By Kevin Cassell
Camille Paglia's impressive study of the development of Western Culture manages to piss off a lot of intellectuals. Feminist scholars detest Paglia's essentialist argument that women are biologically bound to "nature" by their reproductive powers. Leftists detest her support of capitalism (a la Ayn Rand), which she sees as having freed women from bondage to men. Queer theorists disdain her aligning homosexual aestheticism with some of the most tyrannical eras and arguing that gay men's idolatry of things masculine goes "against nature." Traditional conservatives hrrmmph at her trashing of the most sacred Western institutions--including Church and State--as male attempts to repress and extinguish powerful female forces.
In Paglia's view, the great civilization we call "Western Culture" is nothing more than social manifestations--in literature, in art, in political and religious institutions--of men's fear of mysterious forces that lurk within the vaginas of women and, consequently, their obsessive-compulsive attempts to valorize their penises. In their minds, which are forever seeking "truth" and "the light," these dark forces are inextricably linked with the fluidity of nature. By trying to conquer nature, men try to conquer the power women--and sex, and everything that resists being bottled up by logic and reason--has over them.
They don't do this consciously, of course. It's just part of being male. Paglia points out that the penis, unlike the vagina, is external, hence visual; it has linearity, "a syntax," and can be measured, compared, assessed. The vagina, on the other hand, is amorphous, lurid in color, shapeless, impossible to quantify or architecturally simulate. The Greek male sky god Apollo serves to represent the "Western Eye," the way of seeing things "in the light"--how things fit together logically, how things are measured, diagrammed, "make sense" rationally. Dionysus--an androgynous earth god--represents all that is mysterious, occult, irrational, impulsive. Apollo is fundamentally male and Dionysus female. Apollo is the god of the sun, of light, like Lucifer before the fall. Dionysus, on the other hand, is the god of night, of orgies, of earthly impulses and "paganism"--like Lucifer after the fall.
Nature does not conform to the laws of Man, of Culture; it cannot be contained. Man sees uncontainable nature in Woman--in the liquids that flow from her genitalia during sex and menstruation, from her breasts after childbirth--and is threatened, even as he is deeply drawn to what he lacks and finds fascinating. Man turns toward the sky, toward Apollo, and and invests his energy in transcendental logic. But it is all in vain. Western culture is not what Man think it is. Judeo-Christianity never conquered paganism but instead appropriated then tried to sublimate it. Paganism manages to manifest itself in the popular iconologies of the culture and continues to suck the life out of what remains of the West's patriarchal ideology.
The male ego is a sexual persona (the Latin word for mask)--one of many personae adopted at different times and for different reasons by different people--that reduplicates itself in phallic monuments and skyscrapers (stairways to the sky, the sun, to Heaven), in religious doctrines that designate women as the servants of men, in plays were "shrews" are to be tamed. By controlling "their women," men are attempting to control "nature," the ultimate representation of POWER. But deep down they know that, like their own penises that shrivel into a flaccid strands of flesh once orgasm has been achieved, their own power is fleeting. So they fight and fight the unwinnable war--and Western Culture is the dazzling carnage their havoc has wreaked.