A S K C A M I L L E
|   Camille Paglia's online advice for the culturally disgruntled   |
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| Of Versace and killer prom queens, page 2 |


Dear Professor Paglia:

This summer marks the 10th anniversary of the publication of Allan Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind," then easily one of the most contentious books to come out of an American intellectual since "Eichmann in Jerusalem." When I reviewed Bloom's book for the student press at McGill in 1988, I praised "The Closing" as "one of the seminal books of and for our time." Was I right? Or did the sound and the fury over the book in the end signify nothing?

Still a Bloomian After All These Years

Dear Bloomian:

I would like to thank you and all the other, superbly well-informed Salon readers for your very interesting questions, most of which I have not had time or space to answer. An ad hoc policy of quick replies may be in order.

Future historians will certainly consider Allan Bloom's surprise mega-bestseller as the first shot in the culture wars that still rage, with oscillating intensity and visibility. Thanks partly to President Clinton's initiatives, educational reform has moved to center stage in the United States. After the long, slow decline of public schools, there are new calls for "standards" and an impatience with the touchy-feely liberal formulas that have left so many underprivileged students behind. On university campuses, the arrogant, mundane, anti-art, PC forces of French theorists and hard-line feminists have finally lost their prestige, even if they still hold lavishly compensated, tenured positions. (For more on this, see my article on gender studies in the July 25 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education.)

When my first book, "Sexual Personae," was released and reviewed in Europe and Britain, my dissertation advisor and mentor, Harold Bloom, was frequently confused with Allan Bloom, and I must admit I was aggravated to be falsely called a disciple of the latter. Nevertheless, I respect Allan Bloom for taking a courageous stand against the entrenched forces of his day, and I am confident that in the long run he will be vindicated and his critics swallowed in obscurity. I agree with both Blooms about the need to defend the canon of great artists and writers, but I differ with them most profoundly on the issue of popular culture, which as a child of television and rock music, I immediately embraced and continue to glorify. Pop is my pagan religion, and I do not agree that it destroys cultivated response to high art.

Dear Camille:

I recently read Georges Bataille's "Literature and Evil," and although I tend to agree with his basic premise that "true" literature, or art, for that matter, is a denial of morality and embraces the experience of living on the social and erotic extremes, I found his writing style about as inviting as a Chinese puzzle box. I am well aware of your thoughts on other French theorists, but to my knowledge you have not spoken about Bataille. Frankly the only two French thinkers I can stomach are Sade and M. Duras. What are your thoughts on Bataille?

French Fly

Dear French Fly:

The French influences on my thinking about sex and art are Sade, Gautier, Balzac, Baudelaire, Huysmans, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Genet and Bachelard -- as well as French painters from David and Delacroix to Toulouse-Lautrec, and French directors and stars whose films I reverently absorbed as a student and novice teacher.

I was deeply disappointed in Bataille from the moment I picked up his books. His themes are my themes, his influences (in many cases) my influences. But he writes in the foggy, boring style that we now know all too well from poststructuralism and its mewling babe, postmodernism (flush it!). Another big enchilada whom I regard as pure gas is Herbert Marcuse -- prophet of Dionysus, my ass! Compared to the Rolling Stones, the Doors and the Velvet Underground, whom I was avidly listening to at the time, Bataille and Marcuse seemed about as evil and sexy as June Allyson and Jane Wyman.

Dear Camille:

As a proud Italian-American, what do you think of your paisano John Travolta and his stunning comeback as a movie star? Why has the former dim-but-pretty actor been embraced by movie fans now that his body has softened into middle age? Do you see the edge in him that apparently Quentin Tarantino and John Woo saw?

Star-struck

Dear Star-struck:

My understanding is that John Travolta is not full-blooded Italian but 50 percent Irish. (Please correct me if this is wrong.) I inhabit a fanatically pro-Travolta household: My significant other and I watch every Travolta TV rerun with glad cries and sighs, no matter how many times we've seen it. "Grease" is Alison's all-time favorite; we both adore "Saturday Night Fever"; and I'm very partial to "Urban Cowboy." We were floored by the mature Travolta's heavier, meltingly sensual look in "Pulp Fiction." That man can give lessons to Hollywood women on how to age gracefully!

It's hard to explain why a star is a star. True charisma is probably innate. All I know is that Travolta fascinates and charms me even when he's telling Oprah about his favorite foods (a turkey dinner with all the trimmings). He has a slightly androgynous quality, an openness to women coming from the way he was petted by his mother and sisters, but what I esteem most is his fiery, masculine physicality, his fluid dancer's moves, which he suggests even in repose.
July 22, 1997

Stumbling toward the millennium? Ask Camille.








A R C H I V E S

Who is really to blame for the historical scar of black slavery? (07/08/97)
The Phallic Guns of July (06/24/97)
Hanging is too good for Timothy McVeigh (06/10/97)
Fly girl as cry girl (05/27/97)
Is Anne Heche another vampirish Yoko Ono? (05/13/97)

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