Today’s Defendant: Camille Paglia
Statement of the Grand Inquisitor: We learn with sorrow that Paglia has called this venal bumpkin, Sarah Palin, “the greatest feminist since Madonna.” Paglia’s fall has long concerned the Holy Inquisition, and the time has come to address her case.
The great sin of the American suburbs is “wasted potential.” If this be a sin, then Paglia is the worst of sinners. She began well: with hatred. Hatred of the American academic scene, for its utter cowardice and stifling cant. Many honest peasants cannot even imagine the depths of vileness of American academic circles in the decades when Paglia was gestating. This was a world where no one would dare to say that scientific empiricism was valid, but all were required to bow their heads when self-confessed charlatans like Lacan are invoked as if they possessed Papal infallibility. Like all American heretics, it went without saying in this world that one spoke the necessary lies without believing them; no one was fool enough to seek medical help from Lacanian analysts when sick, for example.
Paglia was once a decent Catholic, in the proper sense: against the world, against America above all, and believing in the Church, but not God. As a Catholic she had the simple belief that one’s faith should have some resemblance to one’s life. So she began to defect from the Academic world early on, violating its seedy decorum by playing the tribade at professors’ parties, intentionally disturbing their smug claim to sexual dominion over the herds of female acolytes. To be from a poor Catholic family and go among these feeble epigones, aping their very stupidity, kowtowing to dullards and secularized Anglican clerics, was a bitter apprenticeship. As she rose through the hierarchy she so rightly despised, she plotted revenge, and took it in the simplest way: by telling an occasional truth. Nothing could have outraged the tenured squires more than this.
To grasp the beauty of Paglia’s early defiance, one must enter the bizarre world of the American university in the 1980s, when the price of admission to the guild was acceptance of obvious absurdities deemed to be virtuous. “Credo quia absurdum” was the working premise of the authorities, innocent of Latin and Church doctrine as they were. Thus these hundreds of thousands of avid heterosexuals wrote cant essays starting from the premise that heterosexuality was deceased, a premise they maintained until they left university premises, though earlier if stopping at the faculty club. It must be stressed here that the masses of non-Catholic academics did not even notice that they were lying in their very lives. It did not cross what we may loosely call their minds. (“Pages of illustrations,” as the poet says.)
Unless one understands this demonic microcosm, one will never grasp why Paglia could become notorious for banalities such as “Hetero sex is hot.” Her fundamentally sound, Catholic contra mundum instincts were still healthily at work in this madhouse: Paglia who dyked out before dyking out became part of the upper-middle class female rite of passage now rubbed a wholly fictitious heterosexuality in the faces of ten thousand pious pseudo-dykes.
All of Paglia’s allegedly contrarian, provocative insights are in context simple truths infiltrated by a made girl of the academic mafia into a closed society which forbade any truth whatsoever. For example, her denial of the orthodox article of liberal-arts faith that “gay people are born that way” is simple, obvious truth based on her own life and that of every other female academic of the era. Her point was widely repeated in an aphorism universal among the libertines of Berkeley: “Gay men are born, dykes are made.” And this for the simple, obvious and unspoken reason that there was no advantage for males in dropping their gang affiliation, so only the genetically-driven men went gay; but since there were obvious benefits for females in quitting the thankless auxiliary unit of that gang, they changed sides by reason, by advantage, not genetics. This much was visible to anyone—which turned out to be almost no one—willing to look around them. Paglia was speaking as an academic dyke, who was, if anything, more genuinely dykey than the norm but well aware that the Mills College trained lesbians of her era were merely, in the slang phrase of the era, “B.U.G.”: “Bisexual until graduation.”
Alas, the ease with which Paglia’s contra-mundum revelations tweaked the beards of the professors seduced her. And here we encounter the paradox of American academic life: hateful as this microcosm is, it is no more than a boil on the back of an ogre, a pustulant sore on the skin of a monster. Flee from the academic reservation and one entered the great Las Vegas that was the real America; spit on the professors and one found oneself welcomed into the very ogre’s den, the lair of the grinning Reaganites who controlled fiefdoms a million times greater and more corrupt than the professors’ harems, infernal vistas stretching from sea to stinking sea.
Paglia found her books selling in the millions without having to undergo the humiliating scrutiny of anonymous cowards, and her provocations cheered by crowds not only far larger but far less repulsive than those of her former guild. Few could have resisted; she fell. Soon she was telling a million inept aspiring sluts that Madonna was the best feminist, and gloating in print over her friendly chats with Rush Limbaugh in the first-class section of transcontinental flights. She has long since forgotten the virtuous impulse to hurt the world in its most silly vanities, the first imperative of Catholic action. Now she serves the ogre avidly, and wallows in its love.
Statement of the defense: All true…but she once punched a man in the face. That must count for something. And she spat in the face of many a tweedmonger. That too must be something.
Verdict: It is for cases like Paglia’s that Purgatory was built. So rare is it for any American to strike a blow against the norm that great allowances must be made for all who do so. We will adapt Faust’s precept to say that those who spit on tweed can be saved. She will serve as Limbaugh’s confessor for ten thousand years, his initiation in Hell. May what she hears enlighten her and help her to climb out of the pit.
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