|Oh, mmm, Camille Paglia.|
I don't think I'll surprise anyone here if I say that Paglia has been one of the "top ten" influences on my life. Not "top five"- I simply ran into her at the wrong time in my own path, But she has definitely had an influence upon my style and my choice of profession.
Having said that, I'm curiously very much of two minds about Paglia's theories and worldview. On the one hand, her alternative history of art is simply fantastic. Although I didn't recognize it at the time, she speaks very much in the erotic tradition of philosophy I now myself am a part of, even if her tone is a very ah... uniquely democratic adaption of that tradition, to say the least. But anyway, Paglia's unveiling of the essentially sensuous nature of art, and her abstraction what Susan Sontag called the 'pornographic imagination' of Western intentionality is simply brilliant. As is her intelligent and authentic exhilaration for Western art, certainly a vast improvement over conservative falsifying hagiography and mindless multicultist Euro-bashing.
Turning around again, however- as a philosopher and a feminist, I just can't swallow her gender essentialism. Paglia isn't a patriarch- quite the contrary, and those who think she is are either more angry than careful (most feminists) or useful idiots who overestimate their power and cleverness (most conservative patriarchs). Indeed, Paglia's stand on gender is essentially 'polarist'- she view the sexes as incarnating essential types (allowing for exceptions), but her conclusions of the implications do not fall within our heirarchical and moralized sexual categories, nor do her premises. Actually, Paglia's premises are essentially in concurrence with Paganism's, and her specific conclusions on gender and social practice are in all primary respects identical with my own specialized tradition. This makes me a bit uneasy, I confess- as a principled, Enlightenment feminist I simply cannot accept the stories of feminine and masculine essences. Nevertheless, I speak with some fear and trembling that my own emotional experiences as a transgender woman (and one who will spend her life flooded with sex hormones), my theoretical speculations about the importance of philosophically inessential sex differences, and my own pracktical experience as a sexual professional, all too much conform to Paglia's theories and the wisdom of my own vocational spirituality.
Yet this mention of Paganism brings up something interesting I've noticed about Paglia, specifically, regarding feminism. Camille Paglia's hostility towards feminism is well known, but I find it very interesting that while she sites in her scopes the concepts of gender equality or universalism, she directs most of her ridicule towards the characteristics of the opposite kind of feminists- what feminists call 'essentialist' feminism and libertarians call 'gender' feminism; I prefer the modifier 'cultural' (following Ellen Willis).
What I mean here is the "women's ways of knowing" variety of feminism, the eco-friendly, Earth-loving, pacifistic, communal, Goddess-worshipping feminism. Now, Paglia puts out a great deal of smoke, heat, and noise despising this group, but if one can get through all the Pandemonium, the truth is there is very little to philosophically distinguish the two. Both agree that there are masculine and feminine essences. Both posit a liquid and earthen nurturing feminity in stasis, eternal, circular, and complete. Both posit a fiery and spatial masculinity, hard and directional. Both posit the essential difference between women and men and self-contained internal creativity vs. a metaphysically incomplete drive painfully demanding external creativity. Both agree that civilization, specifically a rational, triumphant, imperial, cruel picture of Western civilization, is inescapably a male product. All that they really differ on is which side they take. For all of their protests, Mary Daly, Adrienne Rich, Margaret Atwood, "eco-feminism", "feminist standpoint theory", Lilith Fair, Indigo Girls, and the entire alternative woman-centered subculture really would agree with the line "If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts." They just choose the side of the grass huts.
A great number of libertarians and their allies (i.e., Christina Hoff Sommers, Heterodoxy) have had a lot of fun laughing at Goddess-worshipping feminists. But speaking seriously for a moment (as a Pagan with some very personal bitter cold ice towards actually existing cultural feminism), I don't think a lot of libertarians- who are used to looking exclusively at the abstract written history of philosophy books, realise the degree to which deep 'gender' feminism really is essentially a Pagan phenomena. There was always a strong Pagan strain in the counterculture from which second-wave feminism emerged; one has only to read Tolkien or Huxley, but the original feminist movement was in many ways a rationalistic counterreaction against the counterculture's absorbtion of sexual essentialism into sexual liberation. Simone de Beavoiur, Shulamith Firestone, even Ti-Grace Atkinson, were all chill rationalists and cultural modernists, much like libertarians in this respect. This strain of feminism is not libertarian, but it is pro-Enlightenment. Indeed, its primary accusation against the contemporary world has been that modernity is, to use Jurgen Habermas' phrase, an "incomplete project".
