Camille Paglia interviewed. Great stuff on feminists, the Irish influence, more.

Over at Amerika Magazine‘s single redeeming feature there is a fascinating interview with a fascinating  gal, Camille Paglia.  Here are a couple samples. I think she’s dead wrong about a whole raft of things, but a) she’s honest and b) she’s a fine wordsmith.  She’s one of those figures like Oriana Fallaci who never disappoints.

My emphases and comments:

Q: In your view, what’s wrong with American feminism today, and what can it do to improve?

PAGLIA: After the great victory won by my insurgent, pro-sex, pro-fashion wing of feminism in the 1990s, American and British feminism has amazingly collapsed backward again into whining, narcissistic victimology. [Rem acu tetigit!] As in the hoary old days of Gloria Steinem and her Stalinist cohorts, we are endlessly subjected to the hackneyed scenario of history as a toxic wasteland of vicious male oppression and gruesome female suffering. College campuses are hysterically portrayed as rape extravaganzas where women are helpless fluffs with no control over their own choices and behavior. I am an equal opportunity feminist: that is, I call for the removal of all barriers to women’s advance in the professional and political realms.  However, I oppose special protections for women, which I reject as demeaning and infantilizing. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] My principal demand (as I have been repeating for nearly 25 years) is for colleges to confine themselves to education and to cease their tyrannical surveillance of students’ social lives.  [Refreshing.] If a real crime is committed, it must be reported to the police. College officials and committees have neither the expertise nor the legal right to be conducting investigations into he said/she said campus dating fiascos. Too many of today’s young feminists seem to want hovering, paternalistic authority figures to protect and soothe them, an attitude I regard as servile, reactionary and glaringly bourgeois. The world can never be made totally safe for anyone, male or female: there will always be sociopaths and psychotics impervious to social controls. I call my system “street-smart feminism”: there is no substitute for wary vigilance and personal responsibility.  [I could read her all day.  Her comment also reminds me of the LCWR and the wywyn’s ordination crowd: they seem to crave approval from men.]


Q: You grew up as an Italian-American Catholic, but seemed to identify more strongly with the pagan elements of Catholic art and culture than with the church’s doctrines. What caused you to fall away from the Catholic Church?

PAGLIA: Italian Catholicism remains my deepest identity—in the same way that many secular Jews feel a strong cultural bond with Judaism. Over time I realized—and this became a main premise of my first book, Sexual Personae (based on my doctoral dissertation at Yale)—that what had always fascinated me in Italian Catholicism was its pagan residue. I loved the cult of saints, the bejeweled ceremonialism, the eerie litanies of Mary—all the things, in other words, that Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers rightly condemned as medieval Romanist intrusions into primitive Christianity. [I’m not sure that’s fair… but this is a fast interview, but a scholarly article.] It’s no coincidence that my Halloween costume in first grade was a Roman soldier, modeled on the legionnaires’ uniforms I admired in the Stations of the Cross on the church walls. Christ’s story had very little interest for me—except for the Magi, whose opulent Babylonian costumes I adored! My baptismal church, St. Anthony of Padua in Endicott, New York, was a dazzling yellow-brick, Italian-style building with gorgeous stained-glass windows and life-size polychrome statues, which were the first works of art I ever saw.

[NB] After my parents moved to Syracuse, however, I was progressively stuck with far blander churches and less ethnic congregations. Irish Catholicism began to dominate—a completely different brand, with its lesser visual sense and its tendency toward brooding guilt and ranting fanaticism.  [Ahhh… the gift that keeps on giving…] I suspect that the nun who finally alienated me from the church must have been Irish! [That smacks of the truth, don’t it.] It was in religious education class (for which Catholic students were released from public school on Thursday afternoons), held on that occasion in the back pews of the church. I asked the nun what still seems to me a perfectly reasonable and intriguing question: if God is all-forgiving, will he ever forgive Satan? The nun’s reaction was stunning: she turned beet red and began screaming at me in front of everyone. That was when I concluded there was no room in the Catholic Church of that time for an inquiring mind. [Frankly, I expected better than that from someone as smart as Paglia.  Anyone who decides that there is not intellectual life in the Church because of some nitwit nun, needs to go back and rethink things.  I readily admit, however, that childhood experiences are visceral and lasting.]

