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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 17, No. 4, 2018
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part I

interviewed by


COWEN: How do you feel about the fact that Silicon Valley dominates our economy and culture? Is there any tech guru you’re interested in?

PAGLIA: Well, no. My last big tech guru was probably Marshall McLuhan. Had a prophetic insight into what was about to happen. He’s kind of the patron saint of my working on the web from the very first issue of Salon in 1995. It’s hard to believe that the web wasn’t taken seriously by already-established journalists.

There was a major political reporter at the Boston Globe, for example, who tried to pressure me not to write for the web. He said, “Oh, no one takes the web seriously.” It’s an enormous thing that’s happened. Which, of course, has also sucked in a whole generation of young people, alas. That’s all they know. I think we’re kind of on the downside of that right now.

COWEN: Glittering Images, and your other work, emphasized the role of the iconic in Western and Eastern culture, the role of the spectacular. Now here we have people, they look, they listen on very small smartphones. Is this culture dead? But if the culture was so splendid, why did people give it up so quickly?

PAGLIA: The reason I wrote Glittering Images is because I felt that there’s an avalanche of fragmented visual impressions -- disconnected, glaring, tacky, badly designed -- that young people are growing up in. I think it really is true that children’s brains are being reshaped. The standard forms for logic and for sequential information and for reasoning, everything’s kind of disappearing. I tried to write a book where people would just stare at an image for a certain length of time.

I think it’s getting worse and worse. Web design, which my school, University of the Arts, teaches -- I think web design is in the pits. I thought web design was moving into becoming a major genre of the arts. I think we’re in a kind of swirling vortex -- and yes, what you mentioned about the miniaturization of image is terrible.

I was raised in a time, 1950s, when Hollywood was competing with television by doing something which television couldn’t do, with those gigantic screens. Like in The Ten Commandments, there’s a giant thing of Pharaoh, a giant sculpture. It starts at one end of the screen and you watch it go to the other end of the screen. Phenomenal. Lawrence of Arabia, oh my God, the dunes of Lawrence of Arabia with that music.

There’s no sense of the large. Young people have no sense whatever of the expansive, of the big gesture.

COWEN: But do we maybe overrate the large? If the large gave through so quickly, so readily, to what you’re describing as this kind of mediocrity, what was wrong with that culture of the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s to begin with?

PAGLIA: I would say that a culture always moves in cycles. You have periods that esteem the colossal, like the Bernini Renaissance and Baroque periods. Then you get the small, the art of the small. The Rococo is a kind of evanescence, evaporation of the big Baroque swirls. All of a sudden it’s little tiny things like on a Valentine’s card.

I think we go back and forth. I just feel lucky, I think, that I have a kind of epic imagination, because I was raised watching The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, which I could watch that 300 times.

COWEN: It’s one of your 10 favourite movies, right?


COWEN: It’s the one on the list that’s surprising.

PAGLIA: Torment. And the music composed for those things. It directly inspired my writing of Sexual Personae, absolutely. I’m directly inspired by music. I think for women it’s good to have something that’s going to make you assert and trample and conquer. It animates me. These are my maxims.

COWEN: Given what you’re saying, do you today consider yourself a cultural conservative?

PAGLIA: No, not at all.

COWEN: Why not? Everything used to be better. Isn’t that?

PAGLIA: No, we’re in a period of decadence, a falling off, you see. No, conservative would mean that I would be cleaving to something past, which was great, and no longer is, and I would be saying, “We need to return to that.” Usually I’m not saying we need to return to anything. I do believe we’re moving inexorably into the future. There’s a momentum to that. I’m a libertarian. That’s why I’m always freely offending both sides.

PAGLIA: Liberal, conservative. I’m a Democrat, even though I’m constantly criticizing -- I think a true intellectual should be always beyond partisanship.

COWEN: And always criticizing.

PAGLIA: Yes, and always critiquing the premises of your own friends and allies.

COWEN: Brazil. You mentioned you’ve been there nine times?

PAGLIA: Yes. Nine or ten.

