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August 19, 2005

Paglia Friday

This is a long interview with Paglia about what's wrong with the arts today, but read it. It's well worth your time. Here are a couple of excerpts to whet your appetite:

CP: ...I felt this was a cultural necessity to do something. I have done all those attacks on post-structuralism in Arion and junk-bond corporations and corporate raiders in the early ‘90s, now I want to go directly to the general readers and also to young people and also, as I say in the introduction, I am going to adjuncts and the people who are out there teaching and being condescended to by the theorists, who think they are doing important work. I’m still fighting [deconstructionalist philosopher Jacques] Derrida at this point. And also the embattled teachers who are always writing to me saying how they are silenced in their departments when they just want to do literature and art. There has been a tremendous flight from the grad schools of people who wanted to devote their lives to teaching literature and were driven out when they were forced to read post-structuralism. I got letters over the years. But, oh my God, I have been on the road only two weeks but people are coming to the signings and the Q&A, how many people multiplied by hundreds and thousands have left the grad schools, our future teachers. Our future generations, people who are teaching our young people—all these drones that are teaching post-modernism—

RB: Match that up with the boom in writing programs.

CP: Creative writing programs?

RB: Yeah, who taught these people literature?

CP: The thing is there is an up- and downside to those things. On the one hand it’s producing a kind of antiseptic writing, a certain kind of polished professional writing, and on the other hand people who are interested in writing in this period of media and the web and so on, they find it very sustaining to go to a place to meet other people who are similarly interested in it. That’s the upside but the downside is that to be a good writer you can’t just study writing. You have to live, OK? That’s the problem. The best writers have drawn from actual experience, have had some experience. What experiences do people have any more?


CP: I’m on a crusade—it’s to say to the poets and the artists, “Stop talking to each other. Stop talking to coteries. I despise coteries in any form. You are speaking to a coterie, OK. Stop the snide references to the rest of the world who didn’t vote with you in the last election.” This is big. Because we have all separated again. After 9/11, everyone was united. We are separated again thanks to what has happened in politics. People in the art world are full of sanctimonious sense of superiority to most of America. But they must address America, learn to address America. Yes, have your friends, have the people who support what you are doing in the art world, but you have to recover a sense of the general audience and the same thing I am saying to the far right, get over the sneering at art, the stereotyping—

RB: They started it.

CP: Wait a minute. The far right wouldn’t have any opinions about art if it weren’t for those big incidents in the late ‘80s to the ‘90s when some stupid work was committing sacrilege

RB: You’re referring to Andres Serrano?

CP: Yeah, some 10th-rate thing. It’s always Catholic iconography, I might point out. I am atheist, by the way. It’s never Jewish. It’s never Muslim. So I am saying this is a scandal. The art world has actually prided itself on getting a rise out of the people on the far right. Thinking, “We’re avant-garde.” The avante-garde is dead. It has been dead since Andy Warhol appropriated Campbell’s Soup labels and Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe into his art. The avante-garde is dead. Thirty years later, 40 years later, people will think they are avante-garde every time some nudnik has a thing about Madonna with elephant dung, “Oh yeah, we are getting a rise out of the Catholic League.”

UPDATE: Now with new, improved actual LINK to the story! Gah. Long week. Long, boring story.

Posted by Big Arm Woman at August 19, 2005 09:10 AM

Is there supposed to be a link there?

Posted by: Joshua at August 19, 2005 10:42 AM

In my ten years on living in the U.S. I've found that the resentment that the so-called common people and the arts-and-culture crowd is fueled much more aggressively and mindlessly by the former group.

When the A&C crowd makes disparaging comments about the CP crowd, it's usually in light of the CP's concrete, measurable tendencies towards creationism, moral hypocrisy and gross political ignorance (see

Another example is that the so-called Northeastern elite has no trouble voting for a Southern presidential candidate, but Southerners have an irrational hatred of Northeastern presidential candidates.

Another issue is that the A&C crowd actually wishes the CP would become better informed. Whereas the CP crowd often wants the A&C crowd to be eliminated.

There is, of course, within-group variance so I can understand why individuals who are exceptions feel resentment about the resentment.