The young Jesuit who is doing this series of interviews, Sean Salai, SJ, is highly to be commended for the range of people and good questions he asks.  I’m still mad at him, rather at his overloads, for what happened with my interview… but… hey… that’s how this internet goes!

I sure would enjoy having lunch with Camille Paglia. I’ll bet the conversation would be marvelous.

BTW… at the end of the interview, Paglia comments on Pope Francis.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Dare I offer a reply as to the matter of God forgiving Satan. It is a good question. The answer is to be found in Satan’s inability to seek forgiveness from God. Satan would have to be genuinely repentant but because of his angelic nature he cannot change his mind once it is made up. This is also the reason why hell is eternal. No one there can change their mind so they can never be repentant for their sins. We, on earth, can always change our minds and be repentant. However, once we die, we can no longer change our minds. Hence, there is no repentance after death.

  2. Supertradmum says:

    Great writer. As to the Irish, a holy Irish priest told me quite a while a go, in Dublin, that the Irish problem with religion started pre-Vatican II. He is old enough to have seen that most of the Irish did not, as he said, make an adult assent to the Faith by studying their own religion. They were, as he noted, like children too reliant on their priests.

    A Maltese priest told me this past Christmas that the English have become the same-lay people remaining children and not appropriating the Faith as adults. Whose fault this is may be another question. Thanks for sharing the writer’s thoughts.

  3. M. K. says:

    Here is an excerpt from another interview Camille Paglia gave a few years ago, with more extensive comments on church architecture and liturgy:

    “Let me say this about Catholicism in America. One of the things I haven’t liked about the history of Catholicism in the last thirty years [i.e., 1967-97] is its drift toward Protestantism. I began feeling this in the 1950s already. . . . The churches were getting blander and blander. In building a new church or renovating and restoring an old one, there has been a tendency in this country to systematically remove all the polychrome statues. It’s a kind of airline-terminal effect, a warehouse look. You go into these Catholic churches and there’s hardly an image – except for a modernistic metal image of Christ, maybe. It’s just appalling, the banality. The altar looks like a barbecue pit. How can these buildings ever develop the imagination and cultivate the aesthetic instincts of any child? The whole artistic heritage of the Catholic Church in this country has been thrown completely out the window. There is a real banalization, a homogenization, a kind of bourgeois mediocrity that’s descended on the Catholic churches that I think is more the cause now of driving people away from the Church than was the original sexual repressiveness. And the Church has become very conscious in the last twenty years of the charge of elitism against it in this new period of social activism. So the priests have put away the magnificent, ornamented, jeweled garments that they customarily wore during my youth. . . . [now] the priests come out in these plain-looking things; they’re trying to look like the original priests of primitive Christianity. Of course the altar has been lowered. The priest no longer turns his back to the congregation; he’s down there looking at you. And there are all these horrendous things now, like people having to shake hands” (from: Thomas J. Ferraro, ed., “Catholic Lives, Contemporary America” [Duke University Press, 1997], pp. 241-42).

  4. eulogos says:

    St. Anthony of Padua

    I heard her give the Friday night lecture at St. John’s College on alumni weekend one year. Very good to listen to, and handled the question and answer period afterward very well.

    Perhaps she needs to know that she is mistaken about what is foreign to early Christianity. It sounds as if she has accepted uncritically the Protestant version of Church history.
    Susan Peterson

  5. pannw says:

    I read this yesterday and found it interesting. However, I found a couple of the comments even more illuminating. The one by Joseph Sciambra was very touching and the woman replying to him, too. I meant to look up the book he mentioned writing. I also need to make a point of showing them to my teen children, who are struggling with all the ‘don’t judge and be a meanie’ stuff. They only see what Hollywood wants them to see about homosexuality even when I have always been cautious about what I allow on our TV, but they aren’t little children anymore and we all know how teens love to see eye to eye with their Mom. Having backup from people who have lived and know about it is a help to parents struggling to raise Catholic kids in this sewer of a culture that is always trying to corrupt them. So I thank them for sharing their knowledge.

