top of page

SWFL Fresh Producers

Public·5 SWFL Producers
Ezra Long
Ezra Long

Sexual Personae : Art And Decadence From Nefert...

Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson is a 1990 work about sexual decadence in Western literature and the visual arts by scholar Camille Paglia, in which she addresses major artists and writers such as Donatello, Sandro Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Edmund Spenser, William Shakespeare, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, Emily Brontë, and Oscar Wilde. Following Friedrich Nietzsche, Paglia argues that the primary conflict in Western culture is between the binary forces of the Apollonian and Dionysian, Apollo being associated with order and symmetry, and Dionysus with chaos, disorder, and nature. The book became a bestseller,[1] received critical reviews from numerous feminist scholars, and was praised by numerous literary critics.

Sexual personae : art and decadence from Nefert...


Paglia seeks to demonstrate "the unity and continuity of western culture". Accepting the canonical Western tradition, she "rejects the modernist idea that culture has collapsed into meaningless fragments." Paglia argues that Christianity did not destroy paganism, which flourishes in art, eroticism, astrology, and popular culture. She examines antiquity, the Renaissance, and Romanticism from the late eighteenth century to 1900, contending that "Romanticism turns almost immediately into Decadence." She believes that the "amorality, aggression, sadism, voyeurism, and pornography in great art have been ignored or glossed over by most academic critics" and that sex and nature are "brutal pagan forces." She also stresses the truth in sexual stereotypes and the biological basis of sexual difference, noting that her stance is "sure to cause controversy." Paglia sees the mother as an overwhelming force who condemns men to lifelong sexual anxiety, from which they fleetingly escape through rationalism and physical achievement.[6]

The "sexual personae" of Paglia's title include the female vampire (Medusa, Lauren Bacall); the pythoness (the Delphic Oracle, Gracie Allen); the beautiful boy (Hadrian's Antinous, Dorian Gray); the epicene man of beauty (Byron, Elvis Presley); and the male heroine (the passive male sufferer; for example, the old men in William Wordsworth's poetry).[8] Writers Paglia discusses include Spenser, Shakespeare, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Marquis de Sade, Goethe, William Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats, Honoré de Balzac, Théophile Gautier, Charles Baudelaire, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Brontë, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Walter Pater, Wilde, Edgar Allan Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Henry James, and Emily Dickinson. The works of literature Paglia analyzes include Spenser's The Faerie Queene, Shakespeare's As You Like It and Antony and Cleopatra, Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Byron's Don Juan, Brontë's Wuthering Heights, and Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest and The Picture of Dorian Gray.[9]

Valerie Steele wrote, "Paglia has been attacked as an academic conservative, in league with Allan Bloom and other defenders of the 'Western canon,' but no conservative would be so explicitly approving of pornography, homosexuality, and rock-and-roll."[31] The literature professor Robert Alter wrote in Arion, "[O]n purely stylistic grounds, this is one of the few thoroughly enjoyable works of criticism written in the American language in the last couple of decades." He called the book "immensely ambitious, vastly erudite, feisty, often outrageous, and sometimes dazzlingly brilliant."[32] Pat Righelato concluded, "Camille Paglia's syncretic theoretical enterprise invoking Frazer, Freud, Nietzsche, and Bloom, from anthropology to influence theory and psychobiography, is an immense tour de force."[33]

Paglia offers provocative views of literature, art history, psychology, and religion. She focuses, for example, on the amorality, voyeurism, and pornography in great art that have been ignored or glossed over by most critics. She discusses sex and nature as brutal daemonic forces, and she criticizes feminists for sentimentality or wishful thinking about the causes of rape, violence, and poor relations between the sexes. She stressed the biologic basis of sex differences and sees the mother as an overwhelming force who condemns men to lifelong sexual anxiety, from which they escape through rationalism and physical achievement. She examines the culture and style of modern male homosexuals. She demonstrates how much of western life, art, and thought is ruled by personality, which she traces through recurrent types or personae such as the female vampire (Medusa, Lauren Bacall); the pythoness (the Dephic oracle, Gracie Allen); the beautiful boy (Hadrian's Antinous, Dorian Gray); the epicene man of beauty (Lord Byron, Elvis Presley); and the male heroine (Baudelaire, Woody Allen). Her book will stimulate and awe readers everywhere.

