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Summary

In this brilliantly original book, Camille Paglia identifies some of the major patterns that have endured in western culture from ancient Egypt and Greece to the present. According to Paglia, one source of continuity is paganism, which, undefeated by Judeo-Christianity, continues to flourish in art, eroticism, astrology, and pop culture. Others, she says, are androgyny, sadism, and the aggressive western eye, which has created our art and cinema.

Paglia follows these and other themes, from Nefertiti and the Venus of Willendorf to Apollo and Dionysus, from Botticelli and Michaelangelo to Shakespeare and Blake and finally to Emily Dickinson, who, along with other major 19th-century authors, becomes a remarkable example of Romanticism turned into Decadence.

©1990 Yale University (P)2017 Tantor

Critic reviews

"'Pagan' in its own pictorialism, sprawl, and unstopped prose, [Paglia's] unusual book creates its brilliant effect from an explosive fusing of scholarship and theater." ( Kirkus)

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Paglia is the most remarkable intellect

How anyone can even internalise the entire Canon of Western art, let alone process it so comprehensively and then so accurately discern the underlying psychological processes giving rise to it is completely and utterly dazzling.

To then so lucidly share that stunning analysis is still more impressive.

Camille Paglia is the most remarkable intellectual I have ever had the good fortune to discover. Her appearances on YouTube are all worth seeking out and learning from.

3 people found this helpful

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  • Joe J
  • 29-10-19

Corner Stone work

A great book and author.
It would be great if the narrator knew how to pronounce the more complex and ancient terms Paglia regularly uses. It is obvious whoever recorded this did not know anything about the material.

6 people found this helpful

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  • thomass
  • 10-11-18

this was brilliant!

throughly enjoyed this. went in unsure but it was so insightful and the view point given was eye opening.
you know, things like how women dress as men to be strong like a man. be ready to do a man’s job. men that dress as women are seeking God, because they will forever envy their mothers.
and examples are given.
same with the concept of women having power. why in modern day as well throughout history woman have power over children, or those not yet at adulthood. why men mostly assault and rape women. woman can’t more than they don’t. and they do, throughout history and literature but with minors, where they have the dominance.
this lead to a quote “experience always wins against innocents” it’s just so good at feeding your mind. i really wish i had read Camille Paglia when i was back in school, i wish they had taught us this book in school.
take a bow Camille Paglia, take a bow.
*applauds*

9 people found this helpful

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  • Magnus
  • 22-01-18

Very interesting literary thematic criticism

A great amount of Paglia's personal and presumably internally consistent interpretations of the artists in historical poetry and literature. Especially as that art could be relayed as sexuality, or expressions of "Sexual personae".

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  • Theo Decker
  • 21-11-19

Best book of the 21st century.

Paglia is one of the greatest minds of the century, and this book has never been more relevant.

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  • Cassidy
  • 07-08-20

a tad repetitive, but very thorough

Paglia's scholarship and analysis is apparent to any reader. She is much more aggressive and personal in her tone than most, but it makes the book significantly less dry and more fun to read.

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  • Yoshi Tryba
  • 17-02-20

Cool concept - too long

The opening chapter is fascinating and must read. The rest is only useful if you need proof of the claims made in the opening.

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  • Benoch
  • 25-05-22

Amazing beginnings, a bit exhausting

This is one of the best works of literary criticism that I’ve ever encountered. Particularly the first five chapters. Paglia hammers her point home, but it eventually becomes predictable. Once she’s taught you to see through her lens, it becomes hard not to do so.

That said, wow!

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  • Anonymous User
  • 14-06-21

thanks for your work camille!

interesting words from one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century. only reason for 4 stars rather than 5 is I was expecting a philosophy book masquerading as erotic art history and actually it's mostly erotic art history. still amazing and insightful, just maybe don't get this if you are expecting one of paglia's lectures primarily on western culture, bc (as the title perhaps might suggest) this book is basically about sex :). however would recommend first few chapters to anyone, her thoughts there are far reaching on not primarily focused on literary criticism. I also personally really enjoyed the part on Wilde. happy reading all-

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  • jon
  • 03-05-21

Necessary Reading

Mind expanding, a golden stitch work to become wrapped in! The authors accomplishments in this book are inspired and inspiring.

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  • Samuel K Osborne
  • 21-03-21

Paglia’s magnum opus casts an Apollonian eye on the Western Canon

The firebrand feminist critic brings her cleverly incisive and rollickingly refreshing look at the Western canon. She shows a granular knowledge of cultural archetypes and employs a justified boldness to challenge conventional criticism. One may disagree with facets of her critique or certain conclusions, but they nevertheless make for an interesting listen and encourage a deeper look and appreciation for the West’s cultural patrimony.