Thursday, April 07, 2005


So I came out of that quirky period in American education where I really could, if I wanted to, read NOTHING but contemporary writers and still graduate with an English degree. Other than a tremendous survey history of English literature course in the very first semester, I stayed modern as modern could be. I didn't read any Jane Austen until I was in my mid20s, along with as much Dickens as I could. Now, I'm lurching through Shakespeare. I should add, however, that in my childhood, I was a Greek mythology freak, and in high school, I played Tiresias in "Oedipus Rex." And now I'm trying to write some pretty complex things, and I turn, again and again, to the masters to steal, steal, steal. Even those rat bastard sexist masters.

So now...I find myself drawn to Camille Paglia. I have, on occasion, talked to her students, and she really is a house afire in the classroom...when it comes to the classics. I think some of her social theories are just damned loopy--but she's too unpredictable for the conservatives to welcome her into the fold, and I like that about her.

And here, Camille Paglia is on fire with poetry: "Artists have got to get back to studying art history and doing emotionally engaged art. Get over that tired postmodern cynical irony and hip posing, which is such an affliction in the downtown urban elite. We need an artistic and cultural revival. Back to basics!"

I'm sure she's going to get flak about this, most especially because painters such as Lisa Yuskavage actually DO know their art history. The really good ones always do: Miles Davis, for instance, knew exactly what he was rejecting. The crisis is actually among those students, who, I think, see little to no point to any information--cultural or historical--that was born before today. And I think that's a political problem as much as it is an aesthetic one. It's much easier to manipulate people who can't see the big picture, which is exactly what having a sense of the past is all about.

Ahistoricity also allows us to believe that life was "simpler" back then, and that it's something we might want to get back to, at least because the clothes look neat. To which I say: go watch yourself some F**king "Deadwood."


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