Summary of Sexual Personae (by Camille Paglia)

Very long book. Much reading. You’re welcome. Definitions in bold.

Chapter 0: The Cancelled Preface (from Sex, Art, and American Culture)

  • Western culture has unity and continuity.
  • It is theatrical at its core, with two main principles: the Apollonian and the Dionysian.
  • Art is any and all works of imagination and quality.
  • Personae are masks, but also personalities and persons.
  • Hierarchy pervades, egalitarianism tangles. Hierarchy is beautiful and necessary.
  • Men (all men, so women too) crave hierarchy, and we naturally prefer monarchs. That powerful person is a persona too.
  • Sadean nature is Dionysian is chthonian. Rock ‘n Roll is the first to fully give voice to this. Nature is power and the pleasure pain spectrum.
  • Paglia writes contra-Rousseau. She wants to disintegrate the 19th century fake wall between aggression and culture. Rousseau was proven wrong by war, poverty, and sadism.
  • We are ANIMALS! With seasonal and lunar rhythms. Hormones. We have plenty of hormonal systems.
  • Women are chained and imprisoned by their (hormonal bodies).
  • Masculine maleness can be boiled down to this angry-attack, restlessness, with the danger being brutishness.
  • Feminine femaleness can be boiled down to this sensitive, waiting, with the danger being stasis.
  • The chthonian swamp: drowsiness that overtakes women (?)
  • Equal opportunity is something political. It is NOT sexual similarity! We don’t have female geniuses for the same reason we don’t have female criminals.
  • Men can detach logic from emotion; women are better at narrative and speaking.
  • Sexual Personae’s method is psychoanalytic! Its stile is English expository prose. She wants to analyze yet entice, elucidate yet mystify. Sexual Personae is a book grounded in the body.
  • Criticism (hers at least) revivifies the work. You should fell the same thing you felt when reading it for the first time.
  • Hers is a book of metaphors. She notes the patters, the synchronicities, in a very pre-modern way. She’s not a modernist: experience and the universe are not meaningless and discontinuous.
  • She evaluates style first when she reads a text.
  • “But what ham, what bread! The finest prosciutto in snowy rolls of crusty gold. Soda bottles swimming like fat trout in silver tubs of ice water.”
  • She claims intellectual descent from rabbis, heretics, scribes. She’s a generalist.
  • Her approach to art: 1) photograph the art, describe its emotional and sensory character. 2) genealogy: how the work relates to its artist and era. 3) x-ray: skeleton, or ritual deep structure. 4) analogy: resemblance to other things.
  • Her approach is to approach the text as an ancient ruin. As a critic, she reconstructs it, finds its original intent and possibility.
  • She’ll in turn reinvigorate our modern world. She’ll turn despair into awe, and anxiety into terror.

Feature image from the Globe and Mail:

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