COWEN: What does Brazilian culture have which North American culture lacks? What’s the draw?

PAGLIA: It’s such a polyglot of cultures and ethnicities. But beyond that, Brazilians understood my work from the first moment I began to publish. Because what they understood was artifice, art -- because of Carnival for them, and costuming, masquerade, and that baroque exuberance, and the syncretism of Christianity with the Yoruba cults of West Africa in Salvador de Bahia.

They understood my vision of art and beauty -- and beauty as an incredibly important human principle, rather than the way it was being trashed by my fellow feminists at that time.

They also understand nature, the grandeur of nature, the power of nature. It’s much larger.

COWEN: Iguaçu?

PAGLIA: Yes, instead of these silly little arguments that, “Oh, climate change is causing the end of the world.” Oh my God. Anyone who talks like that does not understand the grandeur and the power of nature. To imagine that we can make a change in it is so absolutely absurd.

COWEN: What’s your theory of modernity that puts them on one part of the curve, and we’re on another, more decadent part of the curve? What’s the difference? What’s what we would call the structural equilibrium as economists, if I dare invoke such a thing?

PAGLIA: Brazil, it’s in its own world. It’s not been part of the world wars. It doesn’t have this huge militaristic superstructure. It doesn’t have a messianic view of itself politically. The politics are always chaos and drama. It’s like in grand opera. It’s like another planet, really, Brazil.

COWEN: You’ve spoken very highly of the prequels, which many people don’t like at all.


COWEN: What is it that people don’t get about the prequels? They say Jar Jar Binks, and they scream, and they run away.

PAGLIA: I can’t tell you.

COWEN: Clutching their head.

PAGLIA: I know exactly what they’re talking about.

COWEN: Tell us what’s good about the prequels?

PAGLIA: It was Revenge of the Sith -- after the great volcano planet climax of Revenge of the Sith. I think it’s one of the greatest sequences in all of modern art. The thing is once I had written about it, I realized, as I went out in the world, how few people had actually seen the movie, because people had given up on the prequels long before.

Therefore, I think anyone who dismisses what I say about the sublime quality, the vision, the execution, the emotions, and the passions of that scene, they don’t know what I’m talking about, because they haven’t exposed themselves to it.

COWEN: You wrote about the Rolling Stones some time ago, but if I look at the career of the Stones — they have a new album coming out this year?—?I find it striking that they’ve kept on going. And I actually count that as a mark against them.

I still think they’re good, but when I go back and listen, I never hear new things in their music. Now that some time has passed, what would you say about the Rolling Stones, and do you agree that you’re a little disappointed with them?

PAGLIA: I haven’t been following them for many, many years. To me, the Rolling Stones were a revolution when they happened, in that period when the Beatles were all upbeat. Then, here come these surly guys sneering, and spitting, and so on.

COWEN: But the Beatles were dark and subtle, too, right?

PAGLIA: Not like the Stones. Here’s the difference. The Rolling Stones are inspired by, animated by, to this day, by the blues tradition. The Beatles really were more almost Broadway and musical comedy.

COWEN: British music hall.

PAGLIA: Yes, British music hall and Tin Pan Alley, and so on. They were tremendous songsmiths, but there’s nothing dark about them. In other words, Paul McCartney is a wonderful bass player, but you’re not getting the big, roaring sounds of Bill Wyman’s bass at the beginning of the Stones’ career.

I really have not been following the Stones. Ever since Bill Wyman left the Stones, I have not felt that this was the Stones I knew. I’m delighted that they go on, and that they perform, and so on, but I have absolutely no interest in exposing myself to those horrible arena conditions for music. Oh my goodness, just the light shows and the this and the that. They’re not musical experiences. They’re social experiences now.

COWEN: What’s the music from classic rock that when you listen to it today, every single time you hear more in it? I would say Brian Wilson and Jimi Hendrix. Every time I hear them, it sounds different and fresher for me. What are your picks?

