male female statues

A Critique Of Camille Paglia

Introduction
With the exception of Christina Hoff Sommers, there is no feminist whom receives a more open-minded reception from the Men’s Human Rights Movement than Camille Paglia. Paglia is an art academic but is often known more for her incisive critiques of contemporary feminism as well as the contemporary art establishment (both of which she characterizes as bourgeois, stifling and smug betrayers of sixties counterculture radicalism). Paglia identifies as transgender (and would probably count as genderqueer, going by modern terminology) and also lesbian. She defends both popular culture and the Western canon of high art, and whilst she asserts her own noncompliance with traditional gender roles her statements on gender traditionalism have been ambivalent and often have taken the position of defending traditional roles, at least if chosen voluntarily. Most importantly from a Men’s Human Rights Movement perspective is Paglia’s frequent praise of men and masculinity; Paglia is seen as a refreshing antidote to misandrist feminism. Instead of blaming men for everything bad, Paglia credits men for every artistic and intellectual achievement of Western civilization. After listening to feminists whom seem to define “feminine” as “good” and “masculine” as “bad/toxic/wrong/inhuman,” Paglia’s perspective is often welcomed by advocates for men.

But merely critiquing third wave or radical or cultural feminisms does not make one a Men’s Human Rights Advocate; the fact that the MHRM and Camille Paglia share a common enemy does not make Paglia an MHRA.

Paul Elam has critiqued Christina Hoff Sommers, in spite of her critiques of contemporary feminism, because Sommers fundamentally aims to preserve female privilege and benefit from men’s chivalry (see https://www.avoiceformen.com/a-voice-for-men/the-truth-about-christina-hoff-sommers/). Whilst there is a legitimate discussion to be had over the tactical wisdom of such vehement critique, there is no denying Elam’s underlying point; trying to preserve traditional gender roles which advantage women at the expense of men is gynocentric, misandric, and irreconcilable with the Men’s Human Rights Movement. Sommers, thus, is not an advocate for the human rights of the male sex, but merely a critic of certain aspects of the feminist movement. Her critiques are often very good, but she isn’t necessarily on “our side” merely because both her and the MHRM have a common foe.

This piece shall attempt to do for Paglia what Elam has done for Sommers; this piece shall be an extended analysis and critique of Paglia’s beliefs from the perspective of a Men’s Human Rights Advocate. This piece will include a primer on Paglia’s positive philosophy (i.e. what she believes to be correct) along with critiques of several aspects of her ideas. It should go without saying, however, that this piece is not intending to suggest Paglia is a worthless thinker; Paglia is frankly an intellectual powerhouse who’s work deserves to be taken seriously. Paglia has produced some of the best critiques of contemporary feminism currently in print. Paglia is an extraordinarily entertaining writer and speaker who is a true pleasure to listen to, but none of this renders her beyond critique.

Paglia 101
Paglia’s worldview is ultimately rooted in the works of Sigmund Freud (in particular Civilization And Its Discontents) and Frederich Nietzsche. Paglia, in her magnum opus Sexual Personae, depicts the human condition as the struggle of man to tame and regulate nature, both the nature without (the physical world) and the nature within (the id, the drives). Man’s method to resist nature is the “Apollonian” means of logic, reason, technology, artistic creativity and civilization. Alongside Freud, Paglia sees civilization as the repression of our natural lizard-brain animalistic instincts (which Paglia casts as inherently violent and sadistic).

But this is not a gender-neutral condition; the male of the human species endures an additional psychic burden. It is women who give birth, and men who wrestle with the fact that their male bodies are birthed from female bodies. Men thus are afflicted with a great Freudian fear of the mother; the woman who is goddess to him for the early part of his life. This motivates men to try to manage the feminine, to escape from the feminine, to try and attain some sort of power that can match the awe-inspiring ability to give new life. Woman, like nature, gives life. Woman can overpower man, either as the mother or as the object of desire that incites the sexual id of man; nature can overpower man’s civilizations and destroy them with ferocious cataclysms. Woman’s power of childbirth is part of nature, is emblematic of what nature is. Men act to constrain nature, to separate themselves from it, to distance themselves from it; masculinity, thus, is really men’s attempt to escape from nature and to escape the gravity of the feminine.

