EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the impending snowstorm in Washington, D.C. on March 14, this event has been cancelled. Politics and Prose and Halcyon is working to reschedule with Camille Paglia, and will communicate with all ticket-buyers if a new date is scheduled. Meanwhile, all ticket-buyers will receive a full refund. Politics and Prose is still able to arrange signed copies of Free Women, Free Men for any interested customers. To purchase, please click here.
Listening to the provocative musings of Camille Paglia, one feels both a bit awestruck and bulldozed. Face it, most of us do not swim in the same intellectual depths.
Still, they’re intellectual depths we should all experience every so often, and Halcyon House is giving Washingtonians the opportunity to do just that. The organization, under the leadership of newly minted Artistic Director Septime Webre, is hosting Paglia for an evening of discussion, framed around her latest collection of essays, Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism ($26.95, Pantheon), a tome largely aimed at the nation’s higher educational system, which she feels has been in tatters for years.
“American higher education, in my view, is an absolute rook,” says the 69-year-old, who enjoys tenure at the University of Arts in Philadelphia. “Parents are being charged an obscene amount, as you’ve got universities stockpiling these huge endowments. It’s outrageous.
“I fired the warning shot 25 years ago to say that there is a process happening at the universities of bureaucracy swelling, of a master race class of bureaucrats who are just vampires on the educational system. And what it’s going to lead to is a total loss of faculty power, which is what has happened…. The federal bureaucracy in Washington, with their constant dictates, their constant rules — you have this fascist intrusion into college life where everything is about following the rules. People wonder why our students are emerging with fancy degrees from Yale and Harvard and are incapable of thought, incapable of writing…. So many social disasters we’re suffering from right now — including the hysteria over rape culture — all these things are coming from the complete abandonment of intellectual standards, of scholarly standards, at the university level.”
An hour-long conversation turns briefly to Milo Yiannopoulos and Paglia dismisses him in her own way.
“I haven’t been paying any attention to him particularly,” says Paglia, whose first collection of essays, Sexual Personae, sparked tremendous controversy in 1990 and, in the process, became a bestseller. “I think that his image has been inflated by a lot of publicity…. All I can see is that he, in his own small way, is trying to keep up that old, bitchy gay guy satire. What he is saying is just a mild version of what any gay guy would have said pre-Stonewall.”
Which leads Paglia to laud how important pre-Stonewall gays were to her. “The gay men who influenced me when I was in high school, in college, in graduate school were merciless and cruel. What a cruel wit. The gay guys of the pre-Stonewall era loved diva attacks, loved to enact these total bitch goddess type attacks. What happened to that great period where gay men were so unfettered? Now it’s nothing but PC, ‘Oh, we have to be nice. We have to be careful of what we say.'”
Returning to Milo, Paglia says, “He doesn’t have a book, he’s not a professor, he hasn’t been a teacher. He’s just some blogger, as far as I can see. What, he’s the end of civilization because he satirized some actress in Ghostbusters flop of a movie? He becomes the ultimate symbol of racism or something for some stupid, minor remarks he made? Again, this seems to be manufactured outrages that are taking the spotlight away from the true outrage, which is the utter abandonment by the universities of education.
“This whole new generation of young people have no sense of history, whatever. They know nothing about the world. I’m a classroom teacher — I’m in the classroom. I know what public school education is preparing our students for right now. All I can say is that we have a disaster on our hands because young people are being taught ‘No bullying,’ and are being taught all kinds of proper ways to behave, but they are totally lacking in any kind of historical perspective. I’m getting very, very alarmed about the lack of any kind of historical awareness of young people outside of the present.”
Camille Paglia appears on Tuesday, March 14, at 7 p.m. at Halcyon House, 3400 Prospect St. NW. A reception with Paglia follows at 8 p.m. Tickets are $35 and include a copy of Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender, Feminism or $45 for two tickets and a book. Call 202-796-4240 or visit halcyonhouse.org.