PAGLIA: Jimi Hendrix is one of the great geniuses of any instrument in the last a hundred years. Obviously, his music has lasted and is still fresh. For me, there’s a whole period there I teach in my Art of Song Lyrics course. I just was doing Crosby, Stills & Nash, “Wooden Ships,” and it still has this incredible power.

I love that entire period of the 1960s, the music. It was a magic moment. Still in the ’70s, Led Zeppelin, “When the Levee Breaks.” It still has enormous power. A lot of that music that Jimmy Page was doing. A lot of it working in the studio, actually. It wasn’t just live music.

COWEN: Fast-forward back to the present. Who would be a musical artist today? i know you’ve written Taylor Swift is a pestilence, so it’s probably not her.

PAGLIA: Taylor Swift is like a nightmare.

COWEN: Who would be the musical artist today who stands up to the giants of the past?

PAGLIA: Stands up working today?

COWEN: Working today or close to today. The last 10 years.

Camille PagliaPAGLIA: I was really very hopeful about Rihanna for a while there. Unfortunately, she’s not really working with the top producers any longer. The new album is an atrocity. It’s really terrible. It’s sad, because there are so many people with talents who are not being developed.

It’s because our music industry is now very formulaic. Young people can’t really move along studying their instruments and getting their chops over a period of time. There’s nothing to draw on in the way that the musicians of my generation could draw on the folk tradition, the folk music.

COWEN: You’re sounding like a cultural conservative.

PAGLIA: I’m just saying there’s certain moments, certain magic moments, of fertility or creativity that happened in many of the arts. You can find certain key moments where there’s a confluence of influences and a certain richness. In that very moment, it’s a great time to be alive, to be young.

For example, Shakespeare would not be Shakespeare if he were alive today. As it happens, he left Stratford -- for whatever reason -- went to London at a magic moment when theater was flourishing, which was only for a few decades, and then it was out again. There’s a certain kind of luck. If you’re the right person at the right time in any one of the artistic genres.

COWEN: Kanye West. Every album is different. He draws upon a lot of sources from the past.

PAGLIA: Oh my God. The bloat.

COWEN: Inspired by rap, rhythm and blues, no?

PAGLIA: What can I say?

COWEN: On education, there’s a new model school called Minerva, where you take four years, you spend each of the four years in a foreign country. One year in Buenos Aires, one in Istanbul, one in Bangalore.

You work in small classes, but the classes are all online. There’s no library. There’s no formal campus, per se. It’s been around for about two years. What do you think? What’s your prediction?

PAGLIA: I think the idea of sending young people abroad is great. I think that is a proper use of the money that’s going down the tubes at the major universities right now. For parents to think -- it would profit young people a lot to be exposed to the world. Right now, our primary school education is absolutely appalling in its lack of world history and world geography.

I know because I get everyone in my classroom. I’m lucky I teach at a kind of school where I’m getting students from a wide range of preparation. There might be a couple private school people, but people from the inner city, from good schools, from bad schools. I really have a very clear sense, after 40 years of teaching, what’s going on at the primary school level.

It is unbelievable how little they know. It is absolutely shocking how little they know. This is a recipe for a disaster. I say yes, send them abroad. Fantastic idea.

This other thing of the online thing, I don’t believe this online thing at all. I think that you need a live person, and you need a live person who can talk extemporaneously and respond to the moment. Not just people who are reading the same old damn lecture over and over again.

Also, the kind of teaching that goes on in the Ivy League where there’s a flattering. There’s these small seminar things.

COWEN: The A-minus seminar?

PAGLIA: There’s all this practice and learning how to talk in a slightly pretentious way about things and impressing each other. So what? They’re all packaging them for the bourgeoisie.

COWEN: Send them to Brazil, right?

PAGLIA: They’re so proud of themselves as they produce all these clones, these polished, bourgeois clones, witless, knowing nothing.

COWEN: Speaking of inspiring teachers, what’s your favourite Harold Bloom story -- that you can tell?

