Camille Jekyll and Camille Hyde

Unsuspectingly, I opened up this morning, completely forgetting that it’s CAMILLE PAGLIA DAY. In the words of Princess Leia, the foul stench should have clued me in, but I was still on my first cup of coffee, so I can therefore be forgiven (maybe).

I suppose the reason why I devote so much of my time to Paglia has something to do with the fact that I’ve always wanted to like her. She’s fearless and energetic, she uses big words and concepts without putting her readers into boredom-induced comas, she has a sense of humour, and she is as interested in Britney Spears as she is in Derrida – which is something that a lot of people in her position simply would not admit (because they’re giant, insufferable snobs, that is). Camille is someone whom I should like, which is why I feel all the more bitter when reading her Salon columns these days. There is so much in there that I would like to hitch my wagon to, but alas.

I’m not going to link to the piece itself, but here is the best and worst of that column:

To this day, I have more rapport with campus infrastructure staffers (maintenance, security) than I do with other professors or, for that matter, writers.

AHAHAHAHAHAHA! OK, I never worked campus security or maintenance, but I was a barista while an undergrad, and did work for the English Department after graduation – making photocopies and posters and such – and so I just have to ask, what does she talk about with us peons? Does she praise the Herculean masculine virility of campus security? Does she generously point maintenance staff to that one paragraph in Sexual Personae that deals with the most efficient way of unclogging drainage pipes?… Don’t get me wrong, the idea that a plumber can’t have a meaningful conversation with a professor is pretty stupid, but what the hell is up with the faux street-cred? Beat your chest much?

“Oh, I totally know some ordinary people! We even hang out! Iz awsum!”

On the other hand, she writes something like this:

My point is simply that the love life of everyone I’ve known from my baby-boom generation and afterward is a chess board ruled by shadowy forces that long predate puberty. Erotic choices yearningly follow or rebelliously diverge from a cast list imprinted on us in childhood. Changing the template may be virtually impossible. Self-knowledge is the most that we can hope for. But for that we need poetry and art — not the rigid, sterile political ideology that still paralyzes gender studies.

… And I couldn’t agree more. Politics are crucial, but they do not contain the answer to everything. For example, working for the Duke English Environment, I felt like I was in a genuinely supportive environment, but I also quickly realized that an English PhD was not what I wanted from life. There were many reasons for this decision, but one of those reasons had to do with how much of the work always seemed to tie in with politics – from conferences to papers to publications. I don’t think I could handle it. I’d probably wind up at a conference, twenty years down the road, ripping the pearls from my neck and screaming “I DON’T CARE ABOUT THE BLOODY PROTO-FEMINISM EXHIBITED IN CHAPTER SIXTEEN! DEAR GOD, WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE ART?” And it would not be pretty.

And the line about “shadowy forces” is simply beautiful.

Dammit, Camille, you’re just doing this to confuse me, aren’t you?

5 thoughts on “Camille Jekyll and Camille Hyde

  1. Ah, but awarding proto-feminist points can be fun! As can stubbornly defending the value of something with no proto-feminist points.

    I answered phones in the Campus Security office for a summer and a semester. It never failed to both amuse and terrify me, when a professor who knew me reasonably to very well as a student didn’t recognize my voice (not surprising or bothersome) and proceeded to act like an entitled ass (bothersome).

  2. o god o god o god

    and yeah, no, the general point about politics v. art is something i’d agree with, but she’s just such a pretentious gobshite even there. if you note she’s still pulling the crap about “my baby-boom generation” on account of it was Seminal and Everything That Mattered Started When She Was Born or rather Created.

    also, she totally probably cribbed it off someone who wanted to sleep with her and then bored them to death instead of giving them a reach-around. /unfair but I don’t care cuz I hates her

  3. “I’d probably wind up at a conference, twenty years down the road, ripping the pearls from my neck and screaming…”

    Honey, I’m only 27 and I’m already there. I fully anticipate a pearl-massacre next month in Krakow…

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