    As to Camille Paglia, it is always amazing and frustrating to me to see someone so obviously intelligent but completely blind to the Truth. How does she not see when the evidence is all around her? But then I remember those many disciples who actually walked with Jesus, witnessing His miracles, etc. yet were unable or unwilling to accept His words and turned away and ‘walked with Him no more.’ Boggles my mind.

    I thank God for the gift of Faith. I pray He will only increase it and that He will give it to Ms. Paglia and she will be open to receiving it.

  6. Gregorius says:

    I keep seeing this quote being attributed to Mark Twain being passed around even by other Catholics- “But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?” And these people pass it around commenting on how it’s such a profound thing to say. While that nun’s response was the wrong one, I can kind of feel for the sentiment that drove her actions. It is kind of bewildering and infuriating to see such an ignorance of basic knowledge of spiritual beings among adults. On the other hand, a correct answer makes a great conversation starter- Satan with his superior intellect would still choose the punishments he currently receives if he had the choice again.

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    1. As a former rotten little kid, I do suspect that Paglia and her classmates had perhaps not been totally guiltless in the matter of messing with the nun’s mind.

    2. That said, obviously the nun was wrong to lose it like that, and I’m surprised that none of the other teachers heard and hurried over and stopped it.

    3. Sexual Personas is overall a pretty vile book with a lot of foolish bits, albeit it is well-written and has moments of insight. Paglia sounds sensible today because so many other people are less sensible, and I think it has driven her to be more contrarian than radical.

    4. There’s nothing like reading patristics to teach you that the Whig version of Church history is oh so wrong.

  8. Bosco says:

    The interview is instructive. Paglia is no fool. Here is the Q & A I think most telling.

    “What is your impression of Pope Francis so far?”

    “Francis seems like an affable gust of fresh energy after the near-sepulchral persona of the prior pope, who seemed strangely stiff and reserved for a Bavarian. So that’s a big positive, in terms of captivating young people around the world and inspiring them toward charitable social action.

    However, I am somewhat baffled by the cat-and-mouse game that Francis seems to be playing with the media. Is he or is he not signaling his support of revolutionary reforms in Catholic doctrine?—particularly as it applies to sexuality. As a veteran of the 1960s, I of course strongly support the sexual revolution. But as a student of comparative religion, I have to say that when the Catholic Church trims its doctrine for politically correct convenience, it will no longer be Catholic.”

  9. Siculum says:

    “Overloads” or overlords?

    Nice write-up, Father Z.

    pannw, glad to hear Joseph Sciambra is being covered there.

  10. Muv says:

    It is always fascinating to see how annoyed some adults can get when asked a question by a child who is plainly more intelligent than they are. The nun didn’t even play for time by saying she would have to think about it and would give her the answer next time.

    I remember plunging into a brief moment of murky black doubt when I was little, thinking perhaps God didn’t exist and it was all a big fib made up by the devil. Almost instantly the doubt cleared, because instinctively (rather than thinking the whole thing out in words) I grasped that if there were no God there would be no devil. I was five, and haven’t wasted any time doubting God in the years since.

    Fr. Z, why not ask Miss Paglia if she might consent to a brief interview for this blog? It would be interesting for you both, not to mention your readers.

  11. benedetta says:

    Camille Paglia is from Endicott NY? Who knew…

    I have always appreciated her writing, both on feminism and the contemporary rather arbitrary limitations on women it imposes, as well as in the other areas of scholarly expertise.

    And yes, when will the tyrannical surveillance of students’ social lives finally come to an end? And many call American youth culture the height of freedom and humanist expression…

  12. RAve says:

    Helen Alvarez’s writing is another redeeming feature.