Thus, Paglia sees human civilization as, ultimately, a response to the “Cthonian” (nature, women/femininity, the id/the passions, that which is). It is males, due to their Freudian sense of ‘distance’ from the feminine/nature, that encourages them to react by creating the “Apollonian” (civilization, artificiality, religion, reason, society, order, masculinity etc) as a means of controlling the ultimately uncontrollable. The Cthonian is the default state of nature, red in tooth and claw, chaotic and dangerous and dark (yet also free from the repression of society and convention), the world of mother-goddesses and fertility cults, the womb and tomb of all. The Apollonian is what occurs when we shake our fists at nature and try to enforce order on that chaos, it is sky-deity cults of heavenly fathers (whom are transcendent from this physical-natural world), it is science and reason and engineering and art (which allow man to ‘give birth’ to new things), it is clean and scientific, yet it aims to conquer and subjugate the world around it. It is rigid and inflexible and repressive, yet represents our only hope of escaping the Cthonian mud.

Paglia is often mistakenly described as a gender essentialist, but her theory is Freudian and requires only the basic anatomical differences between the sexes. Her theory can be, perhaps uncharitably, described as “womb-envy” although perhaps “resentful gynophobia” is more accurate (McElvaine’s Eve’s Seed advances a similar hypothesis). Of course, there is much more which can be said about Paglia, but this is a sufficient summary of her view of the human condition and how it impacts the sexes.

The Core Problem With Paglia’s Gender Theory
There are many reasons to be critical of Paglia; one can contest her dark view of the human condition. One can contest her extremely negative view of the natural world as a kind of senseless chaos. Paglia is not a conservative, yet she shares with conservatives a belief that the human condition is tragic and futile; Paglia sees the Enlightenment tradition as both admirable and deluded, as a form of wishful thinking (the fact that Enlightenment ideas have a very long record of practical success, and this might prove that said ideas are anything but deluded, seems to escape Paglia). Paglia, frankly, has a worldview reminiscent of H. P. Lovecraft at times, albiet with Cthonian muck and menstrual blood serving as a substitute for the visceral slime secreted by eldritch horrors; according to Camille, we are living on Planet Azathoth.

But this isn’t an article about the philosophical problems with Paglia’s worldview. Rather, it is specifically about the problems with Paglia’s gender theory.

The core problem with Paglia’s theory is simple; her Apollonian-Cthonian theory of masculinity and femininity respectively is a false dichotomy which fails to account for the Cthonian nature of traditional masculinity/’real manhood’ as we know it. Paglia’s Apollonian ideal of masculinity does not resemble traditional masculinity, but rather outsider-outlier males whom were typically condemned as ‘not-real-men.’ The core dualism at the base of her thought does not resemble empirically observed gender norms.

The False Methodological Basis
As I have argued before (see “And One Final Unrelated Thought” here: http://honeybadgerbrigade.com/2016/10/03/third-wave-feminisms-cultural-feminist-roots-an-underanalyzed-topic/), feminists typically position masculinity and femininity in a femmecentric Dialectical Pseudo-Monism. What this ultimately means is that feminists see femininity as a natural default, to which masculinity emerges as a reaction. This means femininity is positioned as natural and normal and human, and masculinity is a deviation from these things driven by animus towards the feminine. Femininity exists by itself, whereas masculinity exists only in relationship to femininity. When feminists claim that men invented the gender roles to distance themselves from women, they are giving voice to this Dialectical Pseudo-Monism.

Paglia is an obvious case (and certainly more transparent about being such than most other feminists). She explicitly equates the feminine with nature/the natural world/physical reality, and sees the masculine as humanity’s actions to survive within an hostile environment. She sees the feminine as the default, as the background from which men react in order to flee their mothers/individuate themselves. She sees masculinity as fundamentally reactionary, as a resistance to the overwhelming power of women/femininity/nature, as driven by hostility towards that. Masculinity is thus implicitly treated as ‘less real’ than femininity, and is defined exclusively in terms of a revolt against the feminine/Cthonian; the masculine is the ‘not-feminine.’

