My conversation with Camille Paglia

Here is the transcript, the video, and the podcast.  We covered a good deal of ground, here is one bit:

COWEN: You once wrote, I quote, “My substitute for LSD was Indian food,” and by that, you meant lamb vindaloo.


COWEN: You stand by this.

PAGLIA: Yes, I’ve been in a rut on lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: A rut, tell us.

PAGLIA: It’s a horrible rut.

COWEN: It’s not a horrible rut, it may be a rut.

PAGLIA: No, it’s a horrible rut. It’s a 40-year rut. Every time I go to an Indian restaurant, I say “Now, I’m going to try something new.” But, no, I must go back to the lamb vindaloo.

All I know is it’s like an ecstasy for me, the lamb vindaloo.

COWEN: Like De Quincey, tell us, what are the effects of lamb vindaloo?

PAGLIA: What can I say? I attain nirvana.

And this:

COWEN: This is Sexual Personae, your best known book, which I recommend to everyone, if you haven’t already read it.

PAGLIA: It took 20 years.

COWEN: Read all of it. My favorite chapter is the Edmund Spenser chapter, by the way.

PAGLIA: Really? Why? How strange.

COWEN: That brought Spenser to life for me.

PAGLIA: Oh, my goodness.

COWEN: I realized it was a wonderful book.

PAGLIA: Oh, my God.

COWEN: I had no idea. I thought of it as old and fusty and stuffy.

PAGLIA: Oh, yes.

COWEN: And 100 percent because of you.

PAGLIA: We should tell them that The Faerie Queene is quite forgotten now, but it had enormous impact, Spenser’s Faerie Queene, on Shakespeare, and on the Romantic poets, and so on, and so forth. The Faerie Queene had been taught in this very moralistic way. But in my chapter, I showed that it was entirely a work of pornography, equal to the Marquis de Sade.

COWEN: [laughs]

PAGLIA: How interesting that you would be drawn to that.

COWEN: Very interesting.


You also can read or hear Camille on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the Byrds, Foucault, Suzanne Pleshette vs. Tippi Hendren, dating, Brazil, Silicon Valley, Harold Bloom, LSD, her teaching career, and much, much more.

Typically a Conversation with Tyler is about ten thousand words, this one is closer to fifteen thousand.


Thanks for putting this up.

Paglia seems to have slowed down in recent years, so I'm listening at 1.5 times speed.

I listened to part of the conversation. Tyler is right. Wow, this woman talks fast! It's like listening to a normal conversation at 1.5 speed.

The links should probably be corrected so they are not redirects.

I'm not sure if it was the speed but I found her to be very difficult to listen to. I kept wanting to turn the podcast off until I ultimately did.

She does a lot of "Oooohh, my god, no! God no!" Or something like that.

Thank you very much appreciated! She's such a unique voice (figuratively, although I suppose literally too)

Could it be that Cowen waited to put up the link to the video so he could simultaneously put up the link to the transcript because the former is inferior to the latter (inferior in the sense of consumability)? Reading just this short bit of dialogue may not be compelling but it's definitely interesting, whereas the 30 plus minutes I was able to watch the (live) video was, well, a challenge. This reminds me of lots of ancient (and other) text, which was intended to be read out loud to an audience rather than read silently by the reader. Why are some texts better read than heard, and vice versa? Listen to a JFK speech and it can be mesmerizing; read it and it is not. Read a Reagan speech and it can be mesmerizing; listen to it and it is not. [The opposite may be true for others. To me, Kennedy's voice when giving a speech had the right cadence, whereas Reagan's voice did not.]

A mile wide and an inch deep - ugh. And I say that as a fan.

brilliant imo. great job interviewing a difficult subject. really helped pull my image of her into a coherent whole after having read a lot of her stuff. Thank god there are still intelligent people who can speak forthrightly. Sad to think she is getting older. “After a certain distance, every step we take in life we find the ice growing thinner below our feet, and all around us and behind us we see our contemporaries going through.” Wish she would have elaborated on Faulkner. Her Sexual Personae only goes up to around Emily Dickinson. Faulkner's bizarre range of sexual personae included practitioners of necrophilia, beastiality, incest, etc. Greek revivalism or a snowball that helped lead to the decline of which she speaks? Also inspired me to try lamb vindaloo for the first time (at Masala Express in Arlington: - no TC review in the dining guide) which was deliciously spicy and a pleasant meal but alas not nirvana but more power to those who can find it thus.

I bet she'd like pulled pork with Carolina vinegar sauce.

