Camille Paglia

22 May

We say that nature is beautiful. But this aesthetic judgement, which not all peoples have shared, is . . . woefully inadequate for encompassing nature’s totality. What is pretty in nature is confined to the thin skin of the globe upon which we huddle. Scratch that skin, and nature’s daemonic ugliness will erupt. What the west represses in its view of nature is the chthonian, which means “of the earth” – but earth’s bowels, not its surface. The chthonian [is] the blind grinding of subterranean force, the long slow suck, the murk and ooze.
From Sexual Personae

It’s been ages since I last read this book, probably because I wanted to conceal where I got so many of my cues from; she uses a very broad canvas but doesn’t delve into any one thing very deeply. It’s quite a “pop” book in that way, a tome, but not a learned tome. But Ms. Paglia put me on to Mademoiselle de Maupin and it would be ungallant of me not to be grateful for such a big favour as that.

She’s done me another favour now, putting me on to Suddenly, Last Summer. I’ve yet to see the film, but there’s some great stuff in the script, where a dandy’s garden is described.

“The set may be as unrealistic as the decor of a dramatic ballet [. . .] The interior is blended with a fantastic garden which is more like a tropical jungle, or forest [. . .] The colours of this jungle-garden are violent, especially since it is steaming with heat after rain. There are massive tree-flowers that suggest organs of a body, torn out, still glistening with undried blood.”
Tennessee Williams

Ms. Paglia points out that this garden is a bubble of chthonian horror amidst the cast’s frenzied efforts to impose order, whereas in À Rebours (come on kids, this is the Decadent 101 we’re talking about here, keep up), Des Essientes’ collection of exotic plants is just one of his many attempts to impose order on the chthonian horror of, well, of everything outside his front door.

I also love how she writes that “Amorphophallus is, incredibly, a real flowering plant”. I know, right? Get gardening already! There aren’t enough of us!

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