But society doesn’t define the masculine simply in terms of that which is not feminine; society is very particular and prescriptive about what counts as “real manhood.” If masculinity were merely “the not-feminine” then you would expect there to be a broadly differentiated array of culturally-acceptable “real manhoods,” but this flies in the face of the empirical reality that many men are not seen as “real men” by our society. There are multiple ways of being which fit in neither category. Paglia’s via negativa concept of masculinity, therefore, completely ignores real world gender concepts.

The False Dichotomy
Paglia’s dichotomy between the Apollonian and the Cthonian is an adaptation of Nietzsche’s own Apollonian-Dionysian conflict (Paglia renames the “Dionysian” because she considers the word “Dionysian” to have become corrupted by an association with hedonism). Apollo was the Greek god of light, music, art, medicine and knowledge. Dionysus was the Greek god of wine, religious ecstasy and possession and madness, the chaotic and unpredictable, and in some myths was partially descended from the deities of the underworld. Apollo is thus synonymous with the human intellect, whereas Dionysus is all about volcanic emotions and divine revelation.

Paglia expands and expounds upon these symbols. To her, the Cthonian (her term for the Dionysian) is about the flesh (and sex), hedonistic revelry, transgression, intuition and emotion and irrationality, femininity, chaos, the dissolution of individuality into the many (akin to the ‘loss of self’ experienced in heightened religious rituals), nature (in its ambivalent sense), disorder, mother-goddess/fertility religions. The Apollonian is about reason and abstract thought, often ascetic self-denial, forcing order onto chaos, shaping the world around us and remaking it to suit us, sky-god religions, masculinity, individuation and self-definition.

But can the world be understood as a conflict between these two things? For one, many internal elements of the Apollonian are in conflict. For two, there are many movements and ideologies and historical forces which integrate elements of both forces; if the Apollonian and Cthonian are indeed unified forces which are irreconcilable with each other then this should not happen.

For example, “reason and abstract thought” is hard to reconcile with many “sky-god religions” which, in many cases historically, have primarily been based upon faith. Of course the Thomist tradition within Catholicism has a role for reason (when it substantiates faith), but rationality often conflicts with many beliefs in Abrahamic Monotheism. From our Original Sin being eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, to the rejection of the Mu’tazilites by almost all of the Islamic world, it is difficult to avoid seeing a conflict between reason and the most influential sky-god religions. Not to mention that sky-god religions have historically been very hostile towards individuality (and individualism broadly speaking) and damaging towards the process of individuation for many people raised in such faiths.

And if Apollonianism and Cthonianism are locked in inexorable conflict, how does one explain the big ideologies of the modern world? Classical Liberalism is ‘chaotic’, opposes central planning, and wishes for unplanned organic growth and flourishing, yet resoundingly endorses the individual as the core unit of society, promotes freedom as essential for individual fulfillment, and has historically been intertwined with Enlightenment-era reason; this should be impossible if Paglia’s categories had an objective basis. Marxism dissolved the individual into the collective yet also spoke of reshaping and taming nature through human productivity. Fascism too dissolved the individual into the group and used mass rallies to encourage mob psychology, it rejected reason and logic in favor of emotion and passion, yet saw itself as imposing order on chaos and demanded strict regulation and management of everyone’s affairs.

Paglia speaks of the Apollonian and Cthonian as real forces, yet the Apollonian seems full of warring contradictory elements. Paglia argues that the Apollonian and Cthonian are at eternal war, yet three of the most influential ideologies of modern history seem to comfortably integrate elements of both. Her two analytical categories seem untenable.

Apparently, Gay Artists Are Manly
But what really buries her concept of the Apollonian and the equation of it with the masculine is that this does not resemble traditional gender norms. Paglia claims her categories are reflective of great natural truths reflected transhistorically within the Western canon, yet our society does not seem to abide by her conception of masculinity.

