Well, descending from a cloud, not unlike a certain dark Mary Poppins figure, Camille Paglia is back:
In most of these cases, like the Bill Clinton and Bill Cosby stories, there’s been a complete neglect of psychology. We’re in a period right now where nobody asks any questions about psychology. No one has any feeling for human motivation. No one talks about sexuality in terms of emotional needs and symbolism and the legacy of childhood. Sexuality has been politicized–“Don’t ask any questions!” “No discussion!” “Gay is exactly equivalent to straight!” And thus in this period of psychological blindness or inertness, our art has become dull. There’s nothing interesting being written–in fiction or plays or movies. Everything is boring because of our failure to ask psychological questions.Oh, as usual, dear. This is the sort of stuff that has deflated Paglia's once-high standing, and, quite frankly, that's a shame.
So I say there is a big parallel between Bill Cosby and Bill Clinton–aside from their initials! Young feminists need to understand that this abusive behavior by powerful men signifies their sense that female power is much bigger than they are! These two people, Clinton and Cosby, are emotionally infantile–they’re engaged in a war with female power. It has something to do with their early sense of being smothered by female power–and this pathetic, abusive and criminal behavior is the result of their sense of inadequacy.
Now, in order to understand that, people would have to read my first book, “Sexual Personae”–which of course is far too complex for the ordinary feminist or academic mind! It’s too complex because it requires a sense of the ambivalence of human life. Everything is not black and white, for heaven’s sake! We are formed by all kinds of strange or vague memories from childhood. That kind of understanding is needed to see that Cosby was involved in a symbiotic, push-pull thing with his wife, where he went out and did these awful things to assert his own independence. But for that, he required the women to be inert. He needed them to be dead! Cosby is actually a necrophiliac–a style that was popular in the late Victorian period in the nineteenth-century.
It’s hard to believe now, but you had men digging up corpses from graveyards, stealing the bodies, hiding them under their beds, and then having sex with them. So that’s exactly what’s happening here: to give a woman a drug, to make her inert, to make her dead is the man saying that I need her to be dead for me to function. She’s too powerful for me as a living woman. And this is what is also going on in those barbaric fraternity orgies, where women are sexually assaulted while lying unconscious. And women don’t understand this! They have no idea why any men would find it arousing to have sex with a young woman who’s passed out at a fraternity house. But it’s necrophilia–this fear and envy of a woman’s power.
Paglia's Sexual Personae is an interesting melange, a series of genuinely provocative close readings of classic literary texts to bring out transgressive and sexually laden content that all too often was lost under a heavy coat of academic varnish, but tied to an overarching thesis that welded genuine insights into a proposed Unified Field Theory of Culture. The book's macro theory doesn't hold, to put it kindly, but along the way Paglia shines a spotlight onto the underside of cultural icons (her chapter on Emily Dickinson alone is worth the price of the book).
But, re above: Oy.
Paglia excels at the long-form, deeply steeped, literary analysis that uncovers lost darkness, and its value, in literary eras and genres that are too often sanitized, and taken at the surface of their starchy self-images. I once asked her to be an expert witness in a case, and she turned me down, with some kind words for the quality of my analysis. (Pity, she would have been superb in the role. Still, we landed the late, great, Arthur Danto, who in fact was superb, so I can't complain). Her punditry is the worst of her--quickly sketched off the cuff reactions of the political-social world as observed by a cranky contrarian. Her literary analysis is sometimes like that in some ways, but is far better thought out, and the work of a scholar who is, for all of her quick-draw superficial takes on Salon, capable of so much more.
What really made me think of Missy and her Poppins moment? Because, unlike her rather statements about politics, I think Paglia could have a field day doing an exegesis of Moffat's use of victorian iconography, especially that surrounding death and sexuality, in Season 8 of Doctor Who. Someone's got to give Philip Sandifer a run for his money, after all.