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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    “‘Break, Blow, Burn’ and the sorry state of poetry”

    Author Camille Paglia has a reputation for being outspoken and passionate about literature.

    When informed that our phone conversation wouldn’t be recorded due to a malfunctioning tape recorder, Paglia expressed some dismay over that fact.

    About half an hour and seven hastily typed pages later, I could see why she showed concern.

    Paglia talks fast and she talks with passion, a throwback to her Italian heritage.

    “”All four of my grandparents and my mother were born in Italy,”” Paglia said.

    “”They came to work in a shoe factory in upstate New York and they had a reverence for art that is part of Italian culture.””

    In addition to being a bestselling author, Paglia is also a professor of humanities and media studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.

    With an approach to art that is celebratory in nature, Paglia has been railing against the post-structuralist and post-modernist approach to literature that has been the norm for the past three decades.

    Poetry is so
    marginal because of the bad way that students are introduced to it in high school and college.

    – Camille Paglia

    “”I’m known for dismissing (post-structuralism) as jargon-filled nonsense imported by pretentious careerist professors who have no business assigning this stuff to students,”” Paglia said.

    The antagonism to this intellectual approach was the inspiration for her bestselling book “”Break, Blow, Burn,”” released last January.

    A product of the literary style called “”new criticism”” while in college, Paglia at first thought that this approach was too WASP-y and neutered. However, Paglia now advocates it, albeit with some alterations for a modern audience.

    “”I hated it at the time. I didn’t feel comfortable with it as a person of the ’60s,”” Paglia said. “”Then I saw it was a very good way to read literature closely, except that it was blind to sex and there never was any psychology, very anti-Freud, no history in it because it was discarded.””

    The combination of the best of new criticism along with the integration of history and psychology led Paglia to the five-year process of creating her book.

    A collection of 43 poems with topics ranging from Shakespeare to Theodore Roethke, the book also features her own original reviews. But don’t think that this is by any means an anthology.

    “”It is a series of poems and my commentary on those poems,”” Paglia said. “”I’m very unhappy with anthologies and the way students are introduced to poetry is deficient.””

    Citing the cost, bulkiness and the unappealing page set-ups, Paglia wrote this book for students and the general audience to combat the institutionalized methods of teaching poetry.

    “”Poetry is so marginal because of the bad way that students are introduced to it in high school and college,”” Paglia said.

    According to Paglia, post-structuralism forces students to read jargon, to the detriment of reading less literature and commentary.

    It is the prevailing method of criticism approaching literature with a cynical view that ignites Paglia’s ire.

    “”This can’t become the only way to approach art where you come to art with a checklist of things you’ll find wrong with it,”” Paglia said.

    Even Paglia will admit that the poetry market has no money in it. Besides tearing down the post-structuralist agenda, another reason for this book was to stimulate interest in the publishing industry and to show that poetry is not dead.

    For a student in the ’60s and ’70s, poetry was more mainstream than current conditions, a fact that Paglia attributes to the rise of popular music.

    “”I thought that the power of lyric in rock would be sustained and, in effect, poetry would be absorbed into music,”” Paglia said.

    Artists like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Led Zeppelin made her believe that music and poetry could coexist. But the decline of the lyric in music and poetry in general has galvanized her to fight against the American aversion to art.

    As Paglia puts it, we are in the Hollywood Age, an age in which art is being swamped by technology.

    “”Entertainment is becoming more and more tech driven,”” Paglia said. “”That’s become the primary form of cultural entertainment and the traditional fine arts are slowly dying and they need intervention by professors and those who are custodians of culture.””

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