Recapturing the soul of art
Less a polemic than much of what accorded her so much fame, Camille Paglia’s “Glittering Images” reads more like a lament to the love of visual magnificence, something she believes may be fatally lost to current and future generations.
In the introduction, Paglia beautifully — and somewhat tragically — describes how the humanities have become captured by academics less interested in aesthetics but prone to exploit them for other reasons:
“The problem with Marxist approaches that now permeate academe is that Marxism sees nothing beyond society. Marxism lacks a metaphysics — that is, a investigation of man’s relationship to the universe, including nature. Marxism also lacks a psychology; it believes that human beings are motivated only by material needs and desires. Marxism cannot account for the infinite refractions of human consciousness, aspirations, and achievement. Because it does not perceive the spiritual dimension of life, Marxism reflexively reduces art to ideology, as if the art object has no other purpose or meaning beyond the economic or political. Students are now taught to look skeptically at art for its flaws, biases, omissions, and covert power plays. To admire and honor art, except when it conveys politically correct messages, is regarded as naive and reactionary.”
These sentiments are nothing new from Paglia. They lack the caustic anger that marked her arrival on the cultural scene 20 years ago but contain the wistfulness of an art devotee and academic who worries that the soul of art — the essential reason for its existence and constant creation — has been stripped away, probably forever, in the public imagination.
The images she has chosen are as varied as they are compelling. I’m not convinced that George Lucas falls on the same artistic continuum as Paglia’s fabled Queen Nefertiti and many other icons in between.
But she’s serving up — at least in my initial perusal of the book — something of a last-ditch attempt to get younger digitally savvy types to put down their devices and immerse themselves in the great artifacts of a visual world that predated pixelation.
This may be her most daunting challenge of all.
Aunt Dorothy’s fabulous gimlet eye
The Paris Review’s author interview series, The Art of Fiction, contains so many gems. But there’s none better than this, with Dorothy Parker in her later years, referencing a certain few women writers she eagerly disdained:
As artists they’re not, but as providers they’re oil wells; they gush. Norris said she never wrote a story unless it was fun to do. I understand Ferber whistles at her typewriter. And there was that poor sucker Flaubert rolling around on his floor for three days looking for the right word. I’m a feminist, and God knows I’m loyal to my sex, and you must remember that from my very early days, when this city was scarcely safe from buffaloes, I was in the struggle for equal rights for women. But when we paraded through the catcalls of men and when we chained ourselves to lampposts to try to get our equality—dear child, we didn’t foresee those female writers. Or Clare Boothe Luce, or Perle Mesta, or Oveta Culp Hobby.
Death be not to the blog
Andrew Sullivan offers a sharp comeback to a prediction that blogs are on their way out:
My own view is that one particular form of journalism is actually dying because of this technological shift – and it’s magazines, not blogs. When every page in a magazine can be detached from the others, when readers rarely absorb a coherent assemblage of writers in a bound paper publication, but pick and choose whom to read online where individual stories and posts overwhelm any single collective form of content, the magazine as we have long known it is effectively over.
Without paper and staples, it doesn’t fall apart so much as explodes into many pieces hurtling into the broader web. Where these pieces come from doesn’t matter much to the reader. So what’s taking the place of magazines are blog-hubs or group-blogs with more links, bigger and bigger ambitions and lower costs. Or aggregated bloggers/writers/galley slave curators designed by “magazines” to be sold in themed chunks. That’s why the Atlantic.com began as a collection of bloggers and swiftly turned them all into chopped up advertizing-geared “channels.” That form of online magazine has nothing to do with its writing as such or its writers; it’s a way to use writers to procure money from corporations. And those channels now include direct corporate-written ad copy, designed to look as much like the actual “magazine” as modesty allows.
Jason Collins as ‘The Good Gay’
Bret Easton Ellis is fed up with the media fawning over the first male athlete in a major professional team sport to come out while active:
The Gay Man as Magical Elf has been such a tricky part of gay self-patronization in the media that you would by now expectthe chill members of the LGBT community to respond with cool indifference. The Sweet and Sexually Unthreatening and Super-Successful Gay is supposed to be destined to transform The Hets into noble gay-loving protectors—as long as the gay in question isn’t messy or sexual or difficult. The straight and gay sanctimoniousness that says everyone gay needs to be canonized when coming out still makes some of us who are already out feel like we’re on the sidelines. I’m all for coming out on one’s own terms, but heralding it as the most important news story of the week feels to me, as a gay man, well, kind of alienating. We are apart because of what we supposedly represent because of… our… boring… sexuality—oh man, do we have to go through this again? And it’s all about the upbeat press release, the kind of smiling mask assuring us everything is awesome. God help the gay man who comes out and doesn’t want to represent, who doesn’t want to teach, who doesn’t feel like part of the homogenized gay culture and rejects it.
Quite a bit of self-indulgence follows — basically Ellis’ longtime feud with GLAAD — but he gets back on track with this flourish:
What this notion leaves out is that: We are not all well-adjusted Good Gays. We’re not all happily queer—meaning the queer part doesn’t make us happy or unhappy—just that some of us are cranky, depressed wrecks. We’re complicated. We’re angry. We can be as rude about our sexuality as our straight counterparts. Some of us feel the need to express our “gay” selves any way we want to, even if that doesn’t conform to “gay positive” stereotypes. (A lot of us think these so-called “gay positive” stereotypes are, in fact, “gay nightmares.”) Some of us reject the notion of how Gay Life is defined and don’t want to be a part of it, and so we create our own.
