VAMPS AND TRAMPS by Camille Paglia


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 Those who missed them in Playboy, The New Republic, and other media can catch up with culture diva Paglia's latest performances here. The special effects are as spectacular as ever; the act, however, is getting old. As in her previous collection, Sex, Art, and American Culture (not reviewed), Paglia fills this volume with every magazine piece of hers from the last few years, transcripts of her TV appearances, an annotated bibliography of media references to her, and even a section of cartoons in which she was featured. Paglia's production is like a three-ring circus. There's competent journalistic cultural criticism on one side, encompassing appreciations of figures like Sandra Bernhard and Amy Fisher, and reviews of books by Madonna and Edward Said. Paglia's well-publicized polemic against feminist and gay movement dogma, which continues here, hasn't gained any subtlety. Her loose use of the opprobrium ``Stalinist'' will strike those misguided readers who take her essays on ``culture war'' topics seriously as genuinely offensive. In another ring, there's batty scholarship. A long essay written especially for this volume offers a ``pagan theory of sexuality'' for the contemporary world. Those seeking rigor will be warned off by the fact that Paglia's title for this piece is taken from dialogue in the movie Ben Hur. The really compelling action comes in the center ring, where the carnival of Paglia's construction of her own persona never stops. Her straightforwardly autobiographical writing is brilliant. One moving memoir celebrates the formative influence on her of four gifted and rebellious gay male friends; another hilariously revisits the promise and the pomposity of the Susan Sontag whom the young Camille Paglia idolized. Inspired by Sontag, Paglia exclaims that ``we need more women stars who can run their own studios!'' Paglia herself has become a star, and as such she inevitably fascinates. But she often seems miscast as an intellectual leader, mirroring as she does another aspect of her image of Sontag: ``no argument, only collage.''

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-679-75120-3
Page count: 560pp
Publisher: Vintage
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1994


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