Posted by: Chris at August 19, 2005 02:43 PM

She's wrong about Derrida. She thinks the Derrida cult is Derrida; and does not have the philosophical curiosity to read Derrida as he needs to be read. It's a line-at-a-time sort of study that's necessary.

I did it by copying Derrida out into notebooks as a speed control. I doubt she has the time or the interest.

The Derrida cult is just the academic circle again, and they have no more time to study Derrida than anybody else seems to.

Posted by: Ron Hardin at August 19, 2005 06:19 PM

Wow. I clicked on Chris's name to see what website he linked to as his homepage. I think I've found my personal Mecca: the Most Boring Blog in the World.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at August 19, 2005 09:21 PM

Yes, it's true. We "Common People" are just too stupid to appreciate the true meaning of a crucifix stuck in a jar of urine.

Dadaism lives.

Posted by: snopercod at August 20, 2005 06:56 AM

I realize I'm just one data point here, but: I belong to a church congregation ("CP" crowd) and am a university prof (and so, deal with members of the "A&C" crowd). In my limited experience, the greater degree of snark, meanness, disrespect, "they need to be taught what's RIGHT," etc., etc. has come from the university folk. The church folks seem more or less willing to live and let live, as long as there's not someone up in their face telling them that believing in God is for idiots.

And speaking of snark: Harry Belafonte - I had tapes of your Carnegie Hall performances from the 60s. I used to enjoy listening to them, and could pretty much ignore your political rantings because they mostly happened at a time when I wasn't conscious of such things. I can't, any more. Thanks a lot, dude.

Posted by: ricki at August 20, 2005 12:26 PM

Chris, I'm amazed but not surprised by your arrogance. Having lived here since my birth 41 years ago, my experience mirrors Ricki's exactly. Your comments prove Paglia's point even better than she does.

Posted by: Brad K. at August 20, 2005 01:30 PM

To support my case I offer you the first three paragraphs of this:

Note that this is about an $100,000 ad campaign run by the Club for Growth; not just a comment on someone's blog. Do you know any equal but opposite action on the part of any centrist or liberal PAC?

Then have a look at .
Do you know any secular, centrist or liberal-intellectual group that supports killing?

Then look at the statistics of people who believe in creationism or Laffer theory. Do you know any equal but opposite falsehoods on the part of the centrist or liberal population?

I'm not asking rhetorically -- I really do want to know.

Posted by: Chris at August 20, 2005 10:49 PM

Chris: ever heard of Fahrenheit 9/11? Or ELF? While godhatesfags, whose site I refuse to visit, is blathering, ELF is driving spikes into trees (hoping to kill loggers) and committing arson.

Posted by: Laura at August 20, 2005 11:28 PM

O.k. Chris, if you want to know I'll take a crack.

First, I don't think Ricki, or Brad, or Paglia would consider die-hard political activists (Club for Growth) as the kind of common people they are referring to. They are talking about your neighbors, or at least most people's neighbors. And I would certainly say my experiences mirror theirs.

This is not to say that a certain segment of the "bourgeois" doesn't have undue contempt for artists or intelleckshuls. Or that all of the latter hate common folks. But in my experience (and I was fairly liberal in my younger years), the vehemence tips more to the left. I would hope, however, to give each individual the benefit of the doubt before deciding how hateful they were just by knowing their politics beforehand.

As for, the site's name speaks for itself. Again, with the neighbors thing. The folks who own this site are freakballs, not average people. But I find the militant abortion lobby just as evil, and they do come from the "secular, liberal-intellectual" side. Plus, if you are asking for hateful liberal sites, I bet it won't take long for people to bring them up (don't go purposefully searching for them myself).

As with your views on Bush/Iraq, I notice your last point takes for granted certain truths or falsehoods that I don't, and leaves little room for nuance (supposedly a leftist specialty). You seem to know things for certain that I, gosh-darnit, just don't. As a believer in God and an adherent to Christian doctrine (or at least I try), I certainly believe in creationism. This doesn't mean that I believe in a fundamentalist reading of Genesis, nor do I dispute the basics of evolution. I simply don't see creationism and evolution as fundamentally opposed concepts. If, in your view, I believe in falsehoods with this position, so be it. But the thought that liberals don't ever fall for falsehoods (why, b/c they are liberal, ergo smarter than the rest of us, ergo proving what Paglia says they believe about themselves?)is a knee-slapper.

