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Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays Paperback – September 8, 1992

3.4 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Provocative cultural critic Paglia (Sexual Personas) here offers 21 previously published essays and interviews that celebrate pop culture while trashing feminism and academic theory. Her paeans to Madonna, tributes to Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando, and discussions of rock music and bodybuilding include attacks on the prudery of old guard establishment feminists, while her reviews of scholarly works on cross-dressing and gay history trumpet Paglia's contention that today's intellectuals refuse to acknowledge the dark, immutable powers of sexual drive. Reverence for these powers led Paglia to take her controversial stand, fully documented here, against sympathy for victims of date rape. Paglia lacks the subtlety and decorum of the very scholars--from Freud and Jung to Leslie Fiedier--whom she claims as her forerunners; she instead resembles the rock stars whom she so venerates, stripped of their capacity for self-mockery. Yet for all their faults, her essays engage with an ambitious range of art and ideas, her invocation of primal sexuality adding a missing element to critical debates. While she should be taken with a truckful of road salt, Paglia should not be ignored. Author tour.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Paglia (humanities, Univ. of the Arts), the controversial author of Sexual Personae (Yale Univ. Pr., 1990), here offers 12 recent essays on popular culture, sexuality, feminism, and educational reform. All but three of these impassioned diatribes were previously published, including her brazen attack on humanities education ("Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders"), the Newsweek article in which she dismisses the phenomenon of date rape, and her New York Times essay on Madonna as a feminist. Paglia's vehemence and fearless expression of unpopular opinions are refreshing yet often maddening, as when she lapses into unsupported generalizations (battered women stay with their husbands "because the sex is very hot"), absurd enthusiasms (she "worships" television), or self-aggrandizing egotism ("before feminism was, Paglia was!"). Furthermore, the new material is repetitive ("The MIT Lecture") or disappointing ("East and West," a choppy set of Paglia's course notes). Paglia is never boring, however, and cannot fail to challenge and ignite readers. Recommended for informed readers.
- Ellen Finnie Duranceau, MIT Lib.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (September 8, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679741011
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679741015
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #319,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
~Sex, Art, and American Culture~ strikes down from the heavens lika a thunderbolt from Olympus, disturbing our received notions of popular culture, high and low art, and particularly tertiary education with such flair, that you will never view the world in the same way. Camille Paglia is a breath of fresh air; a provocative slayer of highbrow, smug, one-dimensional academics, who, over the last twenty five years, have been waving French Critical theory around like it was a major break through in western thought. She treats these 'gurus' of French academe, i.e., Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault like purveyors of a death fog, confusing all and sunder with their 'playful language', their philosophy of destruction or 'deconstruction', and reveals the end result of this post structuralist cancer: 'Academics with the souls of accountants...' an alarming ignorance of history and true scholarship, and a specialized factory line mentality in undergraduate studies.
All of the essays in this wonderful collection sparkle with erudition, honesty and guts. I was actually startled by Paglia's frankness, power and arresting prose style. A friend, who suggested I read this book, summed Paglia up quite nicely, "She has turned cultural studies into a contact sport." It's about time. Having been on the receiving end of the Derrida, Lacan, Foucault triad, as an idealistic, hungry for knowledge undergraduate, I too was swept-up in the French theory furore, anally strutting around campus like some initiated witch from a secret coven. History has shown that the attainment of alleged esoteric knowledge has always given us a false sense of power: a feeling that you are somehow a member of the elite, above the fray, someone special.
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Paglia writes from a standpoint of anti-PC/anti-postmodernist philosophy. The weakness of her book is that it is dedicated to what John Berger has called 'the instant culture', the culture where postmodernism has cut us off from the past while the media cuts us off daily from the future. For a study of the interaction of the media with the outcast elements of the instant culture from the standpoint of PC/postmodernism see Joshua Gamson's "Freaks Talk Back". Both Paglia and Gamson are TV addicts. Both praise the role of the media in the instant culture. One is Foucauldian, the other is not.
Paglia's intellectual contribution comes from her anti-postpodernism. PC is an instant-practice in postmodernist society that creates/spreads the pseudo-disease called victimization. America has, through PC, become a nation of victims. See also "Dumbing Down our Kids", by Charles J. Sykes, for the role played by schools in creating 'victims'. Paglia's anti-postmodernist essay 'Junk bonds and Corporate Raiders' is worth reading because it's a very effective attack on postmodernism/PC, and predates the Sokal hoax by about five years. Her MIT lecture is also worth reading. The rest of the book, in praise of the instant-culture created by modern capitalism, which has largely destroyed the chance of nontrivial culture within America, includes a lot of horn-tooting for Paglia by Paglia and does not shed light on anything worth knowing. Paglia likes to emphasize her Italian roots, but the stark contrast with John Berger's writing, where peasants do not behave as victims and capitalism is not praised for what it has done, is worth noting.
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By A Customer on March 1, 2003
Format: Paperback
There is something intoxicating about Camille Paglia. It's partly her prose, which manages to be both blunt and extravagant; she'd make a good political speech writer. She writes in slick, easily digested proclamations that both dramatize and grossly over-simplify the world - which is gratifying to read initially but not particuarly enlightening in the long run. She seduces partly because of her palpable love of art and her unquestionable erudition; certainly, as an English student, it's refreshing to read someone who approaches art with an unabashed sense of awe and pleasure, which IS often missing from present academe. Anf she also seduces because she often interprets culture at face-value, and it's always fun in some way to have every superficial prejudice indulged, and all human history reduced to a larger-than-life cartoon, all neat dichotomies between civilization and nature, brutish, brilliant men and enchanting, passive women, Apollo and Dionysius...
But, as you read on, you become aware you're in the presence of some exotic species of maniac. Her bullying style initially seduces and finally repulses. It's Camille, Camille, Camille - and as you read through these essays, you begin to mutter to yourself, "If she refers to "my Sixties generation", her Italian heritage or her own intellectual virtuosity one more time, I'm going to...."
Her obsessional loathing of the feminist establishment seems finally self-indulgent. She seems to believe that feminist ideology is this pernicious disease that is spreading out of control, polluting the minds of the young and vulnerable and poisoning human relationships, when in actuality, feminist thought is nowhere near the orthodoxy she makes it out to be.
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