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.