James's Reviews > Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson

Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia
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's review
Jun 04, 2011

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bookshelves: literary-criticism, non-fiction, philosophy, politics

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 most of what she says to find this work fascinating. The book is most valuable for its aesthetic and analytical purposes. Certainly that is Paglia's approach. Whether or not one agrees with the theory that Emily Dickinson was Amherst's Madame de Sade, Walt Whitman was a hermaphrodite, or any of the other sensational statements in Sexual Personae is immaterial. I enjoyed this work as I have enjoyed few other works of modern literary criticism, and in this way Paglia is in league with her mentor Harold Bloom.

When reviewing Sexual Personae, one must acknowledge the egregious social conclusions that Paglia draws, mostly in the first chapter. Do I agree with her? Not in the slightest. I am actually inclined to agree, on issues of politics, with the Feminists Paglia so often attacks. So why do I return to Paglia's book? For the same reason I return to Stephen Dedalus's lectures on Shakespeare in Ulysses. They may be bullshit theories, but they are riveting bullshit theories.

You'll enjoy this much more if you ignore the Women's Studies/Art Criticism tag on the back and read this as the book Myra Breckenridge always threatened to write.
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