Winter 1992 • Vol. XIV No. 1 Book Reviews |

Freaked out: Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae

Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson by Camille Paglia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990. 718 pages. $35.00. "A woman of 'Heroick mind,' she intimidates by her monomania, evasion of physical contact, and want of ordinary homely emotion" (179). So writes Camille Paglia of Spenser's Belphoebe, but in a sense she might as well be speaking of herself. Certainly Sexual Personae, her study of "Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson," is a work of "heroick" ambition, if not "mind," and in its relentless cataloging of what the author sees as western culture's recurrent "sexual personae" it is markedly monomaniacal. As for "evasion of physical contact" and "want of ordinary homely emotion," these characteristics are manifested in Paglia's often feverish celebration of the "cold" Apollonian eye and in her impassioned insistence that "I follow the Decadents in trying to drive Rousseauist benevolence out of discourse on art and nature" (429

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