For one, Paglia argues that the greatest of Apollonians are asexual and homosexual men. According to Paglia, this represents the ultimate rejection of and rebellion against the mother figure (I’m sure Milo Yiannopoulos would have something to say about this). To Paglia, the heterosexual man implicitly degrades himself to some degree when he has sex with women; he admits their power over his id/urges. He submerges himself back inside where he once came from. He is thus less distant from the feminine than the asexual and homosexual man.

I think it is relatively obvious, however, that the traditional gender roles we encounter today have typically mandated heterosexuality as a necessary component of “real manhood.” For a man to be queer or asexual is seen as emasculating to him, as evidenced by the content of many homophobic slurs and stereotypes.

For two, Paglia’s argument would imply that priests and celibates, as well as artists and philosophers, are the most masculine of men. I do not think that anyone would suggest that this matches traditional masculine stereotypes; Pope Francis is certainly not regarded as a testosterone-drenched alpha male. The stereotypes our society has surrounding male artists are often not dissimilar from those stereotypes surrounding male queers (the demographics do have meaningful overlap of course). And whilst philosophers have a long tradition of self-regard going back to Aristotle (whom argued that philosophy was the most noble of professions), we don’t think of philosophy graduates when we think of “real men.”

For three, Paglia’s argument would predict that engineers, scientists, architects and computer programmers would all be seen as the pinnacle of “real manhood,” but last time I checked Bill Gates is not a sex symbol, nor is Dr. Matt Taylor. Indeed, many men with highly abstract temperaments and keen intellects are seen as sexual losers and social misfits, are bullied by their more traditionally-masculine peers and are shunned by women.

The Apollonian male is not the “alpha” male. Paglia’s respect for queer men, nerdy men, artists and autists and philosophers and thinkers is very much welcome, but it is not reflected in our society. The Apollonian male is typically an outlier – atypically smart, atypically detached and abstract, perhaps neuroatypical, atypically sexually inclined, and often a misfit relative to mainstream culture. Such a man is not, to use the feminist term, hegemonically masculine.

“Real Manhood” vs. Paglia
So what is “real manhood”? In our society, what images does this conjure? We inevitably think of images like the stars of team sports (who often subsume their individuality into a greater collective). We think of brawn and athleticism. We think of soldiers (who, again, subsume their individuality into a greater whole). We think not of levelheaded contemplation, but of anger and rage. We think of someone who solves problems with fists and force, not negotiation or diplomacy.

In short, what Paglia misses is that “real manhood” fits into her conception of the Cthonian. Whilst I absolutely disagree with his normative conclusions, Jack Donovan is correct that traditional notions of masculinity have always been tribal/collective; this means that traditional masculinity and the individuation which Paglia celebrates as Apollonian are usually at odds with each other. Traditional masculinity praises physical strength and concrete work over contemplation and reasoning and the production of knowledge. And of course, Real Men Are Uncultured and art is for pussies! Oh, and they must drink beer constantly whilst watching football and dissolving their individuality into the tribal collective of the team and its supporters, too.

It is hard to think Paglia – a person of extremely substantial intellect – cannot see just how much traditional masculinity (which, as this (http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2013/12/camille-paglia-got-no-time-for-pajama-boys) article shows, is something she is very familiar with) fits her portrait of the Cthonian. Yet doing so would undermine the basic psychohistorical/meta-anthropological dichotomy her entire theory relies on.

Paglia forgets that Dionysus was a dude. Cthonian Nature, red in tooth and claw, produces animals of both sexes.

Conclusion
Paglia is an incredibly entertaining writer and speaker whom has made some of the most incredible critiques of contemporary feminism ever advanced. The world would be much less entertaining if it were to lose her voice. She provides compelling ripostes to the modern “high-art” culturati, to the social justice fashions that have corrupted the academy, and to the man-hating bile flowing from Steinem’s pen. But she is not a Men’s Human Rights Advocate, and she is not beyond critique.