Look, there are fundamentalist religious people, capitalists, Marxists, environmentalists, secularists, etc.; I have my problems with most fundamentalisms, but to hold up exhibits A, B, and C of activism/extremism in one camp, while denying it exists in your own camp is not very honest.

Posted by: Husband of BAW at August 20, 2005 11:57 PM

Yes, I've heard of Fahrenheit 9/11. Does it support murder? Was it funded by a Democratic PAC? And what precisely is your problem with it?

I hadn't heard of Elf but I have heard of eco-terrorism. They resort to arson, which should not be condoned, but arson is simply not as serious as murder, which is what godhatesfags advocates. (Look at some of their press releases.) I don't see how driving spikes into trees can kill loggers, and , when they spike trees, they announce that they have done so, so it's not like they're pulling a surprise on unsuspecting loggers.

As for the abortion lobby, they don't support killing people. They support the idea that anyone who wants an abortion should be able to get one. In no way do they support an actual increase in the total number of abortions nationwide. They couldn't care less if the abortion rate dropped to zero, as long as the right to abortion wasn't taken away. And abortion isn't killing anyhow.

Regarding creationism, I'm referring to young-earth theory and the idea that evolution did not happen.

What is not very honest is claiming a priori that if one camp has A, B, and C, then the other camp must have them also. Isn't it possible that the other camp doesn't have A, B and C? Isn't it worth investigating?

So I have yet to see:
a. a liberal-intellectual equivalent to
b. a liberal-intellectual group making a condescending statement on TV which is the equivalent of "tax-hiking, government-expanding, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Volvo-driving, New York Times-reading, Hollywood-loving, left-wing freak show". Incidentally, that's not only condescending, it's an outright lie. See:
for rates of latte drinking and sushi eating and tax hiking in Texas and Vermont.
c. an indisputably wrong belief such as young-earth theory (or the Saddam-Bin Laden-WMD issue) that is as widespread among the liberal-intellectual crowd

Posted by: Chris at August 21, 2005 12:25 AM

By the way your arguments seem to take these two forms:

Your first argument:
A. You are disagreeing with me.
B. You are claiming that your statements are correct.
C. Thus you are implying that my statements are wrong.
D. (fallacious) Thus you are implying I am generally wrong and stupid.
E. (more fallacious) Thus you are a condescending person who thinks you're smarter than everyone else.

Your second argument:
A. It would seem that any outrageous acts committed by the right have an equivalent on the left.
B. (fallacious) Because it would seem so, it must be true.

Please understand that I am trying to argue about what is right, not who is right.

P.S. Which Bush/Iraq statements of mine "[take] for granted certain truths or falsehoods that [you] don't, and leaves little room for nuance"

Posted by: Chris at August 21, 2005 12:34 AM

"I hadn't heard of Elf...."
Earth Liberation Front. But I'm not surprised you've never heard of it. The only time I ever hear of godhatesfags is when a liberal brings it up to try to beat me over the head with it.

Posted by: Laura at August 21, 2005 08:22 AM

"As for the abortion lobby, they don't support killing people."

Those of us who are pro-life beg to differ.

Posted by: Laura at August 21, 2005 08:23 AM

"Yes, I've heard of Fahrenheit 9/11. Does it support murder? Was it funded by a Democratic PAC? And what precisely is your problem with it?"

I read your article but I can't see where that PAC supports murder. If I've missed it, I hope you'll point it out to me.

I can see how over-the-top the ads described in that article are. But for you, I guess F9/11 is an objective view of the undisputed truth.

Posted by: Laura at August 21, 2005 08:28 AM

It's that supports murder, not the PAC.

"But for you, I guess F9/11 is an objective view of the undisputed truth."
Could you point out to me where I said this?

