A Glass of Chianti

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Not that this subject has been on my mind at all lately...

Mr. Teachout quoted this interview of Camille Paglia earlier in the week. Because my cat's dander and my eyes were engaged in combat over the past three-ish days (where my eyes, finally, emerged victorious) it took me a while to read it. Here's the excerpt that Terry quoted (slightly extended):

CP: [...] This is why I think literature, post-Plath, has drifted into a compulsive telling of any trauma that you can find in your life. Prozac—“I’m taking Prozac” or divorce or diseases or whatever. Endless kvetching. It’s a style of telling of woes and the potential range of literature is being neglected and part of my crusade now is—

RB: Crusading?

CP: I’m on a crusade—it’s to say to the poets and the artists, “Stop talking to each other. Stop talking to coteries. I despise coteries in any form. You are speaking to a coterie, OK. Stop the snide references to the rest of the world who didn’t vote with you in the last election.” This is big. Because we have all separated again. After 9/11, everyone was united. We are separated again thanks to what has happened in politics. People in the art world are full of sanctimonious sense of superiority to most of America. But they must address America, learn to address America. Yes, have your friends, have the people who support what you are doing in the art world, but you have to recover a sense of the general audience and the same thing I am saying to the far right, get over the sneering at art, the stereotyping—

RB: They started it.

CP: Wait a minute. The far right wouldn’t have any opinions about art if it weren’t for those big incidents in the late ‘80s to the ‘90s when some stupid work was committing sacrilege

RB: You’re referring to Andres Serrano?

CP: Yeah, some 10th-rate thing. It’s always Catholic iconography, I might point out. I am atheist, by the way. It’s never Jewish. It’s never Muslim. So I am saying this is a scandal. The art world has actually prided itself on getting a rise out of the people on the far right. Thinking, “We’re avant-garde.” The avante-garde is dead. It has been dead since Andy Warhol appropriated Campbell’s Soup labels and Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe into his art. The avante-garde is dead. Thirty years later, 40 years later, people will think they are avante-garde every time some nudnik has a thing about Madonna with elephant dung, “Oh yeah, we are getting a rise out of the Catholic League.”

RB: [laughs]

CP: Now, what is the result of this? Mainstream America looks at art and the artist as a scam and they don’t want to support government funding of the arts...

I don't think Camille Paglia is as one-note as God of the Machine contends in the first few paragraphs. I think she has about three notes (G, G-flat, G-sharp) and a dozen ways she presents them. Sure, the notes are closely related, but they really aren't quite the same. Anyway, I can't tell you if her poetry readings are as bad as Aaron seems to think (haven't read the book) but I do know that she gives a fantastic interview.