Hollowing Out of the Humanities

Another article that I’m taking notes on: Camille Paglia: It’s Time for a New Map of the Gender World. Another reminder that this is not necessarily supposed to make sense to you, but I’m using this as a tool to understand ideas being published elsewhere.

Camille Paglia

Paglia is an essayist, author, and professor of humanities at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, where she has taught since 1984. She completed her PhD at Yale under the supervision of Harold Bloom

She described the followers of Lacan, Derrida and Foucault, as “fossilized reactionaries,” and “the perfect prophets for the weak, anxious academic personality.”

Q: Why have other humanities academics been so spineless in preserving the integrity of their fields?

Western universities have been corrupted by postmodernism and post-structuralism since the spread in 1970s. Literary criticism was moving in a different, more conceptual direction, heavy on European philosophy. (Derrida and DeMan) Add-on programs and departments like women’s studies and African-American studies.

It happened because a recession hit in the 1970s, and the job market in academe collapsed. Fancy-pants post-structuralism was the ticket to ride for ambitious young careerists. Its coy, showy gestures and clotted lingo were insiders’ badges of claimed intellectual superiority. The whole lot of them were mediocrities from the start.

The older generation of scholars were not fighters. American professors, (unlike the Brits) had not been schooled in satirical debate. They were courtly and genteel. I once described it as “walking on eggs at the funeral home.” My academic mentorHarold Bloom never systematically engaged or critiqued the subject or used his access to the general media to endorse debate (debate was counterproductive– it enabled the faux leftists of academe to define themselves as boldly progressive.) It is difficult to understand why professors in safe, powerful positions avoided direct combat.

The greatness of the complex and continuous Western tradition seemed self-evident: the canon would surely stand, even if supplemented by new names. They probably believed the new trend was a fad that would blow away like autumn leaves. The tenured professors realized that change was necessary, and failed to provide an alternative vision of a remodeled university of the future.

post-structuralism was reactionary, resisting and reversing the true revolution of the 1960s American counterculture, which liberated the senses and reconnected the body and personal identity to nature, in the Romantic manner.

the poisons of post-structuralism have now spread throughout academe and have done enormous damage to basic scholarly standards and disastrously undermined belief even in the possibility of knowledge.

The steady decline in humanities majors is an unmistakable signal that this once noble field has become a wasteland.


  • interdisciplinary innovation in the humanities. (Meaning what, exactly?)
  • comparative religion to become the undergraduate core curriculum, an authentically global multiculturalism
  • technique of microscopic close analysis of the text, and it remains a marvelous tool for cultural criticism
  • Reinstate classic literature and survey courses demonstrating sequential patterns in history ( now dismissed as a “false narrative”)


“swelling horde of officious, overpaid administrators, North American universities became, decade by decade, political correctness camps.”

“Bookish, introverted old-school professors were not prepared for guerrilla warfare to defend basic scholarly principles or to withstand waves of defamation and harassment.”

“No democracy can survive in such a paranoid climate of ambush and summary execution.”

“literary criticism had to recover authentic historical consciousness and also to expand toward psychology” (what does she mean by this?)

It is reductive to claim that value in the history of art is always determined by the power plays of a self-referential social elite.” (?)

Receding influence of organized religion.

secular humanism has failed. if religion is erased, something must be put in its place. Belief systems are intrinsic to human intelligence and survival. They “frame” the flux of primary experience.

politics cannot fill the gap. Society is only a fragment of the totality of life. Marxism has no metaphysics: it cannot even detect, much less comprehend, the enormity of the universe and the operations of nature. Those who invest all of their spiritual energies in politics will reap the infantile rage suffered by those who have turned fallible politicians into saviors and devils, godlike avatars of Good versus Evil.

My substitute for religion is art, which I have expanded to include all of popular culture. But when art is reduced to politics, as has been programmatically done in academe for 40 years, its spiritual dimension is gone. A society that respects neither religion nor art cannot be called a civilization.

The #MeToo movement

The headlong rush to judgment by so many well-educated, middle-class women in the #MeToo movement has been startling and dismaying. Their elevation of emotion and group solidarity over fact and logic has resurrected damaging stereotypes of women’s irrationality that were once used to deny us the vote. I found the blanket credulity given to women accusers during the recent U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh positively unnerving: it was the first time since college that I truly understood the sexist design of Aeschylus’s Oresteia, whose mob of vengeful Furies is superseded by formal courts of law, where evidence is weighed.

It is obviously a positive development that sexual abuse is no longer hidden or tolerated. I am wholeheartedly in favor of women students or employees knowing their rights and speaking up to defend them. However, the #MeToo movement has gone seriously off track.

this movement is a rediscovery by Western women of the joy of their own mutually nurturing solidarity—a primary feature of daily life during 10,000 years of the agrarian era. the sexes throughout human history actually had very little to do with each other. There was the world of men and the world of women, each with its own spheres of influence and activity. Women didn’t take men that seriously, and vice versa.

equity feminist: I demand equal opportunity for women through the removal of all barriers to their advance in the professional and political realms. I oppose special protections for women as inherently paternalistic and regressive. Women have rarely worked side by side with men in the way they now do in the modern workplace, whose competitive operational systems were devised by men for maximum productivity. Despite their general affluence, professional women of the Western world have been chronically unhappy for decades, and I conjecture that it is partly because they have been led to expect happiness from a mechanical work environment that doesn’t make men happy either.

the nuclear family is a relatively new and isolating phenomenon. Wives returning from work to an apartment or house are expecting their husbands to fulfill all the emotional and conversational needs that were once fulfilled by other women of multiple generations where the burdens of childcare and eldercare were group shared.

What I see spreading among professional middle-class women is a bitter resentment toward men that is in many cases unjust and misplaced. With divorce so easy since the sexual revolution, women find themselves competing with younger women in new and cruel ways. Agrarian women gained power as they aged: young women were brainless pawns whose marriages, pregnancies, childcare, cooking, and other chores were acerbically supervised and controlled by the dictatorial crones.

women are realizing that the sexual revolution that many of us had once ecstatically embraced has in key ways devalued women, confused their private relationships, and complicated their smooth functioning in the workplace. It’s time for a new map of the gender world.

Further Reading

  • essay collections Vamps and Tramps and Sex
  • Art and American Culture
  • Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence, from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson
  • Break, Blow, Burn
  • Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars
  • Free Women, Free Men: Sex, Gender and Feminism (February 2018)
  • Provocations: Collected Essays on Art, Feminism, Politics, Sex and Education, which was released by Pantheon in October 2018
  • Derrida, J. Hillis Miller, DeMan, Lacan, Foucault
  • “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf” (Arion, Spring 1991; reprinted in my first essay collection, Sex, Art, and American Culture)
  • Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot
  • Arnold Hauser’s Marxist, multi-volume A Social History of Art (1951)
  • Aeschylus’s Oresteia (a mob of vengeful Furies is superseded by formal courts of law)

Vocabulary Test

  • subversive
  • erudite
  • Deconstruction
  • postmodernism
  • Post-structuralism
  • abjectly
  • paroxysms of inchoate
  • histrionics
  • nadir
  • atavistic
  • cri de coeur

Featured Image : Flickr

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