Posted by: Chris at August 21, 2005 08:58 AM

Guys, you can't argue with Enlightened Ones like Chris. He's got the Knowledge, and he already knows "what's right" -- after all, he's read the Washington Times! By the way, it is interesting that ignorant people like Chris seem to think that persons like Fred Phelps and his wacko "church" are an example of mainstream Christianity. I see it as more evidence to support the idea that at least three quarters of the people who go into academia don't belong there. Chris, for instance, shows all the individual spark and grasp of issues of someone who should be working in a mattress factory.

Posted by: Andrea Harris at August 21, 2005 09:46 AM

"And what precisely is your problem with it?"

Chris, I assumed from your statement that you don't have a problem with F9/11. If you don't think F9/11 is an objective view of the undisputed truth, then the fact that you don't have a problem with it, while you do with a few ads that some PAC nobody's ever heard of, puzzles me even more.

Posted by: Laura at August 21, 2005 10:06 AM

Right on, Andrea. This is why I didn't try to engage him in his cherry-picked specifics, though others have made admirable attempts. I submit that anyone who names their blog "Intelligent Life" holds quite a lot of stock in what they deem as intelligent. I wouldn't be surprised if he agrees with Susan Sontag: "Intelligence is really a kind of taste; a taste in ideas," which is self-congratulatory hokum, and which, to me, epitomizes the frame of mind of those who would consider Piss Christ to be avant garde. And when it comes to politics, those who I find most tedious on the left and the right are people who the lack the imagination to consider that they are wrong.

Posted by: Brad K. at August 21, 2005 12:01 PM

Andrea, Laura and Brad. Thanks for your comments. They are unfortunately completely off-topic. Try again. Look at Husband of BAW for an example of a comment that is actually about the topic at hand. And if you think the Club for Growth is a PAC nobody's ever heard of, you might want to do some research on them.

Posted by: Chris at August 21, 2005 08:46 PM

Oh, give me a fricking break. Husband of BAW was being polite. To recap, you're saying the CP deserve to be looked down upon because they're numbskulls, etc., "facts" which you arrogantly assume are self-evident, and yet you want us to take you seriously? You're the one who jumped down the rabbit hole with all your disjointed examples that signify little or nothing relevant to the topic at hand, which was Paglia's interview, in which she points out the smugness of many artists these days. We can all google all the so-called evidence we want to support our respective views until the cows come home, but why bother, since you don't recognize any possible flaws in your basic premises, which to you are "indisputable." Your rhetorical tricks of using phrases like "concrete, measurable tendencies" may have won you high marks from English profs who are inclined to agree with you, but for those disinclined, they're the marks of a poseur. You continue to astound me with your sanctimony and complete lack of self-awareness regarding it. You're young, so my hope is that you'll grow out of this someday. If you'd like to be more persuasive in the immediate future, then here's a tip: don't presume you have a monopoly on truth.

Posted by: Brad K. at August 22, 2005 08:58 AM

Let me state my thesis clearly then:
The disdain shown by populists (or faux populists) towards the so-called intellectual elite is much greater than the disdain shown in the reverse direction.

- Several important populists (Coulter, Limbaugh) have clearly said that they would like the liberal elite to be killed. (I am counting Coulter and Limbaugh here as important, because their books end up on bestseller lists, so the people who read them are clearly not a few fringe freaks.)
- No important persons on the elite said have expressed a wish that that populists or the non-elite be killed.
- Expressing a desire to kill someone, even in jest, is the most severe way to indicate disdain for someone.
- So the disdain shown by the populist side is more severe than the disdain shown by the elite side.

This doesn't necessarily imply that if you match the average or median populist with the average or median elite, there would be a significant difference. So this argument should not be generalized to individuals.

And don't confuse bluntness with presumptiveness.

