Thursday, November 15, 2007

Pity and Awe

We all have to draw the line somewhere, and I draw it at Camille Paglia. I can manage Goldberg, Derbyshire and even the occasional dose of Steyn, but I avoid Paglia's thought almost as assiduously as I avoid chewing tinfoil.

Today, though, I'll make an exception. Thers advises me that La Paglia objects to Hillary Clinton's "mercurial, soulless self-positionings." Which strikes me as a bit odd, coming from someone who hails Madonna as our liberator precisely because "[she] says we are nothing but masks." Maybe I'm not Dionysian enough to appreciate the distinction.

What's more interesting, in a very mild sense of the word, is her theory on global warming (which, you may recall, was previously advanced by David Limbaugh and some quasi-Paglian chatterbox named Adri Mehra):

This facile attribution of climate change to human agency is an act of hubris. Good stewardship of the environment is an ethical imperative for every nation. But breast-beating hysteria merely betrays impious tunnel vision. Thousands of factors, minute and grand, are at work in cyclic climate change, whose long-term outcomes we cannot possibly predict. Nature should inspire us with awe, not pity.
Perhaps because I've never suckled at the milk of wisdom that seeps from Harold Bloom's breast, I'd question whether "good stewardship" is possible once you've embraced Paglia's weird notions about human agency. Perhaps she meant to say "wise use."

Note, too, that we know - somehow! - that climate change is "cyclic," but we "cannot possibly predict" any of its long-term outcomes.

More to the point, there's no reason why nature's vulnerability should make it less awe-inspiring. Rainforests are as magnificent a manifestation of "nature" as you could hope to see, but they're also pretty easy to burn or chop down. And Glen Canyon was pretty impressive before we submerged it under Lake Powell, or so I hear.

We have it within our power to destroy virtually everything on earth, gradually or in a matter of hours. The assumption that the climate somehow remains beyond our reach makes no sense at all. And the argument that recognizing it as vulnerable amounts to "pitying nature," and that pitying nature is "impious" by definition, is as spiritually bankrupt as it is logically incoherent.

Then again, Althouse calls Paglia's argument "a nice twist," so I may have to rethink my position before I'm much older.

(Photo at top: The Babbling Head.)


olvlzl said...

"tinfoil". Ah! speak it not.

I have to confess that just the citation of Paglia marks someone as intellectually suspect for me. A well known public radio personality who should know better ruined his show for me by having her on to spout her stream of subconsciousness. The attempt of someone who is rapidly approaching the twilight of a career as the foremost academic BS artist attempting to remain cutting edge and trendy, often by citing pop-stars who are already in eclipse would be sad. That is if there was anything to their thought but hype. With Paglia, behind the pose is just more pose. Citing her is a betrayal of a flaccid mind.

robin andrea said...

I've often thought that everything Camille Paglia writes should be viewed as an ongoing love letter to Madonna. If she could just get it right about nature, power, sex -- all of it, Madonna would be utterly seduced by the strength of Camille's obsessions. I refuse to read anything Paglia writes. The way her brain rapidly misfires irritates me to no end.

Anonymous said...

God, she's still out there. Even with the internet as force multiplier, her outpourings now register over here in the UK not at all.

And her understanding of nature sounds as Romantic as that of any other clapped-out imaginer of nature as virgin Other you care to mention.

Phila said...

All good points, and I really have to apologize for bringing the old fraud up at all.

Even with the internet as force multiplier, her outpourings now register over here in the UK not at all.

Did she ever make any kind of splash over there? I can't imagine her brand of motormouthed faux-radical conservatism getting much mileage in any other country than this one....

Anonymous said...

I remember back in the dim depths of the early 90s, when I was an undergrad sociologist, when Sexual Personae would make regular appearances on reading lists. But her biggest 'success' to date was probably her brief feud with Julie Burchill (a kindred spirit in many ways). This feud (by fax) is reproduced here.

Phila said...


That was horrific...and yet, I couldn't turn away! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Just spreadin' a little sunshine.

Anonymous said...


There is a false prolixity
Imagines that the errors
Borne of this war--that for those we
Shall find ready repairers,

Merely come peace: but no release
From consequence of action
May find us, doing as we please
In choosing an infraction.

Even should we elect instead
Of anyone divider
To President, but some great head
As born to be the rider

Like some beloved buckaroo,
Events have turned the tiger,
As radiation heats up too
So I have heard from Geiger.

They thought it was a pussycat
Unleashing of its cage, O,
A rabbit pulling from the hat,
But now is turned that page, O,
And we have seen ferocious is
The challenge now confronting,
We who could hardly stand a quiz
Now having lost our bunting.