I’m sure I shocked a lot of readers when I published the first profile and interview article about Camille Paglia years ago on Lone Star Times. I wasn’t looking for shock value but truth from the Left and found it in the unlikeliest of places, a scholar of indeterminate, opportunistic sexuality with rapier wit and explosive intelligence.
Which, of course, brings us, as all things do, to Camille Paglia, and this bit from her interview with Reason‘s Nick Gillespie:
Paglia: There [comes] a time when these fine gradations of gender identity—I’m a male trans doing this, etc.—this is a symbol of decadence, I’m sorry.Sexual Personae talks about this: That was in fact the inspiration for it, was that my overview of history and my noticing that in late phases, you all of a sudden get a proliferation of homosexuality, of sadomasochism, or gendered games, impersonations and masks, and so on. I think we’re in a really kind of late phase of culture.
reason: So that the proliferation of cultural identities, the proliferation of all sorts of possibilities is actually a sign that we’re…
Paglia: On the verge of collapse? Yes! Western culture is in decline. There’s absolutely no doubt about it, in my view, looking at the history of Egypt, of Babylon, of Byzantium, and so on. And so what’s happening is everyone’s so busy-busy-busy with themselves, with this narcissistic sense of who they are in terms of sexual orientation or gender, and this intense gender consciousness, woman consciousness at the same time, and meanwhile…
reason: Is that also racial or ethnic consciousness as well?
Paglia: Right now, to me, the real obsessions have to do with gender orientation. Although I think there’s been this flare-up [regarding race]. I voted for Obama, but I’ve been disappointed. I think we had hoped that he would inaugurate a period of racial harmony, and I think the situation has actually become even worse over recent years. It seems to be overt inflammatory actions by the administration to pit the races against each other, so I think there’s a lot of damage that needs to be healed.
But I think most of the problems as I perceive them in my students and so on, is that there’s this new obsession with where you are on this wide gender spectrum. That view of gender seems to me to be unrealistic because it’s so divorced from any biological referent. I do believe in biology, and I say in the first paragraph of Sexual Personae that sexuality is an intricate intersection of nature and culture. But what’s happened now is that the way the universities are teaching, it’s nothing but culture, and nothing’s from biology. It’s madness! It’s a form of madness, because women who want to marry and have children are going to have to encounter their own hormonal realities at a certain point.
reason: Do you see your personal liberation as having helped to grease the skids for decadence, for the collapse of Western civilization?
Paglia: I have, yes.
reason: Do you feel at all ambivalent about that?
Paglia: I’ve defined myself as a decadent. One of my first influences was Oscar Wilde. I stumbled on a little book called The Epigrams of Oscar Wildein a secondhand bookstore in Syracuse, New York, when I was like 14, and I was fascinated by his statements. So I am a Wildean, and he identifies himself as a kind of decadent in that period of aestheticism.
reason: And certainly he was toward the end of the great hegemony of England as a world power, at least in a cultural sense.
Paglia: Yes, that’s true too, the decline of an empire. Absolutely.