Let us leave aside her belief that pederasty should be legal (whilst she may have a case for lowering the age of consent to 16, “pederasty” often permits much more troubling expressions of ephebophilia, and she only speaks of legalizing “boy love” and nothing about legalizing ephebophilia involving females). Let us leave aside her belief that rape is endemic to traditional masculinity (albiet she sees it as an expression of male fear and frustration and mother-rejection rather than of simple contempt for women). Let us leave aside her belief that men are prone to animalistic violence (she doesn’t see the dark side of humanity as gender-exclusive; women have such urges too). And let us, to be fair, leave aside the gender-neutral aspects of her worldview; those are all open to critique but not from a gender perspective.

Camille Paglia begins with an extremely questionable Freudian theory about the male condition, upon which she posits a Dialectical Pseudo-Monist relationship between femininity and masculinity. She then spins a theory about the Apollonian and Cthonian as masculinity and femininity respectively; this theory blatantly contradicts the empirically observed gender norms men face in our society. Traditional masculinity is arguably just as Cthonian as traditional femininity; Paglia’s Apollonian ideal reflects marginalized outlier men whom have historically been the target of social emasculation. If her theory were correct one would expect our popular culture to admire the very men it degrades and scorns. Paglia might be a change of pace from the misandrist feminists, but her theory of masculinity and the male condition does not describe reality.

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  • Peter Wright

    Wow, epic article.

    “The core problem with Paglia’s theory is simple; her Apollonian-Cthonian
    theory of masculinity and femininity respectively is a false dichotomy
    which fails to account for the Cthonian nature of traditional
    masculinity/’real manhood’ as we know it.”

    “Paglia’s dichotomy between the Apollonian and the Cthonian is an
    adaptation of Nietzsche’s own Apollonian-Dionysian conflict (Paglia
    renames the “Dionysian” because she considers the word “Dionysian” to
    have become corrupted by an association with hedonism).”

    Nailed it. She relies too heavily on Nietzsche who himself was parroting a deeper rift within the entire German race – a split between the Apollonian and Dionysian. Just read Faust where the professor gets seduced out of his Apollonic university and into the tavern to get drunk and eventually go on a romp with Greek Gods – a Dionysian romp if there ever was one. Or look at the Germanic novel Kingdom Without Space as a fight between Apollonian and Dionysian forces takes place in the soul of the lead character. Everywhere you read in German literature this problem of the Apollonian mind comes up…… they need their huge beer steins and Dionysus to snap them out of it.

    It’s worth pointing out that German women also suffer from Apollonic mind – it’s a cultural problem.

    But the rest of us are not Germans and we don’t have that particular problem…. so Paglia is relying too heavily on it. Moreover it’s just plain gender stereotyping as you point out so well above.

    The sense I get from Paglia is that she views men’s civilization-building as men’s “rightful place” – which to me comes close if not all the way to Hoff-Sommers’ expectation of male chivalry…. even if Paglia doesn’t use the C word.

    We can conclude that while Hoff-Sommers and Paglia are anti-feminist feminists (scoff) they are nevertheless traditionalists wanting men back on the plantation of sexist servitude, building civilizations and opening doors for the ladies.

    A really great article thanks for writing it, takes guts to call these women out for what they are – traditional gynocentrists.

    • YetAnotherCommenter

      Thank you for your response.

      I’m not sure I’d describe Paglia as believing that men “must” or are morally obliged to serve women. She believes men build civilization just as a natural response to Freudian neurosis about mothers. She doesn’t say men HAVE to do this, or even that they “should” but rather that they WILL and DO. She does, however, believe it should be appreciated and admired. I also think its important to remember that Paglia invests this creative, civilization-building tendency in gender-nontraditional men… intellectuals, philosophers, science geeks, queer and asexual guys. So Paglia is hard to describe as a traditionalist; traditionalist conservatives don’t celebrate pornography, pederasty, prostitution, paganism, the Freudian sexualization of everything, etc.

      Paglia is… weird. She’s not a traditional gynocentrist IMO, but nor is she a supporter of Men’s Human Rights. She’s this sui generis, outlier, unique crazy person. Who’s sometimes absolutely brilliant. But her gender theory makes little sense.