PAGLIA: I never took a course with Harold Bloom. I was in graduate school at Yale, and I just never took a course with him, so I didn’t know him at all. And then he heard -- one time I encountered him -- I shouldn’t say this. OK, maybe. Let’s say he would come a-courting with a famous poet, who was a friend of his.

I would see him turning up at a doorway. “Hello, hello, hello,” OK, that’s all. I just knew him to say hello to him. Then, he heard what I was going to be working on and that I was having trouble finding a dissertation director for a study of androgyny in literature and art.

That’s a time when nobody was doing -- it’s hard to believe now because everything is sex and gender everywhere -- but at the time, no one was doing a dissertation on sex at the Yale Graduate School. It’s hard to believe. He summoned me to his office. That’s really how we met. He said, “My dear, I am the only one who can direct that dissertation,” and I said, “OK.” That was it.

He understood everything. He understood everything I wanted to do with the book, and he understood my ideas. He was a fantastic resource for me in so far as he also supported me or gave me confidence throughout all those decades when I couldn’t get it published. Sexual Personae was rejected by seven publishers and five agents.

By the time it was published, I was 43 years old. I’m a great role model, it seems to me, for people to just soldier through adversity and rejection and just continue to develop the craft. Eventually, hopefully, one will see one’s work in print.

COWEN: What did he think of you and Sexual Personae?

PAGLIA: Of course, he always said I gave him great naches, which is sort of like of a father to a daughter. He and I agree about Freud. We have a Freudian psychohistory and so on.

COWEN: There’s a segment of all of these conversations in the middle. It’s called underrated or overrated. I mention something, and you tell me if you think it’s underrated or overrated by our society.

PAGLIA: By our society or by me?

COWEN: Your opinion relative to the society opinion. Now, don’t hold back on these. Tell us what you think.

COWEN: First one, economics.

PAGLIA: Economics as a field?

COWEN: As a field. Overrated or underrated?

PAGLIA: Probably underrated.


PAGLIA: I don’t know. I just think that economists are figures of fun sometimes in cartoons. I’m just judging by what I sense.

COWEN: William Faulkner.

PAGLIA: He’s totally gone, poor man. Actually, I’ve been commenting on this recently to my friends. I said, “You remember that period when Faulkner was everywhere, and everyone read him? He was just a baseline figure.”

Thanks to Kate Millett and all these philistine feminist types in the early ’70s, there was a great sweeping away of many, many major male figures in the history of literature including Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, who had a huge influence on me.

If you are a resident of Mississippi, Faulkner still lives and is vivid. I think, outside of that, it’s been years since I’ve heard Faulkner mentioned.

COWEN: You’re saying underrated?

PAGLIA: I think he should be on the reading list. I don’t know. Perhaps he was overrated in our time, but he certainly was a major author and a major influence on American literature, for heaven’s sake. Young people aren’t reading him, and they aren’t reading many of the great authors.

COWEN: Yoko Ono, overrated or underrated?

PAGLIA: Yoko Ono, don’t start me on Yoko Ono. One of my least favourite people in the universe. Yes, I blame her for the breakup of the Beatles. All that screechy yodeling that went on. Oh my God, she’s a horror. But, I gave her her due in Glittering Images, because she was a very important figure in the development of conceptual art. She really was very innovative in the 1960s, but what a dreary, humourless person.

COWEN: When I think of a lot of your books, especially if I contrast you to Marxist criticism, I think of your emphasis as being a lot of metaphysics in a very exciting, big-picture way. Let’s say we take a writer, very high quality, but she moves very far from metaphysics. She writes about small numbers of people in rural Ontario, Alice Munro.

PAGLIA: Oh, I don’t read fiction. I don’t read contemporary fiction. I have absolutely zero interest in contemporary fiction. The last contemporary fiction I had any interest in is Auntie Mame, and I’m not kidding. I like plays like Tennessee Williams.

The fiction writers are off in another world. They don’t see the world as it exists now. They don’t use the language of the contemporary world. Their English is utterly stale and cloistered. I cannot read a page of contemporary fiction, I’m sorry. Anything that’s pre–contemporary fiction, I’m a great admirer of. Believe me, these are the kind of books I’ll open like this and like that. .

