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Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson
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Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson

3.86  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,661 Ratings  ·  128 Reviews
From ancient Egypt through the nineteenth century, Sexual Personae explores the provocative connections between art and pagan ritual; between Emily Dickinson and the Marquis de Sade; between Lord Byron and Elvis Presley. It ultimately challenges the cultural assumptions of both conservatives and traditional liberals. 47 photographs.
Paperback, 736 pages
Published September 10th 2001 by Yale University Press (first published 1990)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Eric
Jan 01, 2016 Eric rated it really liked it
Paglia - as a friend of mine once said to her face at a signing - is a gateway drug. I got ahold of this in high school and it functioned as a syllabus for the next few years. She showed me how raunchy, perverse and gorgeously gilded Spenser can be. She turned me on to Gautier, Pater, and, above all others, to Baudelaire. I continue to return to her readings of Byron and Wilde. This book is nigh-impossible to read cover to cover. Don't try it. The prose is an unceasingly percussive hammering of ...more
Hadrian
This is a book which deserves pondering - I have settled on three stars because I'm not sure how to give it both five and one.

In this book's preface, Paglia candidly admits that her goal is to be "sensational". This is perhaps the only sentence beyond dispute in the entire book. It is a book of contradictions, even in the front cover. See the juxtapose of the regal visage of Queen Nefertiti and the concealing modesty of Emily Dickinson.

Out of her many broad Nietzschean ukases on art history, mo
...more
mark monday
Jun 07, 2011 mark monday rated it it was ok
camille paglia: so misguided! despite the sheer idiocy behind many of her theses, she is a compelling, exuberant author, very readable, and definitely brings a certain kind of gusto and an often unique viewpoint to many classic authors. her rather operatic take on emily dickinson is particularly enjoyable. if this book in any way acts as a gateway drug to classic literature, then i suppose there is something positive to it all. that said, and exciting writing style aside, her reductive view of t ...more
Erik Graff
Jul 15, 2014 Erik Graff rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one
Recommended to Erik by: Paula DeVoto
Shelves: literature
I will usually read the books I'm given and this one was from a coworker at Loyola University Chicago. I doubt if she, a believing Catholic, read it herself. She likely would have been even more offended than I was.

With the exception of overt, practiced racism and sexism, I believe I'm hard to offend, but Paglia's two-faced book did it. On the one hand, she tries to be sexy, treating the literary canon as resting on a seething bed of academically neglected eroticism. On the other hand, she write
...more
Andrew
OK, so her theoretical basis is absolute bullshit, combining personal bias, excessive Freudianism, and reactionary sexual politics into an obnoxious combination. However, the analyses themselves are quite wonderful. Having sat through any number of dry college lectures on the deemed classics of the Western canon, it was nice to see their dark, chthonic qualities exposed. This doesn't have the academic rigor that I was expecting, but it was a very fun read, and now I feel like going back through ...more
Myridian
Mar 22, 2008 Myridian rated it did not like it
This book was horrible. Paglia's worldview is bizarrely Freudian. Paglia writes only the loosest and most unsatisfactory of evidence for any of her assertions. She ignores the lack of evidence for the majority of psychodynamic theory in general and for the "family romance" in particular. When you ignore empirical evidence all you have left is what resonates for you personally, which Freudian theory does not. Though she even picks through psychodynamic theory. The book makes me want to shake her. ...more
dusty rebel
As another reviewer said Paglia is like a "gateway drug". Read her and you’re on your way down the yellow brick road of subversive decadence. Whether you agree with her or not, you will be challenged to think. Camille isn’t looking for a gaggle of cheerleaders, she looking for an intellectual bar brawl.
Anne
Jul 23, 2008 Anne rated it really liked it
Ah, Camille Paglia. What can I say that hasn't already been said? This book is well-written and absorbing, but if you are a female with half a backbone at all, you will want to rip it into pieces, piss on it, then set it on fire (which I guess won't be very effective if you just pissed on it). Paglia's main thesis is that men are the movers and shakers, and women are slothful baby producers. Civilation wouldn't exist without men because women have no drive to do anything except sit around and wa ...more
James
An incomparable, unique, and often ridiculous study of sexuality and literature. I took my time reading this as there is a huge amount of information to absorb, and Paglia's style (made up of brief but incredibly pungent sentences) is wearying, although I don't mean that as a criticism. In the contrary, it gives the reader all the more reason to savor this radically different take on Emily Dickinson, The Fearie Queen, Shakespeare, Whitman, and so many more. One needn't agree with all or even mos ...more
Stephen Bird
Jun 02, 2014 Stephen Bird rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is one of my all-time favorites and my favorite of Paglia's. I prefer Paglia the "academic" as opposed to the "media whore" (IE as she has expressed herself in her column for Salon.com) -- As I am at least 50% in disagreement with her political, geopolitical and often right-leaning Libertarian point of view. In "Sexual Personae" she presents herself in full-on scholarly mode -- In a way that she has not, unfortunately, repeated since this work was published. I have read this book at le ...more
matt


Camille Paglia!