The cultural feminists are a very different variety, and libertarians usually do not understand them very well. They are viewed as a consequence of postmodernism- and this has some truth in it, but it is more the case that cultural feminism and indeed a bit of multiculturalism itself is primarily a Pagan cultural movement- not antirealist so much as organicist and immanentist. A few years back I spent a great deal of time reading cultural feminist writings, and it slowly dawned on me that what the grassroots writers- not the postmodern theorists, who are actually held in some disdain by most cultural feminists- mean by phrases such as 'women's ways of knowing' is not postmodern perspectivalism so much as a naturalization of the particulars of female experiences in sensation, perception, and socially situated conceptualization. This is a very different affair, actually quite akin to premodern philosophy as described by Strauss and MacIntyre- which is not so surprising given the high degree to which (semi-, quasi-)secularized Pagan concepts persisted in mainstream philosophy until roughly Descartes. The reason is simply that a crucial influence of the Womens' Movement has been the Pagan strand of the counterculture, in which reaction against male chauvanism, essentially strategic separatist tendencies and a philosophical climate of post-modernism combined to contribute to the formation of cultural feminism. The psuedo-philosophical, well-published feminist postmodernists on the faculty lecture circuit are by contrasts either distrusted outgrowths of or cynical parasites on the more organic cultural base which the academics are not driving. Even the (justly) infamous Mackinnon-Dworkin duet isn't very representative of feminist "women's culture"- Dworkin was really grassroots, albeit a strange despairing atheist by her later writings, but Mackinnon is a Procrustean modernist whose gender theory is simply a rigid and legalistic analogue to Marxism ("socialist-feminism").
I am not- yet- prepared to defend much in cultural feminism. But I think it is crucial for libertarians and especially Objectivist to understand the roots of complex movements like feminism- which are often vastly misascribed, wholesale, to plausible philosophers because of a lack of appreciation for the influence of oral tradition on social-political movements.
Now, this may seemed for removed from Paglia. But I strongly suspect that Paglia- whose roots lie in the counterculture at the same moment when feminism broke off from it, is far closer to the premises and mentality of her cultural feminist archenemies than she's like to admit. Paglia is officially an atheist- and more important for my concerns, she claims first loyalty to philosophy and scholarship. Yet not only has she at one point begged to be attacked in print as an 'astrologer', (her term) and claims to take seriously tarot and the I Ching, but more importantly, the substance and even style of her thinking- shorn of her wonderful bombast- don;t really disagree in any serious way with, say, Margaret Atwood's Surfacing. Paglia simply sides with men- or "Americans", "Westerners". "capitalists", or any of the groups that both Paglia and the cultural feminists analogue to male intentionality (and most libertarians agree- I witness the celebrations of American virility in contrast to a feminized Europe in this forum). Or, to be more precise, Paglia says that is preferable if civilization is made by men, which it not precisely the same thing. Cultural feminism, by contrast, often says fairly explicitly that society would be a better place if it were made by women, using precisely the same characterizations of women as Paglia.
To be quite honest, if Paglia is right about innate male and female types, which differ in inescapable and significant ways, I can't help wondering what the consequences are. For myself personally, I am very troubled that despite my 'inheritance' of a former life's education and habit in philosophy, I feel- I feel ashamed to confess, but it is the truth, that I honestly can get so much more out of life simply existing that I just don't feel such a need to fight it out and create and distinguish myself as I once did, beyond the necessity and prudence to get a voice in. And what I do create has shifted focus; even the memories of what I once felt are increasingly elusive and spectral... I don't want to make conclusions, especially as just a lifetime of denied feelings could account for so much.
But I do wonder, what if Paglia and/or the cultural feminists are right? For if so, I can see no argument whatsoever against taking the cultural feminist position- for women, except possibly Paglia's, which merely argues that a formally male-run civilization (with technical legal equality) is better for women's way of experiencing (definitely not her words). If someone like Paglia is right about female essences, then a philosophy like Objectivism- a perfected instrumental rationalism in its culture, pace Sciabarra- it an idealized philosophy for a masculine pursuit of external self-interest; it is less well suited for a feminine personal of internal realization that is organic, expressive, social. I stress here that I don;t like this outcome, and tentatively state it is false. But those Objectivist attracted to Paglia- or even stronger sexual dualisms such as those promoted by sociobiology- should take care; it is simply impossible to uphold innate gender difference while upholding masculine virtues for both males and females.
Thankfully, given Rand's axiomatic defense of free will and theory of emotions as consequent to value- both of which are also part of erotic philosophy- I simply can't accept the notion men and women essentially value differently. But if the corporeal 'houses' of freely willing men and women (on average) are so different as to create, in the majority of cases, divergent in kind ideal investments of emotional energy- even if no technical determinism? Then I don't know. But if this is the case, a great part of Western modernity truly is a very unbalanced structure which some form of cultural feminism may topple to the ground.
Jeanine Ring )O(