Are we back in the ’90s again?
More lucid brilliance from Wendy Kaminer on a subject she knows all too well: governmental attempts to crack down on sexually suggestive, and even offensive, speech, as a means of combatting assault and harassment (usually against women) on American college campuses:
Today, what was once an extreme, minority vision of equality that relies on censoring allegedly discriminatory speech has been embraced by college and university administrators and a critical mass of mainstream civil rights activists, including officials in the Obama administration.
More than 20 years ago Kaminer was among the equity feminists who took strong issue with the revanchism of The Sisterhood. But it is enjoying a renaissance with the stretching (if not abuse) of federal statutes like Title IX.
Speech codes, mandatory “education” sessions for alleged “harassers” and the hiring of “equity consultants” are becoming as entrenched at universities now as they were demanded during the “Take Back the Night” hysteria of the 1990s.
Who will benefit from this system? Not educators who hope to foster critical thinking, not students seeking intellectual instead of bureaucratic experiences, not parents whose tuition dollars support unwieldy student life bureaucracies, and not those administrators who value academic freedom and the university’s traditional educational mission. The Obama administration’s bureaucratic dream is an educational nightmare. Who will benefit from this system? Equity consultants, for sure.
More on the noxious “agreement” between the Department of Justice and the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights and the University of Montana from Greg Lukianoff ofthe Foundation for Individual Rights in Education:
“But the hidden force that pushes schools to overreact to offensive, or merely dissenting, speech is fear of liability and the federal government. A growing “risk-management” industry—complete with regular conferences, conventions and consultants—has arisen from efforts by university administrators trying to avoid being sued for discrimination or harassment, and to avoid the costly investigations in which the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights specializes.”
Another high-profile Facebook quitter
Douglas Rushkoff provides his rationale for getting off the Zuckerburg grid:
Facebook has never been merely a social platform. Rather, it exploits our social interactions the way a Tupperware party does.
Facebook does not exist to help us make friends, but to turn our network of connections, brand preferences and activities over time — our “social graphs” — into money for others.
The mystique of contemporary feminism
The 50th anniversary of the publication of Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” is being observed this year, and Rachel Shteir thinks her polemical successors leave quite a bit to be desired.
In calling for “a moratorium on works on women (WOW),” she lets Naomi Wolf, Anne-Marie Slaughter and company really have it:
A more alienating problem is that the worlds these WOW describe seem to have come straight from Target. While the political realities and social conditions differ on the surface, at bottom they appear strangely similar—even Stepford-wifelike. The settings may vary, but only in the way that shades of bottle blonde do: a little elite college, a little Washington, a little Midwestern manufacturing town, a little Wall Street.
Even more predictable is the cast of characters. Here is a Wall Street warrior in the making, or a college co-ed. But where is the writer, artist, scholar of literature, private eye, or woman who has climbed the Himalayas? No one in these books seems to be doing anything that she loves, or has taken a risk for what she believes in. In fact, what you love and what you believe in are not even remotely relevant here.
Compared with Friedan, many WOW seem shrunken or contorted in their arguments, distracted by trivia. Five years from now, will anyone take seriously The End of Men and The Richer Sex’s arguments that men are the new women, much less Vagina’s argument that men have to change the way they treat female genitalia?
As for Anne-Marie Slaughter’s argument that unless there is a radical rearranging of flextime and child care, women will be unable to have both children and high-achieving careers, I can say only that she will probably be known as the Marie Antoinette of her generation. Women who make far less money than she does and who have far fewer choices have been dealing with the difficulties of child care and inflexible work schedules for a very long time; that she is just discovering these problems speaks more of her sense of entitlement and the academic bubble in which she has lived than any plausible solutions she has managed to put forward.
None of those arguments is more convincing than Friedan’s—that women must achieve what she calls “their full human capacities” despite the many factors holding them back.
And just a bit more:
Compared with Friedan’s 1963 book, the new WOW also fall short as works of writing. They seem to either chirp or thunder rather than evoke, as Friedan does. They do not offer her sweeping take on women and society, and not only do they reject psychology, but they seem not to understand it. Slaughter is outraged when some female assistant professors asked her to stop talking about her children in public, telling her that it detracted from her “gravitas.” She reflects: “It is interesting that parenthood and gravitas don’t go together.” She goes on to insist that her colleagues add her children to her bio when they introduce her.
The junior professors are right. Having children, while surely an accomplishment, is irrelevant to Slaughter’s then-role as a dean, and she should not whirl them around at every occasion. Slaughter is just as annoying as people at the movie theater who kick your seat after you ask them to stop. She wants you to recognize her excellence in every area, at every moment, whether it is relevant or not.
Shteir says current-day feminists are even worse on the subject of sex than they are on careers, and just as oversimplified.
Read the whole thing at The Chronicle of Higher Education.
I highly recommend it.