gotten there yet. And,
    boy! what a convert she would be!!! BTW I disagree with her on almost
    everything….well okay everything, except that liberals are hypocritical

  11. andrea says:

    Odd, all I see is a Barbie-Doll and a Geezer!Must get my TV adjusted. [Precisely the sort of comment I was talking about.]

  12. Daniel Latinus says:

    Yes, Ms Paglia is an engaging writer, and she’s honest, even if she’s wrong. Her other writings make me think her mentality is really more pagan than atheistic.

    I recall reading, some years ago, an article by Ms. Paglia about her Catholic upbringing. If I recall correctly, she admitted that the changes in the Church in the loopy 1960s-1970s contributed to her loss of faith.

    May she find her way back home.

  13. Fr W says:

    I have discovered this writer only recently; it reminds me of what Our Lord said: be either hot or cold, the lukewarm I vomit out of my mouth. At lest she’s cold – and intellectually honest with herself.

  14. Maureen says:

    If contemporary journalism were a TV show, I’d be rooting for Camille Paglia to get married to Chris Hitchens. Catholic wedding, of course. (They’d probably meet in RCIA.)

    Yes, this would be a very improbable plotline… but how pleasing! Banter galore!

  15. Paglia has always in held a certain place in my heart, much in the way Camus does. Though I disagree with her much more than Camus, my point is that while I disagree, with her on just about everything, with Camus mostly just about the final conclusion, I respect the way she says it, and I appreciate that she articulates her views in a candid way that actually can lead to discourse. She doesn’t shout ideals at you, she explains why she believes as she does, at which point the onus is on us to dissect her writings and put forth reasonable views of our own. Great piece, and she’s right, perhaps the biggest impact Palin will have as a result of this run will be the effect she has on feminism, and the reclamation of the “feminine” in feminism. It’s long overdue that feminists realize that equality does not equal sameness. A woman does not have to be a man to be equal to a man.

  16. aalex1 says:

    Father Z,

    I once heard Paglia on the radio absolutely crush a caller who claimed that the Catholic Church was only a negative influence on western civilization. Paglia directed the caller to get a classical education and learn about the enormous contributions of the Church to the west and the rest of the world. I am impressed by Paglia’s ability to communicate, although her lack of belief in God and the Catholic Church in particular continues to confound me.

  17. aalex1: In many ways Paglia reminds me of another woman author, an atheist (or so she claimed), the late Oriana Fallaci.

  18. TJM says:

    shadrach, wrong again. It’s been documented even in the mainstream journalism that Charlie Gibson cut and pasted the Palin interview in a shameful fashion that would have made Joseph Goebbels proud. Although I often disagree with her views, Paglia is generally factually correct in her assertions. She takes her craft seriously.Tom

  19. I’ve always gotten a kick out of Paglia’s writing, too, ever since the early nineties or so, when she popped up seemingly out of nowhere as a cultural critic. I think it’s the unbridled joy of the rhetoric, really. All those sharp adjectives effortlessly wielded, sticking it to worthy targets–it’s a joy to read. It’s something any ancient Roman would’ve loved, and a certain Holy Hieronymus of Stridon certainly would, as he was no mean shakes at it himself.

    Those who complain about Governor Palin’s speaking as incomprehensible are obviously only themselves half-literate. Most people in general can no longer stand to hear unhesitating, quick, complex, discursive speech, as they have no ability to punctuate on the fly. Nor, as is all too apparent, do the mouth-breathing media have the capacity to punctuate the transcripts even after the fact–they’re utterly contemptible. I suppose journalism school these days consist only of workshops on the benefits of spray-on tan versus tanning booths betwixt lessons on Democratic neé Communist Party marching orders. There’s certainly no writing or speaking ability observable in the recent pretty little crop of airheads, who think “rhetoric” is something someone else says that they disagree with. Sheesh.

  20. Brian O'Gallagher, Boston says:

    Paglia, who is always reminding us that she is the author of Sexual Personae, agrees that abortion is the termination of a human life, but still defends it. I wouldn’t post anything by Paglia, Father, lest you find yourself employing the tactic of the other side: “by any means possible”.

  21. chironomo says:

    I read the other day an interesting piece (can’t recall where it was) that suggested, along with some survey/ poll type evidence, that while conservatives can more often readily explain an understanding of why liberals hold the views that they do, liberals are less able to explain why conservatives hold the views that they do, the suggestion being that liberals seem to accept political positions as a sort of “faith” that they can’t really explain. Paglia is a happy exception to this trend, in spite of her views (which I so strongly disagree with that it is hard to use the word “happy”), in that she is able to admire someone as a person without filtering it through her political bias. This is a rare commodity in the media, where so many journalists start from the assumption that if an individual is “conservative” they are ignorant, arrogant, closed-minded, folksy, provincial, unenlightened….etc….

  22. jaykay says:

    “I wouldn’t post anything by Paglia, Father, lest you find yourself employing the tactic of the other side: “by any means possible”.

    Brian O´G: I wouldn´t necessarily agree with that. Wasn´t it St. Paul who advised us to take the good from wherever necessary while disregarding the bad?

