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Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson Paperback – August 20, 1991

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Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson + Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays + Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars (Vintage)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 718 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books (August 20, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780679735793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679735793
  • ASIN: 0679735798
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Sexual Personae is an enormous sensation of a book, in all the better senses of 'sensation'. There is no book comparable in scope, stance, design or insight." Harold Bloom "A fine, disturbing book. It seeks to attack the reader's emotions as well as his/her prejudices. It is very learned. Each sentence jabs like a needle." Anthony Burgess "It relentlessly pursues its ambition to assault the emotions, batter the brain and aim a kick at the groin." Alan Bold, The Times "Provocative... a radical reappraisal of the human condition. Her style is marked by angry exhiliration, brittle epigrams and acid paradoxes." Times Literary Supplement --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Publisher

"A remarkable book, at once outrageous and compelling, fanatical and brilliant....One must be awed by [Paglia's] vast energy, erudition and wit"--Washington Post Book World

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Customer Reviews

This book is a tremendous monument in critical exploration.
Movie stars are frequently referenced, and she notoriously compares Lord Byron to Elvis Presley.
R. mangum
Camille Paglia's SEXUAL PERSONAE is a huge book in every sense.
David C N Swanson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 66 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
Paglia has gotten so much press in recent years, due to her self-transformation from obscure academic into media pundit, that it's easy to sniff at the awe-inspiring strengths of her first and greatest book. There is something in "Sexual Personae" to annoy and upset everyone - but Paglia irritates because her brilliant mind neatly and decisively rips apart received ideas. By asserting the truth of certain basic oppositions - Apollo/Dionysos, Christian/Pagan, male/female - Paglia creates a thinking-space where we can see how art and literature have flourished in the tense zone between these poles. You cannot help but admire the range and depth of her erudition and interests, particularly in an age where American intellectuals say more and more about less and less. Paglia's prose is clear, dramatic, and of an adamantine brilliance that, in its better passages (the introduction, "Renaissance Art," and "Pagan Beauty," come to mind) stuns yo! u with its insights. I applaud her defense of the male imagination's sexual peculiarities, always kept on a short leash in Puritan America, and greatly look forward to the second volume. This book should be required reading in freshman composition courses. Reading this book changed my view of reality permanently. Paglia says many thing which I had always sensed, but could never put into words. The firestorm of opposition which her ideas have generated merely indicates her strength as a thinker. You owe it to yourself to read this book!
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54 of 64 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 14, 2002
Format: Paperback
A book this outstanding is rare, as I can see from the customer reviews many have perceived. Paglia's book, which I read when I was 17, crystallized my thoughts on art, sexuality, and human nature: like her I was a freakish female fan of Oscar Wilde, the gay male sensibility, and decadence. I had truly been searching for this book since I was 13 years old and got my first adult public library card, and thereby discovered the endlessly fascinating world of literature and art--the existence of which I'd never suspected. I'll never forget sitting down with this book during Grade 12 Spring Break; my mother and little sisters were away visiting relatives, so I had the house to myself during the day and I sat in the dining room from the time my step-father left for work at about 7 am to the time he returned about 5 pm, reading. It was by far the longest and most difficult book I had ever read, and I took time over it because as other customer reviewers have pointed out, Paglia addresses such profound, disturbing ideas in such original, provocative ways that I did no less than go over my whole life in my head from my earliest memories to test Paglia's ideas. Needless to say, Paglia won more often than not: the myth of original sin is a better explanation of art and human nature than the myth of social constructionism.
If you are truly open to ideas and you love art, don't read this book unless you want your life completely changed for better or worse. Almost ten years later I find myself completely intellectually alienated from both peers and most professors in my university English program because I continue to fight UNCOMPROMISINGLY for art and independent thought (not to mention intellectual rigour and standards and good prose!), thanks to Paglia's inspiration.
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35 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Glen Stegner ( on October 22, 1998
Format: Paperback
Paglia's "Sexual Personae" is a massive work of Olympian learning; the most important book of the last 3 decades and certainly one of the greatest literary tomes of the century. This book in itself is utterly more valuable than a complete undergraduate education at one of our most prestigious universities.
"Sexual Personae" embodies the kind of hard-thinking discussions of art and philosophy so direly needed as the 20th century comes to a close. Paglia forces us to see the embedded truth in old sexual stereotypes, easily cuts through the muddled sentimentalism of current poststructuralist jargon, and implores us to take stock of ourselves in an ascetic, self-responsible and disciplined way using wit, wisdom, and aesthetics as tools of self-knowledge in a turbulent age of decadent Empire.
Paglia sees human history through art with an all-knowing, unapologetic eye to the point of sophisticated fatigue. She revives the ancient Greek concept of the Apollo/Dionysus continuum, she is honest about human social and sexual catharsis, and for all the talk about Paganism these days Paglia forces us to come to terms with the concept in a way that removes its [beautiful and horrifying] dualities from the sterile, solipsistic MickeyMouse playground on which it has been snidely and carelessly tossed by lazy new-age boomer "intellectuals"--so blindly at the expense of the well-being of the next generation of philosophical thinkers.
In many ways, "Sexual Personae" is a kind of intellectual call-to-arms for Generation X. Paglia is brave, shows that she cares, and is willing to take abuse and get tough in order to get the job done. It is the Bible of the 1990's, and an indespensible book for knowing ourselves and our world.
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90 of 112 people found the following review helpful By Alexander on September 3, 2002
Format: Paperback
Imagine some monstrous 600-page addenda to *The Birth of Tragedy*, deploying the Apollo vs. Dionysus doublet ad vertiginem, putting the proleptic insights of Pater, Jung, and Frazer to work in new and frightful ways, invoking a faux-Gorgonic eye to peer into the heart of culture High and Low, from empyrean edifice to paganized Pop void, and you'll have a distant impression of this cocky, gumptious, explosive treatise, a book that takes so many risks its grating weaknesses never quite catch up to its prodigal greatness. You just gotta read this.
*Sexual Personae* starts out strong. Its promises are manifold. By the time Paglia is done ravishing us with her visionary Egyptology and impudent synoptic judgements on the failures of feminism to give us an authentic sexual politics, the reader feels primed and whetted for the perilous night journey ahead. For the next 550 pages, however, our expectations are both whippingly indulged and (sigh) left flaccid, limp, and befuddled. Mistress Camille begins to flounder beneath the weight of her gushing, declamatory syntax, pounding and thrashing us with repetition and overemphasis, the voice of an S/M dominatrix sliding mushily into self-parody.
As John Updike soberly put it, "It feels less a survey than a curiously ornate harangue. Her percussive style -- one short declarative sentence after another -- eventually wearies the reader; her diction functions not so much to elicit the secrets of books as to hammer them into submission.... The weary reader longs for the mercy of a qualification, a doubt, a hesitation; there is little sense, in her uncompanionable prose, of exploration occuring before our eyes, of tentative motions of thought reflected in a complex syntax." Paglia throws around the word "chthonic" like Heidegger pimping "Dasein.
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