Posted by: Chris at August 22, 2005 12:20 PM

How about Jerry Vlasak talking about murdering scientists that perform animal reseach?
I consider him the left version of godhatesfags

Posted by: Sam at August 22, 2005 12:28 PM

Chris, I'll have to take issue with you here,

-What we're talking about is everyday people, not Ann Coulter or Rush Limbaugh.
-The Elite, or those who fashion themselves in the elite, love to use examples such as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh to typify groups of people. Usually Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh are even more elite figures than the one using them.
-Important people "on the elite" tend to view themselves as Elite. In fact, even people who are not elite tend to view themselves as elite when the reality is quite the opposite.
-Most everyday people could care less about what the self-proclaimed elite think or do unless they have some turd shoved in their face.
-The elite don't want to kill the plebians, they only want the plebians to recognize their presumably obvious moral, intellectual, artistic, spiritual, and every other kind of superiority.
-Expressing a desire to enslave someone, even in jest, is the most severe way to indicate disdain for someone.
-This is being pedantic.

Posted by: . at August 22, 2005 12:48 PM

My point about Coulter, which I already stated, is that her books sell.

"[With] 400,000 copies sold, "Slander" spent 20 weeks on the New York Times best seller list in 2002 - eight weeks straight in the No. 1 position."

Doesn't the demand for those 400,000 copies come from "everyday people"? Even if you take a liberal estimate (pun unintended), and assume that 20% of those copies were bought by people who hate or are indifferent to Coulter, that leaves 80% of 400,000 people being Coulter supporters.

So she's not some obscure person like Ward Churchill or (pre-Oklahoma) Timothy McVeigh.

Posted by: CM at August 22, 2005 02:06 PM

I bought a copy of Ann Coulter's slander. So what? She's like Maureen Dowd except -- She's incisive. I also bought a copy of the Da Vinci Code, does that mean I subscribe to Dan Brown's absurd politicized interpretations of Nag Hammadi et al. texts?

Posted by: . at August 22, 2005 02:25 PM


In theory perhaps it is fallacious to assume that because one camp has a certain type of extremism, then all camps have equal extremism. But when it comes to American politics, that theory founders badly. These extremisms may not correlate exactly one to one, but there are morally objectionable groups, activities and arguments associated with them all.

On Iraq (and perhaps I'm generalizing a bit) I think you believe that Bush LIED, LIED, LIED(!) in order to persuade folks that we should go in there. Believe me, I don't want to start that whole argument again, but suffice to say I don't agree. This is far from a certainty to me.

Now, this is where the original topic of this thread comes in to play for many of us who disagree with you. What do we do (or think) about those with whom we have disagreements so fundamental there is no bridging the gap? What I would hope for is at least a basic respect (i.e., not assuming the other person is stupid or ignorant or a lesser) for the other person, and even (in calmer moments), perhaps a kind of profound puzzlement over how such huge disagreements come to be in the first place.

By your choice of examples and your refusal to allow for any criticism of the left, you lead me (and apparently others) to believe that you find the left not just correct, but somehow smarter, purer and more virtuous. I hope you don't think that way, but that is the impression. I can tell you that I have the temptation to think that way about my politics, because after all I think I am right, as well. But I have too much experience with fallibility (my own and others) to ultimately fall for it.

Posted by: Husband of BAW at August 22, 2005 02:27 PM

I am assuming a basic respect. That's why I clearly stated "There is, of course, within-group variance so I can understand why individuals who are exceptions feel resentment about the resentment." In other words, don't take it personally.

My basic point rests on my case that some (pseudo)populists suggest that liberals be eliminated somehow, either by killing them or deporting them. These populists have very popular radio shows and books, so they're not obscure. The suggestion of killing, to me, makes one group more extreme than the other. If threats to kill do not tip the balance according to your scale, then we just have a fundamental disagreement.

I don't find the left or the intellectual elite to be perfect. I do find them less agressive and threatning. Sorry if I came across as sounding like the left was perfect.

Re: Bush and the war, I would recommend Eric Alterman's recent books for clear, concise, well-supported and respectful arguments about this issue. I'm not saying it will convince you; just that it's much better than what I could squeeze into a blog post.

Posted by: CM at August 22, 2005 02:43 PM

Eric Alterman has clear, well-supported, respectful arguments? Buah ha ha ha ha!

Is this the same Eric Alterman who wrote a book with "liberal" in the title without ever defining what he meant by the word? Or is he the one who said that pro-liberation Iraqi bloggers were CIA operatives?

