Pop-Paganism: 11 Extraordinary Camille Paglia Excerpts

Essential Authors: Camille Paglia

Two years ago, I joined Liberty Island Media, a start-up book publishing company focusing on genre fiction, as their West Coast Editor and began acquiring and editing novels. I also started writing my own novels and helping other writers develop their stories. Now, in this ongoing series at Smash Cut Culture I’m going to start highlighting the authors who I’ve returned to most often in working with writers. As I’ve studied and met both fiction and non-fiction writers over the years these are the ones with the most depth, originality, and humanity. Reading their books and understanding the ideas that matter to them has helped change my life for the better and I hope it can do the same for you.

On Tuesday Mark Bauerlein at First Things published a thoughtful post on Camille Paglia and the key idea that he sees as distinguishing her from today’s cookie cutter Right/Left ideologues:

She announced it a few months back in an interview with the New York Observer. The very first question asked her about comparisons between President Trump and Adolf Hitler, to which she replied: “‘Presentism’ is a major affliction—an over-absorption in the present or near past, which produces a distortion of perspective and a sky-is-falling Chicken Little hysteria.”


Paglia believes there is a causal connection between young Americans’ ignorance of history and their dim view of present conditions. At a conference in Oxford, Paglia stated again, in response to a student who criticized her and others for telling youths not to be so sensitive and snowflaky, “There is much too much focus on the present.” Thanks to the (presumed) sensitivity of modern youth, Paglia says, students have not had a “realistic introduction to the barbarities of human history . . . . Ancient history must be taught . . . . I believe in introducing young people to the disasters of history.” Without that background, she implies, our only standard of appraising current circumstances is current circumstances plus a few utopian dreams. We have so much material prosperity, they think, so why don’t we have more perfect people to enjoy it?

I’ll take Bauererlein’s insight into Paglia’s value as a writer and intellectual a few steps further. Yes, that she analyzes today’s culture through the broad stroke of history, starting in the ancient world gives her arguments greater weight and originality. Where I value her even more though is in the way she connects this grand historical understanding to our everyday pop culture. And what is her key here? It can be summed up in one word: Paganism.

Paglia connects the primitive, religious earth worship of the ancient, pre-modern world, with the secular faiths of today’s postmodern ideologies and celebrity-obsessed culture. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from her book Vamps & Tramps: New Essays, about how what is natural must be overcome and transcended to achieve greatness:

Here are ten more of my favorite Paglia quotes I’ve collected over the years. I hope you’ll find them useful and inspiring.

  1. Paglia places men murdering women in the context of Paganism:

2. Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, Paglia’s Magnum Opus, examines William Blake’s poetry through the lens of ancient temple prostitution:

3. Further on into Sexual Personae, Paglia interprets Oscar Wilde in the light of the Egyptian pharaohs (an ancient culture that I’ve studied in recent years and hope to blog on more soon):

4. Paglia further explains Paganism and its “unity between sexuality and spirituality” in an interview featured in Vamps & Tramps:

5. In Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays, Paglia identifies Paganism’s manifestations in some forms of Christianity that are built more on sensory experiences rather than Bible reading:

6. Paglia explains the difference between Eastern and Western ethics further in Sex, Art, and American Culture noting that in the Judeo-Christian tradition nature is understood as an evil to be overcome:

7. Amidst all this analysis of the cruelty of nature and the barbarism of ancient history, Paglia remains an energizing, inspiring teacher, motivating other non-conformist, contrarian, individualist thinkers:

8. For decades Paglia has been pushing people to see beyond the fake “liberals vs conservatives” binary that has obsessed the baby boom generation. She regards “liberalism” as a zombie stalking the earth, killed by the radical ’60s generation:

9. Here Paglia further reveals her intellectual roots: an intertwining of “two great Western traditions of skepticism and disputation, the Hellenic and the Judaic.” This is a theme too that I’ve grown more engaged on in recent years — how to synthesize the Old Testament world with the New Testament and Postmodern worlds:

10. Finally, from the opening of Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World’s Best Poems, Paglia puts poetry in the Pagan context too, noting its power to provide transcendence:

This is just a sampling of the themes and insights from Paglia’s books. And it neglects one of her most important concepts, the subject of her most recent book, Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism, which I still need to acquire and read. So Paglia’s particular variation of freedom-centric Feminism will be the plan for the next excursion into her intellectual realms…


See the previous entry in the Essential Authors Blog Series:

  1. Andrew Klavan

Author: David Swindle

Editor, writer, activist.

2 thoughts on “Pop-Paganism: 11 Extraordinary Camille Paglia Excerpts”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s