  13. chantgirl says:

    JARay- In St. Faustina’s diary, she recounts asking Jesus why the devils were punished immediately after their sin:

    As I was meditating on the sin of the Angels and their immediate punishment, I asked Jesus why the Angels had been punished as soon as they had sinned. I heard a voice: Because of their profound knowledge of God. No person on earth, even though a great saint, has such knowledge of God as an Angel has. (1332)

    I know this is private revelation, but it suggests that Satan clearly knew who he was rejecting. For the life of me I can’t understand how a being could have extensive knowledge of God and still reject Him. We know that God created all things good. Lucifer was created to be good and had extensive knowledge of God, and somehow made the most malicious choice of all time. I have to wonder, with all of his knowledge of God, if he could foresee the punishment that would come to him from denying God. I also wonder how he could know God so well and not love Him. It blows my puny mind. Still, Judas rejected Jesus after being an intimate friend of His. If saints have wrestled with the question of free will, knowledge, and mercy/justice as adults, you can hardly fault a child for asking the question. Questions about the faith should be taken seriously and answered honestly, even if the answer is “I don’t know.”.

  14. ts says:

    Eleven years ago as my infant daughter was struggling each day to live and I struggling to help her live Satan took full advantage of the situation to assail me night and day. Just before dawn after a sleepless night for both of us…just as I put my head on the pillow my daughter cried out again. I got up, began folding the blanket and said to Satan: “why don’t you just give it up? I will not grumble against God. And I am sure that if you said you were sorry HE would probably take you back. Why don’t you just give it up and say ‘sorry’?” Well, I had a reprieve for a while from his assaults. But as you know, he did come back with both barrels loaded. But I am here to recount part of our story and I have found myself in the Traditional Mass and I a convert!!
    I learned afterwards that there is not going back or ‘sorry’ for Satan due to his Angelic nature.
    I think it a thin excuse to leave the Church over the ‘nun’ incident and instead cling to every visible outward sign that should bring us ever closer and in awe of our God, our Lord and His Passion, our Most Holy Blessed Mother and the Mystery of Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar. Our Lord is so Humble and so desirous of us. May we all respond with all of ourselves, eschewing the ‘things’ of this world to have Him alone. And yes, feminism is the biggest farce ever perpetrated on society. She does hit some truthful notes.

  15. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Fr. Z mildly says, “I’m not sure that’s fair…” eulogos aptly suggests, “she needs to know that she is mistaken about what is foreign to early Christianity.” Indeed! A “pagan residue” of “medieval Romanist intrusions”?! Perhaps someone can persuade her to read The Martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 155) – for instance, in that handy Protestant translation Kevin Knight has revised and edited at New Advent: (ch. 9) “”Eighty and six years have I served Him” (155 – 86 = AD 69!), and (ch. 18) “we afterwards took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.” And, “the eerie litanies of Mary” (“eerie”?!) – perhaps a little reading on the history of what Marialis Cultus (1974) describes (13) as “the well-known prayer Sub tuum praesidium, venerable for its antiquity and admirable for its content” would be beneficial.

  16. JTH says:

    I’m laughing at the ethnic politics going on here, Italian versus Irish. I never knew my Irish-ness was brooding or fanatical.

    That being said I am befuddled at the interest in a former Catholic who supports a brand of feminism that is still a mortal sin, not to mention her obstinacy that keeps her from the Church.

  17. Rachel says:

    Interesting post, Fr. Z!

    pannw, thanks for pointing out the comment by Joseph Sicambra and its reply. Very interesting, though I don’t think I’ll be able to read his book, “Swallowed by Satan”– the reviews say that the first part of it is really hard to read because he tells you about the very degrading things he was involved in. I’m very glad he came back to God.

    I wonder how familiar Camille Paglia was with Pope Benedict. “Near-sepulchral”? But what I’d really like to know is just how “captivated” young people are by various popes. My guess is that few youth, Catholic or otherwise, care very much about any pope we’ve had– more’s the pity. But the ones that do care are probably motivated by a desire to be good Catholics, in which case they might find clear thought and true doctrine well explained to be even more satisfying than “an affable gust of fresh energy,”– especially since the latter can be found in the world but the former is rare. I don’t think young people are getting enough credit. This reminds me of how, when I was growing up Evangelical, young people were supposed to prefer banal pop songs in church– but when I got to college and we led our own worship sessions, we chose to sing the good old hymns rich in theology.

