Gallery of art and thoughts

The cartoons and contemplations of a twentysomething copy editor.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

"Let’s begin again, get the big broom."

I'm not sure why Arts and Letters Daily does this, but every so often my favorite website runs articles months (or, in at least one case, years) out of date. Yet these articles often are gems; videlicet this interview with Camille Paglia. Robert Birnbaum does a creditable job going one-on-one with Paglia, though given her loquaciousness, it's inevitable that this becomes more of a monologue.

I started reading Paglia while in college. I enjoyed her opinion pieces for Salon, as well as several of her books. In the Birnbaum interview, she speaks accurately, as usual, while doing a book tour for "Break, Blow, Burn," her discussion of 43 of her favorite poems.

Paglia uses the interview to discuss her thoughts on education. "There is no more quality," she tells Birnbaum. "So we are not giving the kids anything to sustain them. Heaven forbid there should be anything about religion or sex. The far right keeps the sexual out — nudes from the history of painting. And the left keeps anything from religion out. The things that are the most substantive are not there." She stays on message when prescribing a remedy: more exposure to the "mother ship" of the Western canon, but also more knowledge of the great art of all civilizations.

And what of the political state of the country? Her comments, again, are interesting: she upbraids Thomas Frank for contending that red-staters vote against their interests. Choosing capitalism, she argues, is explainable. "Even if you are not rich," she says, "you see other people getting rich and you want a system that can produce rich people."

Prospects for artists and writers? They seem grim, because it's becoming too expensive to live as a bohemian, because we all cling to our coteries, and because we creative types aren't doing enough living. And maybe it's something about this country. "The arts have never taken root in America," she declares. "Ever since Puritan New England — this is a business-oriented culture as opposed to Europe where it’s a part of the cultural heritage of the nation." Is emigration the answer?

Not necessarily. She says that "socialism in a nation ultimately does lead to economic stagnation and eventually of the creative impulse, in terms of new technology and other things." Do those "other things" include art and writing? If they do, that contradicts her praise of the British educational system and media.

That observation aside, I enjoyed her interview immensely, as I do with most of her writings. It was also a pleasure to learn how much she likes Yeats ... though, while she cited "The Second Coming" and "Leda and the Swan," I would argue that "Easter 1916" is his most powerful poem.

Unrelated note: My friend David Arenson has started a blog ... give it a read.


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