COWEN: You’re going to pass on Harry Potter, too?

PAGLIA: Harry Potter, no, I don’t. In fact, I refused to write on Harry Potter for the Wall Street Journal once. They said, “Who should we ask next?” and they asked Harold Bloom. Harold Bloom became known for it. He got that because of me. Just like Norman Mailer got to interview Madonna for the cover of Esquire because Madonna said no to me.

People kept trying to bring us together. HBO wanted to do a My Dinner with Andre type of thing with Madonna and me, and she was afraid. I don’t know. I think she thought I was going to be some big intellectual, but it’s not true.

COWEN: Parenthood, underrated or overrated?

PAGLIA: Parenthood? Obviously, we’re in a time now where parenting is in crisis, I would think. The reason we have all these whiny, super sensitive girls on campus that’ll run shrieking at the slightest thing that offends their ears or drag mattresses onto the stage at commencement exercises, the reason we have that is because the parents have not prepared them for real life.

In other words, they’ve been raised in this bourgeois, pampered cocoon, so I think there’s been a tremendous failure of parenting, certainly, in terms of young people being ready to take on the real world in their late teens.

COWEN: What’s the most underrated play by William Shakespeare?

PAGLIA: The most underrated play?


PAGLIA: I don’t know. I really can’t answer that. I’m teaching my Shakespeare course this semester. I simply focus on the really major plays. Perhaps Antony and Cleopatra is starting to recede. I don’t know why.

I think Antony and Cleopatra was a great favourite of my generation, of the ’60s generation, but, for some reason, it’s becoming marginal. I’m not sure. Maybe because it’s about imperialism.

COWEN: May I ask a few questions about sex?

PAGLIA: Of course.

COWEN: Which country comes closest to your vision of having healthy relations between the sexes? Or among the sexes, which may be a better way to put it.

PAGLIA: I would say that Brazil has the healthiest view of sexuality, but I wouldn’t say that the sexes are particularly getting along in the upper middle class in Brazil, as I meet professional women, journalists and so on, there.

I think that the women are magnificent. They’re incredible, the way they look and dress. They have such style, and assertiveness, and so on, but I’m not sure the communications with men are particularly successful right now. There’s a lot of static there. The men are like gnomes. It’s strange. They don’t have this thing. In the United States, usually the upper middle class, successful careers and so on, you have the women doing their Pilates, and then the men will be going to the gym also. Not in Brazil. The men just seem to sag and get plumper and plumper, and duller and duller, and lose their hair and nobody minds.

I think because they assume that woman rules. Woman is the cock of the walk down there. I’m still trying to figure it out. Anyway, I love it. I adore it. I love Brazilian women. They’re so bossy.

COWEN: We’ve now had gay men in the military for some time out openly, legally, permissible. How that has run, has it surprised you? Earlier you wrote you expected it could be quite disruptive, and it hasn’t been. In a sense, has male gay culture turned out to be tamer than what you expected in the early ’90s?

PAGLIA: Tamer?

COWEN: Tamer. More domestic. More people adopting children, more people settling down.

PAGLIA: It’s changed. There’s no doubt about it. I think that AIDS was like a Holocaust. The number of interesting, fascinating, talented men and artists and people in fashion and every level. I think that, in many ways, gay culture is still recovering from that. We’re at a kind of holding pattern.

There was an enormous flamboyance and assertiveness to gay male culture once. It had a distinct style and voice of its own. What you’re saying, things are turning out better. Yes, there’s an assimilation going on, but also, to me, a disappearance of that gay aesthetic.

Oscar Wilde is one of the major influences on my thinking and remains that. I teach a whole course on Oscar Wilde. Now, what can you say? Is there anything distinctly gay right now, except there are certainly gay activists who are extremely successful in terms of pushing their agenda. Probably these little cadres of gay activists are the only thing that’s left.

I don’t know. Assimilation is always a loss. Certainly, my culture experienced it. Italian-American culture has kind of vanished, too.

