April 5, 2007

Paglia Post-Game: Cultural Nothingness?

Paglia Post-Game: Cultural Nothingness?

Last night’s show took a while to warm up, but when it did, it was hot. Near the half-hour mark, in response to pryoung ‘s comment that she’s simply appropriating a “meme of the right,” Camille Paglia unleashed a passionate explanation of why she thinks it’s time to go back to God.

I am concerned with the condition of this society, and the condition of the young. And I am saying that it is chaos. The sixties—my generation—have bequeathed chaos to these young people. We had great stars. We had Jimi Hendrix. We had Keith Richards, one of my idols. We had these mega personalities. What do the young have? Nothing but Britney Spears bouncing from the hair salon to the madhouse. Lindsay Lohan. It is a debased cultural environment that we have bequeathed. A nothingness. People who are listening to this, if you are not concerned by what the young have – which is nothing – then you are irresponsible, because in the nothing will come a tremendous move to the Right, because young people will look to Christianity again, will look to the most fundamentalist kind of evangelical things. That is sustaining! That there is a system there! There is meaning! Beauty! There’s something! That’s what’s happening. The heirs of the Left will produce a massive turn to the Right. That’s what happens at the failure of Greco-Roman paganism: that’s exactly what happened. Everyone was very tolerant, very sophisticated in that period, and what did it produce? This massive thing: Christianity, which came out of Palestine, swept the Mediterranean, went into Northern Europe. Why? Because the Greco-Roman paganism was hedonistic, self-centered, empty. It had nothing to offer, and Christianity had everything. So people who think they’re going to cure the present situation by policing speech . . . well maybe the Right, people who are conservative, have something to tell people on the Left. Similarly, people on the Left have a lot to tell people on the Right. There has to be much more mutual dialog and less recrimination.

Camille Paglia on Open Source, April 4, 2007

And the responses rolled in.

I am underwhelmed. So CP is saying “Religion is interesting, and has been culturally important … but I’m an atheist”? I guess in her academic world, she’s practically a zealot — but from here she seems not far removed from Dennett et al.

wrenhunter, in a comment on Open Source, April 4, 2007.

I, also an athiest and appreciator of the role of religion in past art and culture, believe that religion once served a purpose–explaining things that could not be readily explained and convincing society that all will be OK. Now, however, we realize that there are explanations for all things (even if we will never know what many of them are!), and religion is still serving simply to soothe people into praying and thinking all will be OK. THIS is why conservative talk radio is so successful–it is the exact same thing! Progressive radio, however, prefers to deal (somewhat) with reality, which is quite ugly and maybe not too hopeful all of the time.

rlong in a comment to Open Source, April 4, 2007.

I enjoyed hearing Ms. Paglia, a voice that is in tune with how I look at the world. One issue I wanted to jump through the airwaves and challenge her on is the idea that kids today have nothing. As much as Jimmy Hendrix and the rest were great in the 60s, the depth and breadth of what kids have access to online is unparalleled. Granted there is plenty of crap, but there is also greater choice, freedom, and access knowledge. So to say that kids have nothing today is simply ignorant. The internet is a great place to become self taught! Loved her.

greeenmtn, in a comment to Open Source, April 4, 2007.

Who knew? I thought I would hate her. I’ve never read her or listened to her before. I agreed with her. I am a feminist, former Catholic in the 50’s and 60’s, interested in Eastern philosophies but not interested in joining any religious group, secretly thrilled all day long by nature and the world in general, interested in going my own way, always have been, and I believe in God because of experiences I’ve had inside myself — but what I know as God is also what I know in nature and art. It was a really good discussion. She’s right about the danger of having the religious right as the only place to learn about religion and God. Just before the show, I was reading a column on Truthdig.com written by Chris Hedges about the similarities between the religious right’s and Hitler’s hypermasculinity and persecution of homosexuals. It reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s HANDMAID’S TALE. I’m still having a little trouble breathing.

katemcshane, in a comment to Open Source, April 4, 2007.

I found CP both wonderful and annoying. Wonderful for what she was saying, for her vision, and annoying for the way she said it, for the lack of space. The non-stop torrent of words and reflects a mind that is chock full of concepts which cut her off from direct experience of the vast wonder of the universe.

I wish that she had taken LSD back when everyone else did…

newcombvt, in a comment to Open Source, April 4, 2007

I’m not sure Ms. Paglia is making sense, calling for a return to religion but not to the austere, terrible, capricious, downright dysfunctional god of the Abrahamic religions. Those religions, despite her claims to the contrary, are founded upon and given life by that personage. It is the fear of god, or the sense of being a country club buddy of His, that motivates Christianity. That sense of fear or being in His hip pocket that motivates all Abrahamic extremists.

This belief in an all-powerful imaginary friend is worthy of any condescension, alarm, sneering, that might result.

What we need isn’t religion and the medieval beauty thereof, what we need is to figure out the practical function that wonder, awe, and joy serve. We’ve a pretty good idea of what fear and lust are for, let’s expand our knowledge.

One more thing. Ms. Paglia, and a number of other lefty personalities, would be much easier to listen to if they didn’t stutter so much. They too often talk with the rhythm and continuity of someone shaving: short, overlapping verbal strokes. And stop to breathe once in a while.

Atheist, in a comment to Open Source, April 5, 2007.

Finally, pryoung, who sparked this great exchange, got in a few last words:

For someone who so decries the assumption that people are passive and powerless, and who is actually herself a teacher of young people, Paglia has a strangely condescending view of students. She seems to see them as empty receptacles for what their teachers bring to them, rather than as individuals produced by a different history than she was, and ones already significantly formed by the time they reach college.

I wholly agree with her that students are often devoid of a larger sense of spiritual (or I would add political) vocation, to their great misfortune. But she can’t understand that this posture of non-belief may be a sensible adaptation to the conditions of the world in which they find themselves. In a globally integrated world, and one in which one is socialized from the earliest age into a consumer role, deeply-ingrained beliefs seem a hindrance to the mobility that is necessary to function and prosper. If one wants to challenge non-belief in these students, one has to first understand how and why non-belief really makes sense for them in real ways. It’s a classically cantankerous old professor move to just lapse into grousing about “these kids today”.

pryoung, in a comment to Open Source, April 4, 2007

Maybe she could reference other people’s work or ideas from time to time, like scholars tend to do. Or maybe she could resist the temptation to reduce opposing positions to a few stock grotesesque caricatures that she feels comfortable dismissing without ever really engaging any matters of substantive disagreement. That’s just basic intellectual integrity, which she seems to abandon when she takes up the role of polemicist.

I think she’s better than that, or at least could be better than that. I greatly admire Paglia for venturing out from academia into public space, and for raising the questions she does. I also don’t at all disagree with her larger point about the need for deeper questioning and concern as the basis of any enduring culture. I’m also very much a person of faith. But I can’t abide the careless and scattershot way in which she assigns blame for deeper problems to perceived enemies, all in order to “stir the pot” and keep the Camille Paglia brand alive. She basically fuels existing public prejudices (against feminism, against academia) as a way of marking off her own identity. It’s intellectually dishonest and unneccesary, but you and others love her for it.

No, not a hypocrite. A charlatan.

pryoung, in a comment to Open Source, March 4, 2007

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