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Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Not just the shoes

A recent Nick Gillespie interview of Camille Paglia provided some interesting perspectives.  I like the points that blogger Stuart Schneiderman lifted out on his Had Enough Therapy? blog:
If universities should not be in the business of policing student behavior, they should be in the business of forming young minds. There, according to Paglia, they have failed miserably: 
Now, I've encountered these graduates of Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Princeton, I've encountered them in the media, and people in their 30s now, some of them, their minds are like Jell-O. They know nothing! They've not been trained in history. They have absolutely no structure to their minds. Their emotions are unfixed. The banality of contemporary cultural criticism, of academe, the absolute collapse of any kind of intellectual discourse in the U.S. is the result of these colleges, which should have been the best, have produced the finest minds, instead having retracted into caretaking. The whole thing is about approved social positions in a kind of misty, love of humanity without any direct knowledge of history or economics or anthropology. 
A wondrous image: minds like jello. Insubstantial, unstructured, incapable of dealing with ideas … quivering with deep feeling about nothing in particular.

He excerpts many other worthwhile points and his post is a bit shorter than the full interview.  Some other points that I liked included:

Paglia: I am an equal-opportunity feminist. I believe that all barriers to women's advancement in the social and political realm must be removed. However, I don't feel that gender is sufficient to explain all of human life. This gender myopia has become a disease, a substitute for a religion, this whole cosmic view. It's impossible that the feminist agenda can ever be the total explanation for human life. Our problem now is that this monomania—the identity politics of the 1970s so people see everything through the lens of race, gender, or class—this is an absolute madness, and in fact, it's a distortion of the '60s.
reason: You're not saying that those things—race, class, and gender—which is kind of the holy trinity of contemporary cultural studies, but all of those things are important, and they all intersect in many ways.
Paglia: They are important.
reason: But you're essentially arguing that none of these explain things totally.
Paglia: That's right. These are techniques of social analysis I find very useful. That's the way I teach and write. Race, class, and gender? Absolutely! But the point is that Marxism is, as I argue in the introduction to my last booklet, is not sufficient as a metaphysical system for explaining the cosmos. It is very limited. Marxism sees only society, but we are much greater than that. There's nature, there's eternity, there's questions of mortality, which Catholic theology of the Middle Ages addresses far more profoundly then Marxism ever has.
A solid takedown of a simplistic class only analysis of the world makes sense to me.  Another area of agreement for me was the historical cluelessness of the American press:
Paglia: [As a] writer of cultural criticism, I find that I'm happiest when I'm writing for the British press, and I write quite a bit for The Sunday Times magazine in London. I find that the general sense of cultural awareness means that I can have an authentic discourse about ideas with international journalists from Brazil or Germany or Italy or Norway or Canada even—somewhat, but they have a P.C. problem themselves. I can feel the vacuum and the nothingness of American cultural criticism at the present time. It is impossible—any journalist today, an American journalist, you cannot have any kind of deep discussion of ideas.
reason: Is that just a kind of hyper-exaggeration of the American disease, which goes back to early American literary criticism, that we're people who come from nowhere and we don't care about the past. We're freed from the burdens of the past, but we don't care about the past.
Paglia: Yes, I think this is true. The past is always present in Europe. To the extent that you're in Berlin, you can still see the bullet marks on buildings from World War II. And it's a terrible burden to have that there. I think Americans are far more ingenious and open and daring. On the other hand...people abroad have a much more sophisticated idea about [politics and ideology in] Europe…
Finally, a point I couldn't find in the transcript but was in the video, was that there is no male-bashing in her feminism.  Equal rights and opportunities are the point, not a putdown of men.
On the whole, a presentation of many sensible ideas.


Peter said...

Her comments on modern education are interesting. As much as it's a timeless complaint of the old that the young are ignorant, a lot of today's youth graduate awash in abstract ideological gobbledygook from the social sciences with very little empirical knowledge to back it up. They seem to delight in repeating shibboleths ("America is racist") and make the facts fit them, assuming they think facts are important at all. It reminds me of the joke out of Britain after the war when progressive education was all the rage about the young pupil who told his angry father he shouldn't be so upset that he failed arithmetic, history and English because he got an A in postwar planning.

Clovis e Adri said...


As much as it's a timeless complaint of the old that the young are ignorant [...]
I think we can stop right at that point, for this is really what this is about.

Old Dylan had it right way back when with...

"Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin(g)'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'."

[You know, I am trying hard to connect with you old guys, so I need to cite something from more than 40 years ago]

Really, what generation wasn't "awash in" something "with very little empirical knowledge to back it up"?

Peter said...

And a hearty Kumbaya to you too, Clovis. I thought we had already admitted that we conservatives can't touch you lefties on folk songs.

People who look to folk songs to inspire their politics can be every bit as shallow and dangerous as those who look to the enchanted kingdom of academic abstract constructs, but I'd have to allow they are much more agreeable to listen to.

erp said...

Lehrer was also a mathematician, so he obviously couldn't be a dogmatic lefty. :-)

Although, not religiously inclined, I find the Bible often has something pithy to say, such as: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a (wo)man, I put away childish things. Corinthians 13:11

Sadly in today’s world where chronological adults like pundits, academics, etc. who are never forced to take responsibility for their actions, remain childlish well into their dotage.