Vindaloo is one of the few meat dishes that are cooked with vinegar (that I know of). So I imagine that's the key to her nirvana.

The Filipino dish chicken adobo is made with vinegar and soy sauce (and is very good and easy to make at home). Probably some others.

Yes, Filipinos put vinegar on a lot of things. And it is delicious.

I enjoy a barely aged Filipina tenderloin from time to time, and yes vinegar does help with flavor and cleanliness.

That reminds me, it's been far too long since I've had sauerbraten - a German meat/vinegar dish.

Brilliant discussion, but I have to stop and comment at this:

The fiction writers are off in another world. They don’t see the world as it exists now. They don’t use the language of the contemporary world. Their English is utterly stale and cloistered. I cannot read a page of contemporary fiction, I’m sorry. Anything that’s pre–contemporary fiction, I’m a great admirer of. Believe me, these are the kind of books I’ll open like this and like that.

I guess she hasn't been reading Elmore Leonard or Peter Watts or even for that matter Gillian Flynn. Or Michel Houellebecq, whatever his stylistic quirks (some would say flaws). One could go on. I get what she's saying and I get the MFA novel problem, and if she just doesn't want to read contemporary fiction that's okay, but I think the reasons she gives for not reading contemporary fiction are not good; they feel like a Kahneman-esque reasoning-in-retrospect set of reasons.

Those three are all genre fiction of some kind or another. While the "genre fiction" category is almost completely artificial, Paglia may be thinking of modern literary fiction (you know, what makes the NYTimes Best Books of the Year list, what wins the Man Booker, etc.).

What Camille Paglia ate last week. Fascinating.

If that's all you got from a 15,000 word interview, maybe you needed to look a little more closely. You probably just wanted an opportunity to say something snarky.

...that was the best Tyler could find to excerpt from 15,000 words, too.

Tyler actually looks like a normal human being in the video

They fixed that in post.

Since she references Freud...she appears to be a classic example of someone who projects inner insecurities onto the objects of her derision. Throughout the interview she disparages others as not knowing anything or being superficial. This seems to describe her rather well.

As somebody who threw his hat into the ring for the video production job a few months ago, may I humbly suggest that you set your audio levels to a point that won't lead to clipping. The guest's voice clips almost nonstop, which explains in some part the comments about this being difficult to listen to. If her voice is making anyone's ears bleed, just know it's not (entirely) her fault.

As to the content, I know nothing of the guest but the first twenty minutes portray a petty gossip. Funny that in the middle of all her trash-talking, she favorably credits the creative impulse of Led Zeppelin, who stole most of what they published. She likes "When the Levee Breaks"? Yeah, that was somebody else.

Audio levels during interviews can be all over the place. If you can't afford an audio person to ride the levels, try an audio compressor or even better the Aphex "Compellor" Automated Compressor/Leveler/Limiter (this assumes that the clipping is happening in the mixer or at the interface to the A/D converter - if it is happening in the pre-amp you are stuck).

Also for de-clipping after a recording, see:

'Cultural conservative' is the new euphemism for 'bitter old person'?

The arc of civilization may rise high and then bend towards decay or even show that behaviour cyclically but it does not have to do so in your lifetime.

What is the combined probability that modern Ivy Leaguers lack character, modern music lacks character, modern fiction writers lack character, internet writing has gone over the bend, modern students need travel more than students from a bygone era, that the most memorable movie is from when Paglia was a teen, that modern football is inferior, that the most important thing about 2nd wave feminism is that Gloria Steinem was a fraud, that Liz Taylor was sexier than any icons around today, that....

Oh never mind.

And all this despite the fact that because of her rooting her beliefs in the differential psychology of men and women and on the inherent importance of culture, Paglia has a deep, visceral pull on my intuition.

The Brazil bit was hilarious. All these women spending their lifetimes trying to look beautiful, the way that men find women beautiful, and the men can let themselves go to waste. And that is a paradise for women because they can be 'bossy'?! Wow! Brazilian men, take a bow.

Jimmy Page and Zep were great even if they lifted a lot of material. Two different issues.
And, I like hearing what smart people have to say, even if I don't agree with it (or understand it). And I agree that the world is going to hell in a hand-basket and what's the matter with kids today?

+1 and speaking of wassamatta u? Brazil. wtf?

She talks and talks about Brazil and yet manages to not saying anything that isn't obvious to anyone who read the Wikipedia page.

