Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Paglia: "Break, Burn, Blow" & More

Camille Paglia's Break, Burn, BlowA co-worker asked me how I intend to spend my long weekend (an extended weekend is hardly long) - and I replied, "Stay home. Read."

Her reply, "That's all?"

Yes, that's all.

Between:
a) cancelling Christmas Eve party plans because the family is celebrating my mom's birthday (her birthday's 25th December);
b) being pissed off at some friends (long story, involving friends who talk too fast and blamed me for not stopping them before damage done, when I did try, very discreetly);
c) doing a Juliette Binoche DVD marathon (I only had The English Patient and Blue)
- I was spotted in public on Christmas Day with a flamingo pink hardcover.

Break, Burn, Blow is Camille Paglia as English Lit teacher reading 43 poems. It's a return to the classroom. Paglia herself was trained in the New Criticism tradition, which is the close text Practical Criticism we were taught during the "A" Levels. Last night I re-learnt the difference between Petrachan and Shakespearean sonnets. These were details I had at my fingertips more than a decade back. *sigh*

In case you're interested, Salon.com interviewed her on April 7, 2005.

My first exposure to Paglia was through her hefty (700-odd pages of literary scholarship) but exuberant Sexual Personae. The book caught me during one of my very brief forays into the university library for - *gasp* - pleasurable readings.

Paglia's signature is fiery, intellectual and saucy. Never had so much fun reading a critic. How can anyone ignore an essay like "The Daemon as Lesbian Vampire: Coleridge"? Or "Amherst's Madame de Sade: Emily Dickson"? She brings a celebratory energy to literary criticism, and we should really have more critics like her. But then, I suspect her accessibility discredits her among my university lecturers. The Establishment never take well to the audacious and the self-possessed.

A university classmate once saw me with my library copy of Sexual Personae. She took it from my hands, flipped through it with some disdain, then returned it. She remarked I'm always reading "crap like these." She has never heard a lecturer mention Camille Paglia, therefore, it must be crap. For shame.

But then, I believe the classmate made similar remarks when I was reading Myth of Sisyphus and Crime and Punishment. So, maybe it's just her general ignorance. Maybe we should just pity her for never having been properly introduced to the cultural battle-axe that's Camille Paglia.

The woman doesn't quite shut-up. And I am grateful for that. Paglia has an uncanny ability to pop up when you least expect - like in the middle of the documentary Inside Deep Throat. Imagine my delighted surprise, not to mention my sudden urge to squeal, "Camille! Camille!" in the middle of the cinema.

Camille Paglia was also my introduction to Salon.com. After Sexual Personae I decided to check up on her online where I found her Salon.com columns. I also picked up her other books. From these, I was slightly tickled by her Drew Barrymore infatuation and more than a little disturbed that she picked up her fashion sense(or was it make-up tips?) from drag-queens.

I chose Break, Burn, Blow for Christmas 2005. Christmas, so close to year-end, is a good time for nostalgia. For all her reputation as literary bete noire, we often forget that Paglia's day job is first and foremost, a teacher.

My own Practical Criticism teacher for "A" Levels was Mr Don Whitby, a white-haired, blue-eyed Brit gentleman (a term I use loosely) who lambasted poetry and close text reading into our thickened skulls. I adore the man. His incandescent teaching method is similar to Camilla Paglia's writings. He, among all my teachers inspired me to read English Literature at the university. Break, Burn, Blow is a return to my foundation.

I thought a return to the basics is a good way to end 2005 and start 2006. I end this entry with a quote from Paglia herself:
Artists have got to get back to studying art history and doing emotionally engaged art. Get over that tired postmodern cynical irony and hip posing, which is such an affliction in the downtown urban elite. We need an artistic and cultural revival. Back to basics!

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