COWEN: For America, what should an ideal of masculinity look like now?

PAGLIA: What should it look like? I don’t know.

COWEN: An older generation, you would have a Cary Grant or a Rock Hudson. You would see the movie Philadelphia Story, one of your favourites. There was some ideal of masculinity on the screen, maybe not your ideal. Today, what is it that’s out there which comes closest to your ideal?

PAGLIA: Well you know many of those images on the screen which would seem to be masculine, often the actual actors were gay, like Rock Hudson -- and Cary Grant’s sexuality remains one of the great mysteries. I adore Cary Grant, oh my God, but he’s like a hallucination. All of the great images on the screen are hallucinations. Kim Novak in Vertigo is literally a hallucination.

The problem right now is that the masculine has no honour whatever in our culture. We’re in a period now where young people are being processed for the universities, and the gender norms are said to be that gender is a construct. It is simply the product of environmental pressures on people. There’s no nothing in the body -- .

COWEN: We have a big culture. Not everyone goes to university, thank goodness. You can go to a NASCAR race and a few of the people there have not been to the Ivy Leagues.

PAGLIA: Working class culture retains an idea of the masculine. There’s absolutely no doubt about that. But, with that, comes static. So you have to have strong women in order to deal with masculine men.

That is why masculinity is constantly being eroded, diminished, and dissolved on university campuses because it allows women to be weak. If you have weak men, then you can have weak women. That’s what we have. Our university system, anything that is remotely masculine is identified as toxic, as intrinsic to rape culture. A utopian future is imagined where there are no men. We’re all genderless mannequins.

The movie The Time Machine is like one. We’re moving toward that, the Eloi. That’s how I see the upper middle class graduates of the Ivy League. They’re the Eloi. They’re completely bland. They have no ideas. They all get along very well with each other because they’re nothing. They’re eating their fruits which are given to them by the Morlocks, or the industrial class. That’s how I see the future? -- ?unfortunately. I began my career talking about androgyny and talking about the imaginative complexity of androgyny and how the artist and the shaman and the prophet have this androgynous component. But today’s androgyny, it’s just boring.

David Bowie, at his height, was absolutely brilliant, electrifying, kabuki -- on and on and so on. Now, all these pallid androgynes of today, there’s nothing creative about them whatever.

COWEN: But to try to cheer you up a bit, what then is the healthiest segment of American society? Because, again, you’ve lived most of your life in the northeast, mostly in colleges and universities, correct?


COWEN: Think outside the box. Where do you see vitality, both culturally, sexually in terms of aesthetics?

PAGLIA: No, I don’t. I think it’s been a tremendous flattening. There’s very little culturally right now. There’s very little of substance or interest being produced in art and in culture. We’re in a retro period. We’re chopping up everything, putting everything from the past through the grinder again.

COWEN: How about Canada? Overrated or underrated? Or, do they have all the same problems?

PAGLIA: Canada, they have this ideal of the consensus. That’s why when I go up there, people have said to me actually quietly, “Oh, I love having you here, because everyone’s always forcing us to have consensus in Canada.”

I’ve been told that also when I go to Norway. People say, “Oh, we can’t stand it. We are not allowed to have an opinion in Norway. We all have to have a consensus.” Everyone is very civilized in Canada, but it’s impossible to rise above the herd, also. You can’t make any big gestures; you’re thought to be antisocial. I wouldn’t glorify Canada.

COWEN: Let me ask you a few questions about yourself. There’s a wonderful four-page essay you wrote called “The Artistic Dynamics of ‘Revival’,” where you talked about how creators have early, middle and late periods.

Beethoven is maybe the most obvious example, but there are many, many others. When you think of your own career, how do you see it as fitting together in terms of a time arc, what you’ve done and what you want to do? What are your early, middle, and late periods? Where are you in it now?

PAGLIA: My early period was total failure, flop, and in the middle to get published. There was that. Then, all of a sudden, I started to burst out, like a jack-in-the-box. It’s been like blabber, blabber, blabber ever since. Like that. I really don’t see phases. I see like nothingness, then everything. It’s like a carnival.