Somehow she jams in there that the idea of global warming is impossible because "humans can't affect the grandeur of nature" or some such bullshit. Yeah, if all the nukes that existed in the 80s were detonated at once I think there would be a pretty big effect on the grandeur of nature.

Can't say I heard anything of much substance. She comes across as more interested in posturing, in attitudes and ideologies, than in actually understanding anything. If she truly is among the top intellectuals in her field, I feel sorry for that field.

+1. So. Much. Posturing. She could even be Susan Sontag!

And why does she talk in such vivid detail not being able to get to dessert after dinner over a discussion on a Rolling Stones song? I might have had around 50 such confrontations every year of my college life. How rich can your life and truth-seeking experience really be if that incident still stands out?

Perhaps the capital P progressivism of the mainstream US academy just leaves those that didn't fit (to their credit) embittered for life. Postrel/McCloskey vs Nussbaum. Pinker& co vs Lewontin/ Gould.

Kind of like the mirror of the heterodox/ Post Keynesian macroeconomists.

> How rich can your life and truth-seeking experience really be if that incident still stands out?

Another indictment of her "truth-seeking", a giant one in my opinion, is when Tyler asks her (basically) if she held any views in the past that she now thinks are wrong, and if so, which. This question should be a softball. Honest thinkers constantly question their own views, naturally generating a healthy pool of answers for such a question.

But Paglia pauses and does a double-take like she has never entertained a question of this kind! And then she says she can't think of any examples!!

What are the odds that you from 40 years ago got everything exactly right?? I cringe at some of my views from just 5 years ago. Absurd behavior for an intellectual.

Towards the end she goes back to Brazil and amusingly wonders why it is that Brazilian women make such efforts to look good while Brazilian men don't. She claims it is a mystery. It never seems to enter her brain that, uh, sexism might explain it? That women are valued for their looks rather than intellect and accomplishments, while it's the opposite for men? If you live in Brazil and experience Brazilian media this is beyond obvious. One of the most successful shows ever, "Pânico na TV", nicknamed a (hot) stage assistant "Fern Woman" and explicitly said it was because she was there to look good and never say anything! If you go to the economics section of their biggest news portal,, you can see such gems of reporting as "The ten best-looking female entrepreneurs".

Calling yourself a cultural critic and missing this is like calling yourself a fireman and missing not just the flames in front of you, but the existence of fire altogether.

Women in a lot of places make efforts to look good that go beyond what is "expected" of men. It's got nothing to do with Brazil, and it has not a tonne to do with sexism (strictly put), so much as the plain fact that looks matter to men a lot more than they do to women (for which there are a number of biological reasons).

Missing *that* is like missing the existence of fire.

Yeah, it's got nothing to do with Brazil specifically.

The biology explanation, eh, I don't buy it. The evidence I've seen for it is mostly just-so stories. The obvious concrete evidence to look at --- other species --- overwhelmingly paints a picture of females caring A GREAT DEAL about male looks. Making sure it's good genes that take up your precious uterus time and all.

Obviously I believe that biology is going to be very important explaining a lot of behavior. But I don't think it explains in the way your comment suggests.

Again, just-so stories are not good evidence. I can easily come up with a just-so societal story where women aren't valued for their intellects, hence expect to fare substantially worse in the job market, hence must depend on a man, hence must prioritize earning potential over looks.

Paglia hates modern music, hates modern film, hates contemporary fiction, hates contemporary university culture, hates today's technocratic football, etc. Tyler keeps trying to redirect her to things she actually likes, but it's all things from decades ago. So basically she's another crotchety old person (albeit one with a more compelling personal style). Iconoclasts are fun, but not when they're just a downer.

Well, I can say this: I enjoy her writing.

Again, just-so stories are not good evidence. I can easily come up with a just-so societal story where women aren’t valued for their intellects, hence expect to fare substantially worse in the job market, hence must depend on a man, hence must prioritize earning potential over looks. - See more at: zincirli vinç

I was entertained, but overall, a lot of hand-waving over gaps in her experience. Plenty of hate in the sense of ‘hater’. ’No no no no no oh my god' Yoko Ono, Taylor Swift, Steinem, used to like Rihanna but no longer, yet doesn’t mention Beyoncé. If you don’t get either Tay or Bey, you might be checked out. The 60s were the be all; that was tired by the 80s. She’s right about sex, and uptight critics, and Bowie, but she sounds like big fish in a small pond. Least impressive of the series so far.

Like most people, Paglia thinks that the cultural products that were produced when she was a senior in high school is the best stuff that was ever made. Her aesthetic opinions on everything but literature seem bereft of meta-rationality.

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