      Interesting perspective on the Germans. I honestly have very little ability to assess that; I am not German myself and know very little about the German national character (although I think they’ve produced some of the worst philosophers in history and that German Idealism is basically the philosophical equivalent of diarrhea). Fantastic engineers though. Some really good architects too. And very nice food! Filling and warming. I also like the schnapps but that’s a different issue.

      Thanks again for responding. I appreciate that you enjoyed the article!

      • Peter Wright

        I’m not sure I’d describe Paglia as believing that men “must” or are morally obliged to serve women.

        Can’t remember using the word must of Paglia’s attitude toward men’s service, but she certainly lauds civilization building and various other heroics as if it were the natural order of things. Problematic to say the least. If she were to make a small gesture of questioning whether men need to continue in those roles of service it would cast her overview in a better light. Right now all I’m seeing in he is another antifeminist gynocentrist.

        PS. I don’t view traditionalism and gynocentric traditionalism as synonymous. Nothing wrong with being a traditionalist if it doesn’t involve male servitude. Paul and I wrote about that distinction here: https://www.avoiceformen.com/sexual-politics/traditionalism-vs-traditionalism/

        • YetAnotherCommenter

          “Nothing wrong with being a traditionalist or a tradcon if it doesn’t involve male servitude.”

          I’d have to disagree with that.

          Now of course if someone voluntarily wants a traditional relationship that’s fine for them. The problem is that “traditionalism” isn’t merely personally embracing a traditional lifestyle but believing said lifestyles are natural/normative and thus that other lifestyles are not. Think of it this way; one can wish for drugs to be legalized and destigmatized without personally wishing to take drugs. The same with traditional relationship styles. If someone wants a sole-male-breadwinner/sole-female-homemaker/nuclear-family arrangement, and all parties to that relationship are happy with it, that’s fine. But I wouldn’t call that being a “traditionalist” or a “tradcon” – merely having a personal preference isn’t the same as endorsing moral norms which mandate that preference be adopted by everyone else.

          • Peter Wright

            Promoting your own preference as normative, or worse wanting to enforce it, is a whole other kettle of fish….. not one I’d ascribe to all traditionalists and tradcons.

            I’ll leave it at that rather than get lost in different definitions and semantics.

          • YetAnotherCommenter

            I guess it depends on definitions, but “tradcon”/”traditionalist” has always been a term which I have explicitly used to refer to those who believe their choices are the best not just for themselves but for others. After all, our society’s traditions, and the socially conservative wings of our society’s political parties, have always been about punishing deviance and encouraging normalcy/conformity.

            I wouldn’t classify “someone who personally prefers to live a traditional lifestyle” as a tradcon/traditionalist. I think, however, we’re just using different semantics.

  • Artie

    Excellent article.
    I agree that Paglia is not a men’s rights advocate, but I think that you have overstated the case against her gender theory.

    Her dichotomy between the Cthonian and Apollonian explains some aspects of gender roles but not all. So when you say:
    “For example, “reason and abstract thought” is hard to reconcile with many “sky-god religions” which, in many cases historically, have primarily been based upon faith.”
    That is correct but you also have to consider the fact that the New Testament characterizes God in terms of “Logos”, or word, or reason. This is taken very seriously by theologians. You should also consider the fact that western societies, with our sky-gods, were responsible for developing science, partly due to our sky-gods.

    Your remarks on the way modern ideologies combine the Cthonian and Apollonian were interesting but not decisive. You asked:
    “And if Apollonianism and Cthonianism are locked in inexorable conflict, how does one explain the big ideologies of the modern world?”
    Paglia could just reply that she wasn’t trying to explain the big ideologies, and maybe that the conflict is not inexorable.

    Masculinity as advertised today does include beer drinking and you say:
    “Traditional masculinity praises physical strength and concrete work over contemplation and reasoning and the production of knowledge. And of course, Real Men Are Uncultured and art is for pussies!”

