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  • Tuesday, April 10, 2007


    The mirror is my muse
    ..."a crassly egocentric, raving twit." - Molly Ivins

    We find out today that Annie Leibovitz (damn her eyes!) is responsible for luring Camille Paglia back to the internets to enlighten the common riff-raff:
    What is your view of the revelations about Susan Sontag's death by her lover -- the photos and details of her final days?

    Last fall, I was astonished at the inert lack of response by cultural commentators to Annie Leibovitz's gross publication of her photos of Sontag's corpse, as well as of the bloated Sontag hospitalized before her death.

    When Newsweek posted the weird corpse photo online (to accompany its Oct. 2, 2006, cover story on Leibovitz), I could find very little intelligent reaction on the blogosphere -- which is one reason I decided it was time to return to Salon.

    For Leibovitz to use those photos to sell a new book seemed callously exploitative to me -- though I have been one of Sontag's most outspoken critics. (See "Sontag, Bloody Sontag" in my 1994 essay collection, "Vamps & Tramps.") The major media, presumably cowed by Leibovitz, raised no questions about long-standing reports of a bitter ending of her relationship with Sontag years before. Were no red flags raised for editors or journalists at Leibovitz's sudden candor and exhibitionism when Sontag was safely dead?

    Nor did anyone seem to blink at Leibovitz boasting about buying Sontag an apartment in Paris and helping maintain Sontag's lifestyle in her private Manhattan penthouse with a gigantic wraparound terrace (pictured in the book; Leibovitz lived elsewhere). In 2005, Sontag's New York apartment was listed for sale at $3.75 million. What does it say about so prominent a leftist intellectual that she was being effectively supported by Vanity Fair magazine (Leibovitz's employer) -- whose orientation is toward an entertainment and celebrity culture that the public Sontag ostentatiously opposed?

    And what does it say about PBS that it allowed a documentary on Leibovitz in its prestigious "American Masters" series to be filmed and directed by Leibovitz's sister, Barbara? -- a broadcast that was carefully timed to publicize Leibovitz's new book. Does PBS, with its public funding, feel no responsibility for neutrality and objectivity?

    And as long as I am lodging complaints, what about the excessive number of friends and acquaintances who were allowed to write Sontag's major obituaries two years ago? Their personal anecdotes were naively vain enough to unintentionally reveal what a party animal she was. Parties were Sontag's element: It was there that she played the philosopher queen bee, dazzling with her Delphic pronouncements and curtly giving the cold shoulder to the unworthy. And it was there that she embedded herself with the powers that be in the publishing and literary world, which closed ranks around her. (In contrast, I avoid parties wherever possible and have even declined my publisher's offer of book parties.)

    Over time, Sontag's reputation will stand or fall not on her compulsive socializing and networking (which should raise doubts about her putative seriousness) but on her writing. Others will make those judgments. I myself feel that Sontag was a serial name-dropper who made gestures at subjects rather than saying something new, true or memorable about them. Except for a few early essays, when she was a witness to the surging avant-garde scene in downtown New York, Sontag rarely delivered what she advertised.
    Goodness me. I hate to use the term "projection", but holy crap, if someone else had written the last paragraph about Paglia we would all be nodding along and thinking that Camille got off with a light slap on the wrist. The only thing that eliminates Paglia from winning the name-dropping Olympics is her all-too-predictable habit of continually reference-dropping her magnum dopus, Sexual Personae ("I wrote a 700-page book ("Sexual Personae") disputing that notion and asserting, as did Nietzsche and Freud...") at the dangle of a participle. Keep in mind that she felt compelled to mention that it is seven hundred pages long which is the mark of genius as opposed to, say, 272 non-existent pages which is the mark of a procrastinating dullard.

    As was pointed out in the comments on a previous post on Paglia, we give you the late great Molly Ivins who did say "something new, true, and memorable" about Paglia:
    Never one to dodge a simple dichotomy when she can set one up, Ms. Paglia holds that the entire error of western civilization stems from denying that nature is a kind of nasty, funky, violent, wet dream, and that Judeo-Christianity has been one long effort to ignore this. She pegs poor old Rousseau, that fathead, as the initiator of the silly notion that nature is benign and glorious and that only civilization corrupts.

    Right away, I got a problem. Happens I have spent a lot of my life in the wilderness, and also a lot of my life in bars. When I want sex and violence, I go to a Texas honky-tonk. When I want peace and quiet, I head for the woods. Just as a minor historical correction to Ms.Paglia, Rousseau did not invent the concept of benign Nature. Among the first writers to hold that nature was a more salubrious
    environment fro man than the corruptions of civilization were the Roman Stoics --- rather a clear-eyed lot, I always thought.

    Now why, you naturally ask, would anyone care about whether a reviewer has ever done any serious camping? Ah, but you do not yet know the Camille Paglia school of I-am-the-cosmos argument. Ms. Paglia believes that all her personal experiences are Seminal. Indeed, Definitive. She credits a large part of her supposed wisdom to having been born post-World War II and thus having been raised on television. Damn me, so was I.
    Go read the whole Ivins piece. It's Paglia's obituary penned by the recently deceased.


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