  18. Rachel says:

    Wow, I got carried away and forgot to address the one thing that made me begin to comment in the first place! Which was this: “As a veteran of the 1960s, I of course strongly support the sexual revolution. But as a student of comparative religion, I have to say that when the Catholic Church trims its doctrine for politically correct convenience, it will no longer be Catholic.” Doesn’t it sound like she *wants* the Catholic Church to hold the line? That’s interesting because I’ve encountered it before– a wish to see someone else defend the view that you yourself want to be free to reject.

  19. jflare says:

    I too thought the story about the question of the nun about Satan and forgiveness..quite odd.
    So too are many of the responses I’ve seen about the circumstances.

    I can understand the nun’s dilemma all too well. I’ve dealt with kids before and had occasion to deal with the goofiest of questions. As hinted by someone else, I would strongly suspect that this question did not come in the context of an innocent little kid asking an honest question; it sounds rather more like the kind of “gotcha” question that mischievous youngsters are prone to ask when they don’t wish to learn anything.

    I also find this woman’s views quite tragic, quite puzzling. She’s obviously been gifted with a great intellect and will to seek the unusual. Because of human pride though, instead of following a path toward being a great philosopher or artist, she’s a well-thought through minority voice who ultimately will provide only a comparatively debatable legacy.

    Sex and pride strike again.
    It’s only the billionth time in the course of human history….

  20. jflare says:

    I should say though, I’ve never felt that God ever neglected giving Satan every chance.
    His name doesn’t mean something related to “light bearer” for nothing.
    I think the lady does not understand that God didn’t refuse to forgive Satan; rather Satan refused to submit to God’s will.
    Hell is simply the complete absence of God’s grace. Satan chose it, not God.

  21. tominrichmond says:

    ” brooding guilt and ranting fanaticism.” Ha! I resemble that remark. Now pass the bottle over here for another round, lads.

  22. cyrillist says:

    My overall take on Paglia: Very intelligent, very articulate, very thrill-seeking. Her refusal to be pigeon-holed is refreshing, but apart from that, I find her outlook to be pretty shallow. (And come on, she’s had plenty of time to find out why Satan couldn’t be forgiven, if she really wanted to know.)

  23. JesusFreak84 says:

    St. Thomas Aquinas addresses the idea of forgiving Lucifer, (which would require him to repent, and he cannot,) but I don’t presume most layfolk to have read the Summa.

  24. anna 6 says:

    “However, I am somewhat baffled by the cat-and-mouse game that Francis seems to be playing with the media.”

    …and therein lies the problem. We can blame misinterpretations, or the media, or polemics, or Vatican 2 or PR or whatever we choose. But the problems of confusion could be solved by one person.

  25. Imrahil says:

    who seemed strangely stiff and reserved for a Bavarian

    I don’t know which Bavarians she met.

    They are, yes, friendly and helpful deep down (I’m not neutral in this matter), but they aren’t in general the talkative or activist type of person. They are the reverse of stiff as they aren’t Prussian, and just so was Pope Benedict; but they aren’t I guess what others’d call open, which is I guess where her misperception came from. They are, I’d say, easy to read for those who know them, but you do need to read them for they don’t necessarily speak.

    As the joke goes:

    Three Bavarian pensionists are sitting on a bench in the English Garden and are saying nothing.
    After an hour, the first says: “my” [the contraction of “oh my goodness”; not exclamation but sigh, though].
    After another quarter of an hour, the second says: “well, my”.
    Then after five minutes, the third says: “my oh my oh my”.
    Says the first to the second: “let’s go sit elsewhere, he’s talking too much for me.”

  26. Marissa says:

    4. There’s nothing like reading patristics to teach you that the Whig version of Church history is oh so wrong.

    Can you elaborate? This statement makes me curious to know more.

  27. Grabski says:

    It’s funny, but in my diocese as a child there were nationality parishes and American parishes. As an adult I realized they were the Irish American parishes

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