GodDAMN I want her. She inadvertantly turned me into the psychopath reader I am today, but doing a line by line interpretation of "Stairway To Heaven" in Guitar World about 10 years ago. This close reading of a classic, unavoidable song blew me right away and impressed me, showing me that brainy reading is something even I could do.

There's a lot of repetiton here, I mean how many times can you hear about the gilded masochistic whatever in repressive societal repressiveness until
...more
Tom
Sep 09, 2011 Tom rated it it was amazing
A bit of an academic show-off, and later, a celebrity-hound, with some really f*cked-up ideas about the importance of Madonna, Paglia penned her most important (and best-written) book here. Won't say it changed my life, but I couldn't stop talking about for weeks after I finished it. Her take on Emily Dickinson as a super-sadist is dead on the money. This will be read long after everyone has forgotten the pseudo-feminist junk that was popular when this book debuted. You know who I'm talking abou ...more
A.K.
A clearly insane person. A clearly fierce intellect. (It is clear that her intellect is fierce; not that the fierceness possesses great clarity.) I won't be putting this down unless it's to throw it in front of an oncoming train and/or soak it with my sad, sad, non-transcendent womanly piss.

---

Cut to 3/4 of the way through. Bored now. Nice troll, tho.
M. H.
Nov 22, 2009 M. H. rated it liked it
Camille Paglia's completely obnoxious and over-the-line and I only agree with her about 1/4 of the time. But when I do, I feel like she's slit open the deepest rivers of impassioned, tangled instincts I have about intellectual women and the utter foolishness of much of the feminist movement - and the dangers of being a woman who lives too far above the waist. Paglia nails it on these topics. Even tho' I'm sure if I ever sat next to her at a dinner party I'd end up wanting to slap her.
Marley
Feb 03, 2011 Marley rated it it was amazing
I don't even know where to begin with this, so I won't. Oddly, Sexual Personae explained my life to me. I was shocked. What does any of this have to do with me, but it did. Paglia blew me away with her non-namby-pamby feminism that upset all the liberals.
Douglas Wilson
May 29, 2009 Douglas Wilson rated it liked it
Shelves:
She's a lunatic and a pagan, but very helpful.
Alexander
Nov 06, 2015 Alexander rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The most intriguing book I’ve read in years—the feelings elicited are similar to when I first picked up Beyond Good and Evil or heard Punk Weight. A libidinous romp through Western art that implacably presses its premise of a ubiquitous underlying pornography, Paglia’s “guerrilla scholarship” (quoth my edition’s blurb) reads like a death metal percussionist at the height of his exalted solo, or Bloom at his most virile and grandiose. Sexual Personae possess an infectious, bombastic panache I’ve ...more
Szplug
Nov 16, 2012 Szplug marked it as intermittently-reading  ·  review of another edition
Mint condition for ninety-nine cents—an unbeatable deal, even with the Canuck dollar scorching along at record breaking levels (thanks stuffy Big Six Banks and innate Canadian caution!)—and an author I've not a lot of experience with. I've heard lots about Paglia, split pretty evenly into camps that, whether they love or loathe her, seem to share the opinion that a little bit of Camille goes a long way. The recent columns of hers that I've stumbled across generally contain a dram of counter-intu ...more
Tara
Aug 13, 2008 Tara rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: lit crit., culture studies, gender studies
So far, I'm loving this book! I read a little bit of it each evening so that I can at least attempt to really digest her argument. Some of the things she says are a little scary. But, like Angela Carter's work, Paglia definitely wants to create an emotional response in her readers and she does this brilliantly. I think the elicitation of emotional response - whether in agreement or anger - forces us to examine standard cultural beliefs and grants an opportunity for different ways of seeing. Pagl ...more
Izzy Rey
Jan 14, 2012 Izzy Rey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: brilliant
Do not get me wrong, I do not buy into all of her theories. Some sound like utter BS, but she is SO fun to read and argue with (in your head). What makes me love this book is the way she categorizes authors and works, and all the little details she points out. How some male authors are femenine in their writing and some females are masculine. Also, this is the book that lead me to works I may have never read. I did not go to school to become an english professor and am not required to have more ...more
Natalie
I stopped reading after 150 pages of unsupported theory, grad-school hackery, over-reliance on the myths of the Greek pantheon to "explain" art and gender behavior, and severe overuse of the word "chthonian." Paglia's not and never is boring, but after I found myself rolling my eyes and flipping ahead to see if I was going to get a break from the above-mentioned complaints, I figured I wasn't going to make it through the remaining 600 pages.
Bryn
Jan 28, 2008 Bryn rated it it was ok
Shelves: gay-gay-gay
"Come on guys, old dead white guys aren't so bad."
Dissy Rose
Seriously, I just can't with this book anymore! I knew this woman was controversial, but from her defense of pedaphoiles, her outrageous woman hating and her love of fascism, I actually dreaded picking up a book to read.