Once again you assume that those who disagree with you aren't privy to the Knowledge you have. You seem incapable of believing that anyone who disagrees with you may possibly know more than you do.

Ann Coulter and Rush, whose intemperate statements you now say form the bedrock of your argument, have indeed said wacky things, as professional talkers inevitably do, and they've gotten in trouble for it even among Republicans. Am I to think that because Michael Moore said on 9/12 that terrorists should've attacked Republicans instead of Democratic New York City, that all those people who spent $120 million seeing Fahrenheit 9/11 want to have right-wingers killed? I have more respect for liberals than that, which brings us back to where we started. You say you have respect for people, but your characterizations of them are insultingly reductive.

(BTW, thanks so much for featuring me on your blog. I feel all tingly inside.)

I'd like to just drop it at this point. Relevant to a Paglia, though, let me share an anecdote with the rest of you about regular people I know personally, that typlifies my experiences regarding the day-to-day behavior among both camps. Most academics I know do seem to live in coteries socially, much like Paglia describes. Back around January I was having dinner with several Republican church-goers who were old friends of each other along with a new addition to the group, a retired teacher who used to teach French at the college level. At some point my friend the ex-French teacher, eager to impress I suppose, launched into a tirade about how she couldn't bear to turn on the TV the day of the inauguration because she couldn't stand to see that idiot's face. She looked expectantly around the room, and all she got were friendly smiles--no sneers, no forced smiles, no smiles of pity for her ignorance. After a beat another woman said, "Well, I can tell that you feel strongly about that," and we all laughed and continued our dinner. Can you imagine if the situation were reversed?

Posted by: Brad K. at August 22, 2005 11:33 PM

There's only one word that needs to be used to Chris: "communism". The most murderous idea in the history world, still thought of fondly by the A&C crowd.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at August 23, 2005 09:52 AM

*sigh* I thought this thread was over, but oh well.
This is what Michael Moore said:
If someone did this [the WTC attack] to get back at Bush, then they did so by killing thousands of people who DID NOT VOTE for him! Boston, New York, DC, and the planes' destination of California -- these were places that voted AGAINST Bush!

Tasteless? Yes. True? Somewhat. Any suggestion that the terrorists should have attacked America at all? No.

Posted by: Chris at August 23, 2005 10:46 AM

Communism? Yes, clearly The Communist Manifesto (now revised and updated for the 21st century!) spent eight weeks on the NY Times bestseller in 2002 thanks to 400,000 copies being bought by Democrats.

And Anonymous, if you think a statement about books in one genre (Angels and Demons) can be generalized to another genre (Slander), then you really have nothing useful to contribute to this discussion.

Posted by: Chris at August 23, 2005 10:53 AM

That should've been The Da Vince Code, not Angels and Demons.

Posted by: Chris at August 23, 2005 10:56 AM

Granted, my paraphrase could have been better. But why would Moore even make such a distinction? What does that say about his attitude toward his fellow citizens? When Dean says he hates Republicans, I'm to assume that his supporters agree? This conversation should never have been about what the opinion leaders say and what that says about their supporters, but about academics/artists and regular people and their attitudes toward each other. How many times do we have to say that for you to understand, Chris?

Posted by: Brad K. at August 23, 2005 11:27 AM

Chris seems too be getting a bit desperate since he is reduced to slipping in "Democrats" when were discussing academics and cultural elites. One need only consider the iconic status of Castro to see what the A&C crowd thinks of Communism.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at August 23, 2005 03:25 PM

Chris, thanks for the book idea! Hopefully I can get Da' Vince Code (a Harvard symbologist-slash-007-super-spy cracks the mysterious secret plot surrounding Italian Americans, Catholicism, New York City, and Druidic cults of pre-Anglo-Saxon England) off to publishers before their heads clear about The Da Vinci Code.

Obviously you didn't capture the nuance of juxtaposing Slander and The Da Vinci Code. I think it's worth noting though, that Dan Brown does have a preface to his book saying, in effect, "Everything in this book is true." Sure, Dan. You're just leaving out all of the context.

Posted by: . at August 23, 2005 06:02 PM