The Cyruses we need

The sexuality scholars of the time fancied themselves edgy characters exploding bourgeois norms. They took pleasure in deriding older scholars, the “dead wood” who devoted their careers to such square projects as the Standard Edition of John Dryden. They, by contrast, wrote books with such titles as Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault; Sodometries: Renaissance Texts, Modern Sexualities; and Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety. The key words of the day were “subversive” and “transgressive.”

Paglia showed them what subverting and transgressing really looked like, mocking the tenured radicals’ bogus cultural politics—bourgeois lives in leafy college towns and hip urban neighborhoods—and inept handling of bohemian, illicit material.…

… It was taken as a sign of profundity, not incoherence, that few people could untangle sentences such as this from Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (1990):

Once the incest taboo is subjected to Foucault’s critique of the repressive hypothesis in The History of Sexuality, that prohibitive or juridical structure is shown both to instate compulsory heterosexuality within a masculinist sexual economy and to enable a critical challenge to that economy.

Rather than labor to translate such a sentence into English, Paglia mocked it. Why take these writers’ half-baked “readings” and low standards seriously, she asked. They come from dilettantes, not creative minds.

In 1991 Paglia spoke at Harvard, where she accused the university of hiring “trendy people in cultural studies centers who believe that the world was created by Foucault in 1969.”…

… Since those professors were too ensconced and comfortable to improve, or even to carry out the basic pedagogical duties, the students must take charge of their own education:

First, make the library your teacher. Rediscover the now neglected works of the great scholars of the last 150 years, who worked blessedly free of the mental pollutants of poststructuralism. Immerse yourself in the reference collection, and master chronology and etymology. Refuse to cooperate with the coercive ersatz humanitarianism that insultingly defines women and African-Americans as victims. Insist on free thought and free speech.

The critique struck home. Under Paglia’s raillery, the theorists of sex and politics looked like small ignorant figures in spite of their knowing demeanor. All they really understood was academic politics, which they played very well. Paglia demonstrated that they had erected a social network that operated on cronyism and prestige, which would collapse as soon as a few genuinely erudite and courageous critics challenged them.

In Provocations Paglia declares that the heart of the ’60s movements was “a new religious vision,” whose votaries cared about political reform, but “were also seeking the truth about life outside [existing] religious and social institutions.” The truth came before politics, sex, rebellion, or drugs. The truth Paglia identified long ago is that in all human beings there is an “emotional turmoil that is going on above and below politics, outside the scheme of social life.” Great art touches it, and so does religion. Individuals who respond to art and religion understand that when politics and social life presume to replace them as right expressions of that turmoil, they falsify it instead…and Paglia won’t countenance a lie. That puts her at odds with every institution liberals have managed to seize, from academia to the Democratic Party. But if you mentioned that to her, she would shrug and get on with the truth-telling. She has nature on her side.

Mark Bauerlein, Force of Nature, Claremont Review of Books.

A lot of Evangelicals reportedly believe that Donald Trump is kind of like King Cyrus in Jewish Scriptures/Old Testament (pick your preference), sent to rescue Real Christians® from liberal captivity.

I’m more inclined to think that Camille Paglia and Jordan Peterson, neither of them Real Christians® but with extraordinary crap detectors, are doing the Lord’s work, probably unwittingly, in demolishing parts of the deathworks. (They are two reasons I believe in common grace and natural law.)

It remains to us to walk out of the rubble.

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