Author and intellectual Carl Trueman interviews Camille Paglia upon the release of her latest book, Provocations, which consists of her collected essays and media interviews on topics ranging from Homer and Aeschylus to David Bowie and The Yardbirds.
For nearly three decades, Camille Paglia, Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, has been one of America’s most controversial and consistent public intellectuals. Her writings have covered topics ranging from Aeschylus to Madonna; from Baroque art to liberal Presbyterian attitudes to human sexuality. A truly independent thinker, she is an avowed atheist who still has a deep appreciation for religion; a committed feminist who is yet hated by the feminist establishment. Her work on both the problems of post-structuralism and on the role of aesthetics in ethical thinking has had a profound influence on my own understanding of those disciplines. In a world of cheap wannabes, she is the real thing: a truly learned cultural commentator and critic whose unpredictably provocative opinions are always worth pondering.
Her latest book, Provocations, consists of her collected essays and media interviews from the last twenty-five years of her career. Wide-ranging in scope, they represent her polymathic brilliance at its best—she is as comfortable commenting on Homer and Aeschylus as she is on David Bowie and The Yardbirds. It was therefore a great pleasure to have the opportunity to interview her about this new volume and (hopefully) to introduce her work to a new audience.
Carl Trueman: In a couple of the essays in Provocations you make the intriguing and rather startling statement ‘Better Jehovah than Foucault’—something you first said, I believe, in your major review article ‘Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders.’ Why do you as an atheist think that the God of the Bible offers a more realistic approach to reality than post-structuralism?
Camille Paglia: Post-structuralism is a cynical, reductive, and monotonously simplistic methodology that arose from the devastated landscape of twentieth-century Europe, torn by two colossal world wars. It has nothing whatever to do with American culture, American imagination, or American achievement in literature, art, music, and film. The trendy professors who imported post-structuralist jargon into U.S. academe were fools and frauds, and they deserve to be unmasked and condemned for their destruction of the humanities.
The worship of Michel Foucault (called “Saint Foucault” in the title of one sycophantish book) has been the worst kind of idolatry, elevating a derivative writer of limited historical knowledge to godlike status. Foucault borrowed from a host of prior writers, from Emile Durkheim and Max Weber to the great Canadian-American sociologist, Erving Goffman (a major influence on my work). For three decades, young professors have been forced to nervously pay homage to Foucault’s name, as if he were the Messiah. Elite academe likes to insult religion and religious belief—except when it comes to the sacred names of post-structuralism, before whom all are expected to kneel.