Let me be clear, I don't mind reading a book that challenges my opinions if it's well thought out. That's why I picked this book in the first place (based on the reviews). But this is just 700 plus pages of BS. She cherry picks her evidence to fit her "theories" (I thought it was
...more
Charles Rouse
Sep 26, 2014 Charles Rouse rated it really liked it
One of the reviewers said that they gave her three stars because they didn't know how to give her both five stars and one star. That kind of gives you an indication of people's reaction to Paglia. Paglia's ideas are inflammatory, odd, brilliant, sometimes, in my opinion, just wrong. I note that her ideas on society are basically radically libertarian. Since I have decided that my views are radically libertarian, I'm interested, but I don't think that's my crowning virtue, in fact I'm troubled th ...more
Johnny D
Jan 30, 2009 Johnny D rated it it was amazing
Shelves:
Sexual Personae was a bombshell of guerilla scholarship released in the 1990s, and it made its author - Camille Paglia - a star and media darling during that time. The scope of the book is breathtaking. Paglia begins by summarizing Freud's theory on the invention of religion in pre-history, then goes on to track the human agon of art v. nature from the time of the ancient Egyptians to the nineteen hundreds.

Paglia sees two archetypal forces at work in literature and art: The Appolonian (concerned
...more
Dan
Mar 26, 2009 Dan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Harold Bloom’s influence on Paglia is clear: most of her commentary is on poets associated with the Romantic tradition, and her analytic approach is a mixture of Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. Her chapter on Emily Dickinson in particular changed the way I read that poet.
Merrie
Jun 18, 2008 Merrie added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: extremely well-read people who think feminists are silly
Tried reading this last time I played Camille Paglia, and I'm determined to get through the whole thing this time. I'm taking notes on it because it's a very dense read. She loves the theories of the chthonian vs. Apollonian states of being. I can't even pronounce chthonian. It's beginning to sink in though, which is a little bit scary.

Can't say that I agree with her politics, but she's a smart cookie. Occasionally I have to shake my head and put it down. And go read Tammy Faye Bakker Messner's
...more
Lotte
Apr 15, 2012 Lotte rated it it was amazing
Texts about other texts are usually a shadowy and secondary reading experience. Not this one. Its energy grabs you by the throat and shakes you. Sometimes it rattles your teeth, and you wish to be put down, but I found that the book boosted my desire to read other books, and the enjoyment I got from them.
Oliver Bateman
May 09, 2015 Oliver Bateman rated it really liked it
The intro, you know: it's her anti-feminist, anti-modernist manifesto. It's totally cliche, because she's just serving up a bunch of age-old Mars/Venus verities, but also fresh as a daisy (whatever that means), because she's positioning herself athwart a rising tide of PC leftism in the gender studies movement. The actual meat of the book is mostly just makework, as it is with all of the "theory" people, but she's a more readable art critic than our old pal F. Jameson and a more reality-oriented ...more
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Camille Anna Paglia is an American social critic, author and teacher. Her book, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, published in 1990, became a bestseller. She is a professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

She has been variously called the "feminist that other feminists love to hate," a "post-feminist fe
...more
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“Men chase by night those they will not greet by day.” 43 likes
“Eroticism is mystique; that is, the aura of emotion and imagination around sex. It cannot be 'fixed' by codes of social or moral convenience, whether from the political left or right. For nature's fascism is greater than that of any society. There is a daemonic instability in sexual relations that we may have to accept.” 9 likes
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