They blithely go through life telling others who are actually steering the ship how to navigate the rough seas and if we’re not very vigilant, will send it below the waves never to be seen again.

Clovis e Adri said...


Except Dylan is not exactly a leftie, nor shallow or dangerous.

By the contrary, he is quite an entrepreneur: knows well how to offer a product in good package and maximize his consumer base.

Yet, he did have a point in that passage I quoted. Old versus New is just so... old.


Please, do us all a favor, stop picking and choosing whatever bible passages you want to make your point. You don't really give a damn to the old book and you know it.

Barry Meislin said...

Well, yes, point taken; except that [we] were so much older then; [we're] younger than that now.... Dylanquents IV:17

erp said...

Clovis, truth's true whatever its origin.

Dylan not exactly a lefty?

Okay -- definitively a lefty.

Like that better?

Clovis e Adri said...

You are one more fooled by him then, Erp.

Howard said...


The times may be a-changin' but as Paglia points out, to think it's only culture is madness. Biology and human nature will have their say - gods of the copybook headings…

Also, the changes in academe that "opened the door" pre-date the 1960s. I was a little surprised when I learned that:

Rereading The House of Intellect has helped me understand our times more clearly. Certain images recur: abdication, desire for release, and exhausted impotence. The adult world of achieved self-discipline abdicates to an adolescent world of spontaneity and desire. Among those charged with responsibility for cultural standards, Barzun sees a strong desire for “a release from responsibility.” People “idealize youth” and “hope that youth will bring to the conduct of life an energy that manners have sapped in their elders.” The really smart and ambitious intellectuals read the signs of the times and strike poses accordingly: “Nowadays it is assumed that all attacks on culture are equal in virtue, and that attacking society, because it is society, is the one aim and test of genius.”

Because these words were written in the late 1950s, they help us see that the 1960s was not the result of a youth movement. It is best understood as an abdication of the elders, a renunciation of responsibility by the adults. The Bourgeois Era ended because its intellectual project crumbled. The guardians of Western culture determined that they were custodians of inhumanity.

Barzun is not happy about the change. By his reckoning, the modern bourgeois form of intellectual self-discipline and honesty “is a broom with which to clear the mind of cant.” This tradition of reflection helps us avoid “trumpery art,” “ideological drugs, “facile enthusiasms,” and a simple-minded worship of science. Intellect encourages what Barzun calls “fineness” and “virtuosity.” One does not just have opinions or commitments. One has a fabric of considered views that are woven from the threads of inherited traditions. They are nuanced, tenuous, and shaded with all manner of uncertainty, but even so, for the Bourgeois intellectual, considered views have the serious weight of truth, a weight that gives shape to one’s sense of self.

And the Bohemian project? It retails itself as the royal road to self-discovery through the alchemy of self-expression. It promises a more “real,” more authentic, and more individual existence. As Barzun suggests, the claims are hollow. The emerging Bohemian Era will be anti-intellectual: characterized by an externalized and collective sense of purpose (politics über alles) and an undifferentiated, amorphous inner life (the empire of desire).

Pretty interesting.

Clovis e Adri said...


Oh yes, now that you equate the period of the great decadence of Values and Education with the same period Erp was a student, it all makes more sense to me.

What I find interesting is how you are both a great optimistic and a great pessimistic about the very same period of time. Just the other day you were defending how material progress was so great that nowadays you hardly can find a poor, if you compare with decades ago - only a handful of crazy people would ever want to go back to the 60's, you told us.

Yet, all the material wealth our societies were able to engineer then happened at exact the same time everyone got dumber and dumber, no to mention the growing class of shallow and dangerous folk music listeners.

One could even be tempted to wish cultural standards only get lower then, so we all get richer and richer...

Howard said...

What I find interesting is how you are both a great optimistic and a great pessimistic about the very same period of time.

As you might imagine, that's a tricky balance to maintain.

erp said...

Clovis, fyi my students days (1940-56) ended well before the 60's and also, it may come as surprise to you, but I have never heard Dylan and am not familiar with his work in any way.

My analysis of his politics is based on an
old Mexican proverb
: "Dime con quién andas y te diré lo que eres."

Peter said...

Heh. Well-played, Clovis. Don't you see how high taxation and excessive government regulation is destroying our "fabric of considered views that are woven from the threads of inherited traditions"? If students weren't forced to study all that leftist drivel, they would naturally gravitate to ancient Greek drama and medieval philosophy. :-)

Hey Skipper said...

[Howard:] The times may be a-changin' but as Paglia points out, to think it's only culture is madness.

Take the argument as read: gender is a social construct.

Ok. Fine. Progressives, have it your way.

Now, explain the transgendered to me.

erp said...

Gender is a grammatical construct and has nothing to do with biology, so transgendered must mean using a feminine article with a masculine noun and visa-versa in languages that have that sort grammar, e.g. the word, patria, is feminine and take the feminine article, la. Using the masculine article, el, would make the construction transgendered.

Hope that cleared it up for you Skipper.

Hey Skipper said...

BTW, I have always found Paglia a very interesting read.