COWEN: What will the late period look like?

PAGLIA: The late period?

COWEN: We haven’t gotten to it, yet. The everything is the middle period.

PAGLIA: Right now, I’m working on something that no one has any interest in, whatever. I’ve been working for eight years on this, my Native American explorations. I’m very interested in Native American culture at the end of the ice age as the glacier withdrew.

I go around and I find little tiny artifacts. I read. Absolutely no one, especially anyone in Manhattan, has the slightest interest in what I’m doing. Everything has been prepared for in my life. I’ve always been interested in archeology. I feel like I make a contribution, even though no one’s interested at all. What I’m trying to do is show how the politicization of ethnic studies, of racial studies, and so on has actually been very limiting.

I find very objectionable this eternal projection of genocide and disaster and so on onto Native American studies. I’d like to show the actual vision of Native American culture which is a religious vision, a metaphysical vision, and -- .

COWEN: Cyclical approach?

PAGLIA: Cyclical?

COWEN: Relevance of nature.

PAGLIA: Yes, totally.

COWEN: Metaphysics epicenter.

PAGLIA: It’s almost like an early animism. That’s why I’m interested in Salvador de Bahia, also, because of the Yoruba cults of West Africa that were absorbed into Salvador de Bahia in Brazil. It’s the same, where all of the forces of nature are perceived as spirit entities that can bring you energy or vision.

COWEN: Of the Native America cultures which have come down to us, which is different, of course, from what you had at the Ice Age, which of those do you relate to the most and why?

PAGLIA: All I’m doing is exploring the Native American cultures of the northeast. Because when the settlers came from Europe, the Indians were pushed out, the hunting grounds were limited, then there was general destruction of Native American culture for many reasons during that period.

We know more actually about the Plains Indians and, obviously, Northwestern Indians, and the Navaho than we do about the Northeastern Indians. I believe that there are remnants everywhere -- I stumbled on this. I’m very sorry I didn’t notice this when I was living all those years in Upstate New York, where the Onondagas still have their reservation. Probably the remnants of these glacial era cultures were still there as well.

But I find it’s absolutely staggering. It is staggering the actual signs and remnants that are everywhere in the Northeast. I could go out right now, find some dirt, and I’ll find you a broken tool. It’s absolutely incredible. I feel that’s what I should be doing something like this, which no one is interested in. But I feel it’s substantive, and I hope can help to show what was here before.

COWEN: In Vamps & Tramps, you once wrote that as early as 1981, the second volume of Sexual Personae was more -- finished is a tricky word we know as writers. But some version is finished, and do you think we will . . . ?.

PAGLIA: It was finished. Yale Press didn’t want to publish those last chapters.

COWEN: I’ll publish it.

PAGLIA: Yale Press ended with the end of the 19th century with Emily Dickinson and it was already a 700-page book. Yes, I put in there the next book was coming. Then what happened, of course, is throughout the ’90s, and since the last 25 years, I’ve been essentially writing in articles everything that I would have written in that sense.

All my writing on popular culture, I’ve continued to do. Like on football, I had a chapter, “Baseball versus Football,” and football is the ultimate pagan sport, etc.

Well I wrote for Wall Street Journal, my football feminism. I have a whole concept and philosophy of that. Now, football is getting more and more boring. It’s gotten more and more technocratic. It’s not in a period right now that I would celebrate.

But I was celebrating that tremendous period when there were still hard hits and there was still defense. There wasn’t all this throwing, flinging the ball down the field, people catching it like ballerinas. Please, that’s not football. Football is wham, like that. The TV won’t show the great defensive plays. The whole art of defense, the great offensive, defensive lines, and that tussle, it’s gone. I feel lucky that I saw football on TV at its high point.

COWEN: You also wrote that when you were in high school, you either wrote or just started a book on Amelia Earhart. What was the appeal of her to you?