    This is a bit simplistic. You are describing the kind of masculinity expected of the slave class, or the soldier whose duty is just to obey. If you look at most masculine heroes in literature, guys like Odysseus for example, they always had some kind of cunning strategic intelligence, even if they weren’t nerds. The nobility of pre-modern times did not think that art was for pussies.

    I do not entirely agree with Paglia’s dichotomy, and it certainly doesn’t explain everything, but I tend to think it explains some things. The transition from mother-earth worship to sky-gods is an important and well-documented theory.

    Cheers
    Artie

    • YetAnotherCommenter

      Artie,

      Thanks for the response! I greatly appreciate this.

      You claim I overstate the case against Paglia, but Paglia’s own book makes some extremely grandiose claims. She claims to be onto a transhistorical conflict that defines Western culture itself. Sure, Paglia could make more modest claims and clarifications and add a lot more nuance but her first book doesn’t actually do that.

      As for the sky-god thing my honest opinion is that Paglia’s own pantheon-dichotomy is very much an oversimplification. To the ancients, their gods were reflective of natural forces, and weren’t transcendent from material reality in the way that the god of Abrahamic monotheism is characterized. Poseidon – a man – was the god of the sea rather than the sky. Haephestus was a god of the underworld, but male. I don’t see how sky-gods or the like necessarily contributed to the advancement of science, and I do know of many cases where hyper-transcendental religions have stood very much against scientific progress (Christianity and Islam in particular).

      You’re right that the kind of brutish/jockish masculinity was a lower-class masculinity, but Paglia doesn’t bring class into the equation. She proclaims that the unsexed, upper-class, queer-friendly, artists-and-philosophers masculinity… this Apollonian manhood… IS our culture’s version of masculinity and that there’s a biological basis for it. But if this were true it would be reflected in the gender norms across all classes.

      • Artie

        Yes, you are absolutely right. Paglia makes grandiose claims, her dichotomy is too simple and you can find any number of cases where it won’t apply.
        But she is worth defending to some extent because she is an amazing scholar, one who aims to explain the whole history of civilization. It is delightful to read the first chapter of Sexual Personae just because it goes straight for the big picture. It is difficult to name another humanities scholar who does anything like that. Maybe Jordan Peterson is comparable.
        The Greeks and Romans had gods for almost everything – roads, shoes, rivers, trees, etc. So sure there was a male god of the underworld, and so on. But the rulers, the gods that mattered, were on Mt Olympus, or up in the sky. So the theory is that as men learned about their role in sexual reproduction, they gained more power over women and nature at the same time. Previously the mother earth was worshiped instead of sky gods, and the change to sky gods who rule nature was a cultural shift towards patriarchy, or at least greater male power in the public world. Power that comes from (masculine, abstract) knowledge of how (feminine, concrete) nature works.
        Paglia extrapolates this idea and probably takes it too far.

        • YetAnotherCommenter

          I certainly don’t have any problem with big picture thinking, but I’m simply saying that Paglia’s explanation of gender concepts literally doesn’t describe reality at all. Are gay and asexual men considered more masculine than heterosexual pussy-crushing Chads? Were they ever considered more masculine than heterosexual pussy-crushing Chads? Paglia’s theory directly endorses the idea of queer men being the height of masculinity; our actual culture says exactly the opposite.

          Speaking of that, may I ask for a reference as to the theory you cite regarding the transition from “mother earth” to “sky god” worship being about a shift in gender-related attitudes? I’d love to look at the books/scholarship on that theory.

          • Artie

            If Paglia’s theory directly endorses the idea of queer men being the height of masculinity, then it is wrong. However I am not sure that the Apollo-Dionysian dichotomy endorses this idea directly. She probably said something like that, but it doesn’t follow from her actual theory (in my opinion).
            I am sorry but I can’t think of a good reference for the transition from mother earth to sky gods. There was a book I read long ago, but I can’t find it any more.

  • https://pissedthefuckoff.wordpress.com/ Mark

    The problem that I have with Paglia is a bit simpler. Simply put, she is a total, disrespectful cunt – and usually completely unnecessarily so. Then again, that kind of unnecessary disrespectfulness is something that has been a problem with many Men’s Rights Activists, as well.

