'Provocations' by Camille Paglia
EDITOR’S NOTE: In this RealClearBooks series, we highlight recent nonfiction books from across the political spectrum. This week’s book is Camille Paglia's Provocations: Collected Essays on Art, Feminism, Politics, Sex, and Education, just published by Pantheon.
In a time that so consistently promotes conformity, it is refreshing that Camille Paglia begins her new essay collection, Provocations, by addressing the reader, “This book is not for everyone.” The title captures Paglia’s life-long dissidence. When she was studying under Harold Bloom at Yale, she was, so she claims, the only openly gay woman in the graduate program; she identifies as transgender but unequivocally condemns any attempt to control language; she is a pro-sex feminist who believes in the transcendental value of art against all politics and ideology. Provocations offers a newly edited collection of pieces on art, pop-culture, feminism, and politics that previously appeared in other publications.
While Provocations offers timely condemnations of left-wing excess and will therefore be classed with recent critiques of identity politics like Heather Mac Donald’s The Diversity Delusion or Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff’s The Coddling of the American Mind, for Paglia there is more at stake. Unlike other politically minded advocates of freedom, Paglia writes “for those who see life in spiritual terms as a quest for enlightenment, a dynamic process of ceaseless observation, reflection, and self-education.” Paglia has a vision far more interesting than merely condemning college students or opining about contemporary illiberalism. She is guided by a deep search for meaning and authenticity against today’s spirit of censorship and orthodoxy.
Like her previous book, Free Women Free Men, this book, excluding the introduction, does not include any new material. This is unfortunate as we do not get to see Paglia apply herself to contemporary problems. Nonetheless, her essays remain thematically relevant and provocative decades later. Her work on Warhol, Madonna, Hitchcock, and other pop-culture icons, as well as religion and Shakespeare, is of lasting interest.