Earlier this month, when some highly educated matron or other had to reach for her smelling salts upon hearing “Under My Thumb” whilst shopping for groceries (the Trader Joe’s manager who refrained from saying “Lady, I’ve heard that song so many times in the last month I don’t even notice it anymore. All possibility of enjoyment of it has been systematically driven from me. I couldn’t care any less if you held a gun to my head. Now, are you gonna put that second package of gluten-free wheat germ back, or are you going to vacate the ’12 Items or Less’ aisle?” deserves a raise), I got a fillip of the familiar. Lester Bangs used to write about what the “woman’s libbers” were going to do to Jagger every time he toured, but I recalled something from Camille Paglia in particular, dealing with how “Under My Thumb” began her conflict with respectable feminism.
This was where I realized — this was 1969 — boy, I was bounced fast, right out of the movement. And I had this huge argument. Because I said you cannot apply a political agenda to art. When it comes to art, we have to make other distinctions. We had this huge fight about the song “Under My Thumb.” I said it was a great song, not only a great song but I said it was a work of art. And these feminists of the New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band went into a rage, surrounded me, practically spat in my face, literally my back to the wall. They’re screaming in my face: “Art? Art? Nothing that demeans women can be art!” There it is. There it is! Right from the start. The fascism of the contemporary women’s movement.
This is from a transcript of a lecture she gave at M.I.T. in september of 1991. I read it as part of her first anthology Sex, Art and American Culture, which is a good companion piece to Sexual Personae. It contains what I believe to be Paglia’s initial cir-de-coeur “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf.” This was published in Arion in 1991 and although it reviews two contemporary books before unleashing hell at post-structuralism, I believe it entirely relevant today, based on what I recall of college in the mid-to-late 90’s and grad school four years ago. She pulls no punches with Derrida, Lacan (“The French fog machine”), or especially Foucault, whom she finds guilty of being a boring, snide poseur, full of facile wordplay and bereft of learning. An appropriate passage:
Foucault is the high-concept pusher and deal-maker of the cocaine decades. His big squishy pink-marshmallow word is “power”, which neither he nor his followers fully understand. It caroms around picking up lint and dog hair but is no substitute for political analysis. Foucault’s ignorance of prehistory and ancient history, based in the development and articulation of cultures and legal codes, makes his discussions of power otiose. He never asks how power is gained or lost, justly administered or abused. He does not show how efficient procedures get overformalized, entrenched, calcified, then shattered and reformed. He has no familiarity with theories of social or biological hierarchies, such as the “pecking order” universally observed in farmyards and schoolyards. Because, in the faddish French way, he ridiculously denies personality exists, he cannot assess the impact of strong personalities on events nor can he, like Weber, catalog types of authority or prestige.
She goes on like this, sticking shaft after shaft in the old dead fart until it starts to look like the Martyrdom of St. Sebastian. But that line about picking up lint and dog hair is giggling genius. Post-modernism and post-structuralism are nothing more than the Sophists laughing at us from beyond the grave of their cultures. The whole goddamn thing is so brainless, a bot can do it.