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La Paglia at Madison

Ann Althouse went to Paglia's book signing last night in Madison and came away less than impressed. It seems to me that she might have been expecting more explanations than are really reasonable for a Q&A session like that, especially for someone as well-known as Paglia...on the rare occasions when I go to book signings, I'm usually pretty familiar with the author and his works, whether it's David Drake or Roger Kahn. So I'm surprised that she's not all that familiar with Paglia's criticism of post-structuralism or Paglia's career history - both of those are covered extensively in her two essay collections, Sex, Art And American Culture and the sequel Vamps And Tramps.

Paglia's objections to post-structuralism are first, due to to its origins in French language and culture, it has no real utility in English, any more than a crtiique of French politics would have viable application in America. Secondly, and far worse, post-structuralism is destructive to the disciplines of history and literature since it discourages students from studying the connections all art has with the past (depriving them of useful context) while encouraging them to play with words instead of gaining an understanding of what art, history and literature mean in their proper contexts. This is made very clear in her searing essay "Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders", which is a declaration of war against the post-structuralists, their dominance of the Modern Language Association, and the damage they are doing to today's college students, who increasingly (and correctly, in Paglia's view) shun the humanities in favor of business and professional degree programs which have little (if any) arts content. Her criticisms are also made evident in a pair of scathing reviews contained in Sex, Art And American Culture, which are worth reading even if one has no interest in art history.

Althouse also ignores the context of Paglia's championing of pop culture. Yes, Pauline Kael was making intellectuals think about movies - but Kael wasn't teaching in a university, she was writing movie reviews. Yes, many of us had English teachers who had us analyze Beatles lyrics - but they weren't trying to get their masters' degrees at the time. Even today, professors who study the relationships of anime, manga, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer to classic literature and modern culture are regarded as being somewhat "fringy" by their peers in the universities, so it's not too hard to understand how Paglia ran into difficulties thirty years ago. Not too hard for me, anyway.