    • YetAnotherCommenter

      Ehhh, a lot of the people Camille is a cunt towards don’t deserve respect in the first place. But I’d rather interrogate the substance of someone’s arguments than the tone.

      • https://pissedthefuckoff.wordpress.com/ Mark

        I think it depends on the circumstances as to how much tone matters. I don’t think it’s good to just dismiss concerns about tone in all circumstances.

  • Stephen Timmis

    If Paglia argues as you say, and draws a distinction between a male/Apollonian force and a Chthonian/female force then I think her position is thoroughly untenable.

    Nietsche picked the Apolonian-Dionysian dichotomy for a good reason. Apollo stood for the Intellectual side of knowledge, but Dionysius (also a Sun God) referred to Gnostic knowledge (truths that are gained and understood in non-rational ways). These are twin aspects of Human Solar Consciousness, and refers to a division of the human psyche much more than to material divisions or differences between people. We all have an Apollonian-Dionysian divide within our means of encountering the World.

    The Chthonian is not the opposite of the Apollonian. In reality Apollo is part of the Olympian Pantheon of Deities. Dionysus is not part of the Olympian Pantheon, but like Demeter, Persephone, Hades, is part of the Chthonian Pantheon of Gods. The divide is therefore not Apollonian-Chthonian, but either Apollonian-Dionysian or Olympian-Chthonic.

    Whereas the Apollonian-Dionysian divide is concerned with the means of gaining knowledge, the Olympian-Chthonian divide is a separation of the Concious from the Unconcious. The unconcious can be divided between the subconcious and the superconcious. This means that the Chthonic cannot be wholly identified with materialism, and certainly not wholly with the feminine.

    The original dichotomies, probably understood long before the Greek formulation used here, are referencing divisions in the Human psyche, and shows ancient consciousness to have an intellectual as well as a passionate side, and also a superconcious as much as a subconcious, and that all existed within the “mind” (Logos- Nous) of each end every existing individual regardless of the nature of the physical vehicle in which it was housed for the duration of an incarnation. (Yes, the Egyptian/Pythagorian origins of the Eleusinian Tradition clearly took reincarnation for granted).

    The whole battle here is not as materialistic as is suggested by a male/female divide. The Apollonian-Dionysian Divide (and also the Conscious-Unconscious) was the basis for Nietsche considering life to be subject to eternal recurrence, as opposed to the Hegelian idea of a progress of Geist fulfilling itself through the process of History. First one side of Human nature rules us, but the pendulum will always swing back to the Dionysian side from time to time.

    Nietsche considered there were three great evils in modern human society – Socialism, Women and Christianity – he hated all three because they encouraged people to hide like sheep in a flock. He considered these types of thought to destroy true human realisation because they ecouraged, alternately, collective action over individual effort, victimhood and entitlement over personal responsibility, and subservience and shame over discovering your true self.

    All of the Gree Stuff exhibits divisions within an individual, not between groups in a society.

  • Noor

    This was fascinating, thanks. I had no idea of this aspect of her worldview. You’re essentially right if we’re going by a certain ideal of masculinity. But I don’t think that’s the kind of masculinity Paglia is thinking of.

    Rather, she seems to be thinking of anti-social, autistic maleness – not masculinity as what society says men should be.

    Simon Baron-Cohen’s theory about autism is that it’s an extreme of the ‘male brain’. (Some in the MRM have extrapolated on some theories about the opposite of that – extreme femininity being hyper-empathy, consisting of viewing everything as having agency and intent – being the cores of a lot of feminist paranoia.)

    There’s no doubt that men are more likely to be nerds, while women are more likely to be popular. In a way one could argue that the “jock/stud masculinity”, what society claims a “real man” to be, is actually men being encouraged to be feminine – worried about power and hierarchies, social status, and the like. (I’ve even seen a MGTOW arguing that Christian Grey is feminine in how he says one thing and does another, but I don’t buy that much.)