Reviews369 Sexual Personae: Art and Decadencefrom Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, by Camille Paglia; xiv & 718 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990, $35.00. Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae is a book ofburdens. From the start it laments "the female body's unbearable hiddenness" (p. 22). This body is "literally" nature, which always threatens to overwhelm human civilization (p. 9). Linked to the "miasmic swamp" of generation, the female body is "repugnant." "Disgust ," Paglia contends, "is reason's proper response to the grossness of procreative nature" (p. 12). Perhaps it is also a proper response to this book. Sexual Personae ostensibly analyzes art and literature for "pagan" content, but interspersed are statements ofcontemporary ideology. Contemporary feminists are wrong, Paglia asserts. Eroticism can never be made "perfecdy humane" (p. 4). Biology dictates that sexuality and violence will always be linked. "Sexual intercourse, from kissing to penetration, consists of movements of barely controlled cruelty and consumption" (p. 16), and rape is only "a development in degree of intensity ... of the basic movements of sex" (pp. 23-24). Feminists who promote egalitarianism fail to recognize the essential "hierarchism" of sex. "Sex is power," according to Paglia (p. 2). One individual dominates, another submits. Feminists who promote androgyny also fail to recognize "the terrible duality of gender" (p. 22), which ties males to culture and females to nature. "All cultural achievement is a projection, a swerve into Apollonian transcendence , and . . . men are anatomically designed to be projectors" (p. 17). As a dramatic instance, male urination demonstrates "remarkably" the "concentration and projection" that are fundamental to cultural achievement (pp. 20-21). So does ejaculation. But sexuality, for men, is rife with anxiety. "No woman has to prove herself a woman in the grim way a man has to prove himself a man. He must perform or the show does not go on" (p. 20). Worse yet, woman represents for a man the dangerous cruelty ofnature and the mother on whom he depended but could not control. As a result, sex for men is "metaphysical ... as it is not for women" (p. 19). (The burden continues!) As metaphysical, male sexual experience flows directly into art. (Paglia analyzes her female examples as dominated by a "masculine will" [p. 657] that subjects them to typically male anxieties [p. 9]). Western art is "a parade of sexual personae" (p. 39) which the artist employs to avoid domination by the female principle. In every case the artist's strategy is perverse. The artist evades female nature by means of homoeroticism, transsexualism, voyeurism, narcissism , sadomasochism, and/or perverse erotic attachment to his or her own characters or works. Paglia describes her method as "a form ofsensationalism" (p. xiii). No kidding! Her style is hyperbolic, with little concern for terminological precision. "Sex," "power," "paganism," "violence," and "decadence" are characterized in terms 370Philosophy and Literature of one another. The virtual substitutabüity of Paglia's key terms farilitates her moves from text to sex to authorial perversity, and it substitutes for defense of her basic premises. She may feel burdened, but not by burden of proof. Paglia's treatment of her heroes is similarly cavalier. Although operating on a largely Freudian map she conflates the erotic and aggressive instincts, as Freud does not. Sade is admirable for his "vitality" (p. 421) and his "comprehensive satiric critique of Rousseauism" (p. 2). (Did Sade know he was writing "satire"?) Paglia has no compunction announcing, "My theory is: Dionysus is identification, Apollo objectification" (p. 96). I had thought that theory was Nietzsche's. "My theory is . . ." recurs like a refrain, even when prefacing a commonplace. Paglia fancies her views quite original, although she rarely explains the significance ofher observations. Paglia also claims originality in herodd and whimsical labels for personality and stylistic types. "I call DonJuan's lightness and quickness 'breeziness' " (p. 357). So might anyone, without imagining this a term of art. Paglia is eager to assign names. Perhaps she is afflicted by Adam-envy. I think Paglia's main burden is what Harold Bloom calls "anxiety ofinfluence" (see p. 9). Her analyses certainly presuppose Bloom's theories. The history of literature is conceived as a chronicle of agons between poetic rivals. Literary tropes and strategies... 041b061a72


Welcome to the group! Connect with other members, get updates and share media.

SWFL Producers

bottom of page