Hanging out with Camille Paglia...
“That's why sex with men is so hot. You get the best sex from men. Actually, if you pretend you're not so dominant. It's so easy to make men wilt - if feminists don't realise that, they are stupid. What I see is a worldwide conspiracy by women to protect men from the knowledge of their own limitations. Men are very, very simple beings. They just want approval and attention. You pat them on the head and they go and conquer the North Pole. But they are desperate. They are exiles from the world of intimacy…Their confidence is utterly frail . They need daily maintenance”.
Professor Camille Paglia is shrieking this at me and having ignored the male photographer in the room, acknowledges him for the first time. “The life of men is one of anxiety” she continues. She never stops talking. I catch his eye. He fiddles with his equipment.
Its 1992 and I am in Professor Camille Paglia’s office which is wall to wall pictures of Madonna and stickers that say things like “I don’t have PMS – I am a Natural Bitch’ while she machine guns me with her philosophy. She talks faster than Scorsese. She remains one of the rudest, crudest ,scariest and hilarious people I have ever interviewed.
She turned up the other night in a 2013 documentary about David Bowie: Five Years. I mentioned on Twitter that I had once spent 48 hours with her and asked if people would like to know something about that and they said they would. So here you go!
For me, she remains as awkward a figure in 2022 as she was in 1992 and for that, I have to admit a grudging kind of love. No one who ever read Paglia ever really needed Jordan Peterson but she was dismissed as a batshit crazy dyke while he is revered for saying many of the same things, in much less interesting ways.
Paglia should of course, be interviewed about Bowie. She worshipped him. “David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” I can remember that eerie, mesmerizing moment as if it was yesterday. An elegy for a lost astronaut (inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001: A Space Odyssey), the song marked an epochal shift from the utopian triumphalism of the counterculture 1960s. I learned long afterward that Bowie had prophetically written the song a few months before the Woodstock Music Festival, with its heady populist dreams. Communal idealism was over. “Space Oddity,” with its bleak isolationism, looked forward to the darker 1970s, a decade of disillusion and decadent hedonism.”
He had been a “staggering influence” on her, a living embodiment of her interest in androgyny in art and literature.
He loved her work too, naming Sexual Personae as one of his favourite books. He tried to get in touch with her but it did not work out. She is not sad about that “With artists of such towering stature, it’s best to keep a respectful distance.”
I cannot say exactly what drew Bowie to Paglia, only what drew me to her. She was seen as a bit of an anti-Christ in the circles I moved in then , though most people did not know who she was. I had seen her on chat shows in the States during my frequent visits there. She was always set up to slag off other feminists which she did brilliantly. She called Naomi Wolf “a pampered twit”. She said that the Ivy League universities were producing idiotic , bourgeois women out of Women’s Studies Programmes . She insulted everyone from Susan Faludi (“hopelessly deluded” ) to Marilyn French (“someone filled with buried resentment”) to Gloria Steinem (“Her record with men – horrible”)
Or as she said to me. “Right now, feminism has just become this whining. Oh, nasty men. You did this to me. I think many of these women are depressives. Okay, so now you get these women's studies programmes that deny the greatness of male artists.
They don't even have the category of greatness because hierarchy is like a dirty word. Okay? They say that greatness is a projection, a value judgement about a bunch of dead white males.
These namby- pamby, wishy washy, little twits, cannot even admit how great Michelangelo was. These people know nothing about art. Now everything is “great”.
So they go, but some quilt made by some woman in Kansas is as important an object as the Sistine Chapel. Give me a break. I mean, pu..lease”.
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