    Over this side of the Atlantic we don´t tend to see Ms. Paglia´s stuff too often (although she is well known). That´s possibly perhaps she´d rattle too many glib-lib cages… and incidentally expose their own ignorance. But boy, could she obliterate some of our bien-pensant libs over here in Ireland, most of whom swim safely and complacently in the warm bath of their own self-regard [nice phrase] and that of their like-minded ilk. Has she ever appeared in a debate with Christopher Hitchens? That´s something I´d like to see. Or Prof. Dawkins.

  23. Cornelius says:

    Yes, she can write, but this line:

    ” . . . a candied set of holier-than-thou bromides attached like tutti-frutti
    to a quivering green Jell-O mold of adolescent sentimentality.”

    is way over the top, and just clobbers the reader with adjectival excess. [I think that was the point… to be over the top.] She needs
    some blue-penciling to give her a writing discipline she seems to lack on her own.

  24. Andreas says:

    I will tolerate you for a while and then I will, Paglia-like, exterminate both your comments and you from the blog. Too bad.

    Perhaps she can express her vile comments well. Here is a comment of Saint Jerome that aptly comes to mind: “sint alii diserti, laudentur, ut volunt, et inflatis buccis, spumantia verba trutinent: mihi sufficit sic loqui, ut intelligar …” that is: “let others be learned, let’m be praised, as they wish, and with inflated cheeks let them ponder bubbly words: to me it is enough to speak so as to be understood …”

    And “pedestris, et quotidianae similis, et nullam lucubrationem redolens oratio necessaria est, quae rem explicet, sensum edisserat, obscura manifestet, non quae verborum compositione frondescat.” that is “common and every-day-like speech is needed that does not smell of midnight-oil-preparation: one that explains the meaning, manifests what’s obscure, not one that’s flowering with verbal intricacies.” [St. Jerome could have taken his own advice sometimes!]

  25. David Osterloh says:

    Paglia proves that the pen can have a very sharp edge, cutting to the core of the subject the way my Sainted German Grandma used to peal and cut potatoes, swift and accurate, long peel and no waste [great image]

  26. Gerard E. says:

    Count me as another of the WDTPRS correspondents who has been a longtime fan of La Paglia. Subtract her views on abortion and she would be nearly perfect. I have read few liberal commentators who delivered more thoughtful, coherent criticism of our Adventures In Iraq. I am happy to see that she has warned her fellow chattering class members not to underestimate Gov. Palin, or her legitimate appeal to American women. I get that most opinion polls show Obamam with a narrow lead over Ms. Palin’s running mate. Then I see her drawing boffo crowds in battleground state venues. In fact, she will drop the first puck at a Philadelphia Flyers game this weekend. There are already warnings that our Philly boobirds will be in full throat. [I’ll be near Philly later this month. Shucks. I would have loved to experience Flyers fans reacting to Gov. Palin. It doesn’t get better than that, I’ll bet.] Actually, it’s not hard to imagine this Hockey Mom holding a 10-ticket plan for orange and black games. Therein lies her appeal.

  27. SImply a brilliant piece, I especially liked her critique of feminism. I think Sarah Palin has put more than a sizable dent in the lie that the Republican Party is full of weak-minded women, and that conservative men find strong women unattractive as political (or marital) candidates!

    She represents a more authentic maternal and thoughtful feminism that I believe is very reflective of the vision of Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory.

    Go Sarah!

    Fr. Deacon Daniel

  28. Jim Whall says:

    I had to stop myself from laughing while I read the article. It was really enjoyable.

    And, while her view of abortion is chilling, at least it smacks of the truth. So much time and effort is spent from the pro-abortion side of things to dehumanize the unborn. It is maddening to me that people actually believe it or pass it on. I much more respect this than the \’I\’m personally opposed, but…\’

    Jim Whall

  29. Sid says:

    The best things about Paglia are the best things about Orwell and Mencken before her. She writes well. She isn’t a party hack following the party line (“Oceania has always been at war with “Eurasia”). She know that those close to her position are often that position’s betrayers (as Orwell found out in Spain, or when he tried to get Animal Farm published). And when brutal invective is merited, she delivers: Read her assault on Susan Sontag.

    And as did Orwell and Mencken, she thinks for herself.

    Sometimes she should think some more.

  30. Mark says:

    Feminism with a human face – an interesting proposition.

    Paglia, if converted, would be an asset to our Church.

  31. Macseamus says:

    I think Ms Paglia would make a good Girardian.

  32. Patrick says:

    It might be interesting to note that the current president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women, Shelly mandell, introduced Mrs. Palin to the crowd last Saturday afternoon in Carson, CA. I was there and will admit to being taken aback.

    Suitably pantsuited, and yet quite amicable on this fest, she offered her own caveat of not being on board with everything Palin, (and she was diplomatically and tactfully non-specific as to what that list might entail, [as if we don\’t know]) and so this again buttresses the claims some others have stated – that these folks realize they if they become any more Jurassic the only place left for them will be the museum of natural history. NOW were on the wrong side of even common sense in LA years back during the OJ trial, where they would not break with the left and support the WOMAN, hello?? That pushed now nationally know (or becoming) radio talk show marm Tammy Bruce over the edge (she WAS the Pres. of LA NOW at the time). Soo…

    NOW folks are not necessariy gettin \’ligion, NAW, they are (as always) self serving pragmatists and narcis-sist\’ahs, just moving over a few feet so as to not to get run over by the big ol\’ red train of reality a barrellin\’ down the tracks.

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