PAGLIA: Oh my God. Amelia Earhart, I stumbled on. It was an article in 1961 in the Syracuse Herald Journal. There was always some article about Amelia Earhart. Someone finds a fragment or something.

I became very interested in her. At that point, I was, I guess, 14. I began researching her in the bowels of the Syracuse Library, the things were still not on microfilm yet. All the newspapers were still there from the 1930s.

I did that for three years on this research project. That’s how I became a feminist before feminism had revived, because I suddenly discovered this period just after women had won the right to vote. In the 1920s and ’30s, we had all these career women, like Amelia Earhart, Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Thompson, Clare Boothe Luce. There’s so many women, Margaret Bourke-White.

By the time second-wave feminism revived, which was with Betty Friedan’s cofounding of NOW in 1967, I was out of sync with them. When suddenly they revived, began complaining about men, and all that stuff, so on and so forth, I hated it. It was early clashes that I had with those feminists from the start. I tried to join second-wave feminism. They wouldn’t have me because I would not bad mouth men.

These women, like Amelia Earhart, they did not bad mouth men. They admired men. They admired what men had done. What they said was, “We demand equal opportunity for women,” which gave us the opportunity to show that we can achieve at the same level as men who did all these great things.

That was not the tone of second-wave feminism from the start. It’s almost like, “Patriarchy?. ” [makes sounds] like this. These women were insane. I found out from the start. I went to this feminist conference at the Yale Law School when I was in graduate school. It was 1971. Kate Millett was there. Rita Mae Brown who later became a lesbian novelist and lives on a horse farm in Virginia came around.

COWEN: Maybe she’s here.

PAGLIA: Maybe she’s here. She’s very rich. At any rate, Rita Mae Brown said to me, she said, “The difference between you and me, Camille, is that you want to save the universities, and I want to burn them down.” What can you say? What a conversation stopper. I had the knock down argument of the Rolling Stones with the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band. I adore the Stones. They hated the Stones. We had this huge screaming argument. My back was to the wall. They were screaming in my face. I said, “Yes, the Rolling Stones are sexist, but they made great music.” They go, “Oh, no, no, no!”

I said, “All right, let’s take “Under My Thumb,” yes, it’s sexist, but it’s a great song. It’s a work of art.” These women, they said to me, they said, “Art! Art! Nothing that demeans women can be art!” Now that is a Stalinist view of art!

COWEN: More about you. Less about them.

PAGLIA: Wait a minute. Then there was the argument that I had. This is about Amelia Earhart. Then I had my first job at Bennington College in 1972. People said, “There’s this new women’s studies department. One of the first ever at the State University of New York at Albany. Oh, you’ll be one of them.”

I thought, “Well, they’re feminist. I’m feminist. OK. All right.” We had a dinner. We were going to go to a lecture, and so on. We didn’t get through to dessert. Let me tell you about that dinner. Because we had this screaming argument about hormones.

They deny that hormones have the slightest impact on human life. They said hormones don’t even exist. They told me I had been brainwashed by male scientists to believe -- these are women who are in the English department. Wonderful education they had in biology. At any rate, Amelia Earhart —.

Never was like this with men. This is the point. In fact, my next book, my next essay collection, I’m going to reproduce the page from Newsweek magazine, 1963, I wrote in a letter to the editor. It was their number one letter. I was 16 years old, at that point.

What was it? They put a picture of Amelia Earhart there. It was Valentina Tereshkova had become the first women in space. The Soviet Union had sent her up. I wrote a protest letter into Newsweek and I said, “That Valentina Tereshkova, the cosmonaut, has became the first woman to be? -- ?on the anniversary that Amelia Earhart flew the ocean,” whatever it was. It was some big anniversary.

I said, “Obviously, Amelia Earhart’s lifelong fight for equal opportunity for American women remains to be won.” That’s 1963. Gloria Steinem can lick dirt, as far as I’m concerned. When I was doing that, Gloria Steinem was running around New York in a plastic skirt, I’m telling you. She’s a fraud, that woman. A fraud.




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