I have always enjoyed Camille Paglia’s writings. An independent thinking woman, as well as an open lesbian and atheist, she has journeyed fearlessly into some of the more difficult areas of modern intellectual thought, especially in the realm of sex and art. In many ways my own ideas owe a great debt to her. Recently I started a reading one of her best works: Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Neferiti to Emily Dickinson. It is a book about art, culture, sex, eroticism from ancient Egypt to the late Nineteenth Century. Although now a bit dated (published in 1990 and any book about modern culture published before the rise of the internet is now dated), from what I glean so far it is a well written and deeply informed work. This is perhaps her most important work. Over the years I have also read different articles and essays of hers. She is always intriguing.
In the preface Paglia introduces the main themes of the book. I will reprint a few here, because they are similar to what I am doing with this blog.
“I argue that Judeo-Christianity never did defeat paganism, which still flourishes in art, eroticism, astrology, and pop culture”.
I agree completely. At times there has been an open hostility, even violence, between paganism and Christianity; at other times and places there has been a more harmonious coexistence. I would say today we are living in an age of open hostility. The rise of religious fundamentalism is a reflection of that. A time of more harmonious balance would have been the Italian Renaissance, which was in essence a rediscovery and incorporation of the ancient pagan cultural and intellectual past of Greece and Rome. The word Renaissance means literally, “rebirth”. But even there, the reactionary forces of religious purity eventually ended that brief endeavor. Since its beginnings in the ancient Roman world, there has always been a deep tension between the pagan past, especially in cultural and intellectual matters, and Christian thought and practice. The destruction of the great statues of Buddha in Afghanistan last decade by the Taliban is another example of the religious intolerance of anything that came before and competes with that religion. Yet despite their best efforts, both Christians and Muslims have failed in eliminating our pagan past.
“What is art? How and why does an artist create? The amorality, aggression, sadism, voyeurism, and pornography in great art have been ignored or glossed over by most academic critics.”
Again, this is an interesting question, and one I deal with in this blog. I ask over and over again, “What is art”? In my response to religious fanatics, or just uptight prudes in general, I enjoy posting nudes, artistically done in my opinion, in order to demonstrate what I consider to be quality erotic art. In the ancient Classical world a nude statue or painting was nothing controversial. And yet here we are, two thousand years later, and we are more uptight over sexual expression than our distant ancestors. How did this happen? For the most part, as I can tell, it was the rise and power of Christianity. Not only in the past, with men like St. Augustine, but even today with such men as Tony Perkins, we see the impetus against sex and eroticism, especially their artistic expressions, driven most fiercely by conservative, evangelical Christians and orthodox Catholics. I feel such a thing has been harmful and detrimental to full human development, and has lead to endless scandals and hypocrisies that have in the end done more to damage the message of Christ than anything else save religious warfare. And yet, despite their best efforts for two millennia, the religious puritans have failed to eliminate the desire of humans to enjoy and express themselves sexually.
“What is sex? What is nature? I see sex and nature as brutal pagan forces. My stress on the truth in sexual stereotypes and on the biologic basis of sex differences is sure to cause controversy. I reaffirm and celebrate woman’s ancient mystery and glamour. I see the mother as an overwhelming force who condemns men to a lifelong sexual anxiety, from which they escape through rationalization and physical achievement.”
More interesting thoughts from Paglia. I also see sex and nature as brutal pagan forces. These forces are still with us. I once heard Paglia talk about how the modern strip club is just really a modern manifestation of the ancient temple prostitution and worship of Aphrodite. Despite its best efforts, and despite the plethora of angst ridden fundamentalists today, traditional religions like Christianity or Islam have not been able to suppress the male desire for sexual exploration. And now, as we learn more and more about the human mind, and as society in the West evolves, and especially with the rise of the internet, we see that woman’s sexual desires are also not as easily controlled and classified as once thought.
Of course many people always knew this; but female sexual passion and behavior has remained one of the taboo topics of discourse throughout history. Usually, it has only been those of us lucky enough to enjoy sex with many different women who have learned through first hand experiences just how sexual woman actually are, and how many of them do not conform to societal approved notions of their own sexuality. And yet so many highly sexual women willingly, or unwillingly, conform themselves to these very notions and structures which are in opposition to their own deepest desires. I cannot even begin to relate how many women like this I have known in my lifetime. I have found so many women who live in a sexual prison of their own, or society’s making. Helping them break out of such a prison has always been one of my great delights. Nor is there anything altruistic about this on my part; it simply stems from my unbridled enjoyment of sexual variety with various women, and my love giving sexual pleasure to a girl. But there can be spiritual component to all this too. Like Paglia, I also strive to “reaffirm and celebrate woman’s ancient mystery and glamour”. My delight in artistic nudes, and eroticism in general, is part of that.
I don’t quite agree with the mother statement from Paglia. What I do agree with is her assertion, and one that is quite common in the manosphere, that men are for the most part the drivers of civilization. Men create and build. Most of the great artists and scientists are men. This is not to say there have not been important or great woman who have contributed to these fields as well, there has, and with increased opportunities there will certainly be many more in the future, but men desire, strive for and glory in physical and intellectual achievements in a way most women do not. But what drives men to do this is not fear of their mothers, or sexual anxiety about such fears, but rather, the simple abundance of testosterone they possess, in massive amounts compared to a female. And despite Paglia’s usually keen insights to human behavior, this is something she, like all woman, cannot really understand, just as no man can fully understand what drives a woman to want to children, and how that informs her selection of sexual partners, even if she is choosing not to have children. But as Paglia would argue, we are in the end dependent upon nature in these matters. The almost total lack of understanding that men and women have about each other in these fundamental areas is a reflection of the truth of her statement that indeed “sex and nature are brutal pagan forces” and her “stress on the truth in sexual stereotypes and on the biologic basis of sex differences”. I would argue for a spiritual element too, without denying the basic biology of sexuality and eroticism and how they affect our choices and behaviors.
Finally, she says, “My method is form of sensationalism. I try to flesh out intellect with emotion and induce a wide range of emotion from the reader”.
When I read that, I said to myself, yeah, that is what I also try to do. I try to be deliberately sensational, especially in my photos, because I want to hammer home the point I am trying to make about the goodness of eroticism and erotic art, and the best way to do that is by visual display. When it comes to other things, such as sexual scandals in the Catholic Church, and how they are a reflection of terribly flawed doctrines on human sexuality, I also try the sensationalist approach through erotic photos or art in order to try to elicit an emotional response from the reader while at the same time making an intellectual point. From the responses of the some of my more outrages pieces, especially on that subject, this seems to be have worked. Seeing holy housewives go berserk because I point out, for instance, the massive homosexual subculture in the Catholic Church, and then post a photo of two hot lesbians getting it on, is always amusing (even though most of the clergy scandal deal with male homosexuality, I have no interest in male gay porn…hence the hot lesbos, haha). I do this to show them exactly what human sexuality is, the reality of two people having sex. The neurotic reactions people have to displays of sexuality in art, photography or literature is always an endlessly fascinating thing for me. But then I ask myself, well, why are such pure people reading my blog, this den of iniquity, anyways?
Plus I just enjoy sarcasm and I like nude photos of women. Like all good pieces of art, they give me pleasure.
Paglia is an interesting, if not brilliant critic of modern culture and I always look forward to what she has to say.
This is the second time I’ve heard of this book this week, I’ll have to add it to my list.
Racer X said:
It is definitely worth reading!