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Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson Hardcover – 7 Mar 1990

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 734 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (7 Mar 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300043961
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300043969
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.6 x 5.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 691,877 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By alphaelsaluna on 23 April 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
One of the most stimulating and thrilling books I have ever read in my life, Sexual Personae will never bore you! It's packed with fascinating concepts that are presented with lively, fearless wit and electrifying style. You may or may not agree with Paglia's ideas but her passion is undeniable and extremely engaging. It's a book to read and then read again because you're certain to find something new and astonishing with every reading.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 17 April 1998
Format: Hardcover
It is unlikely most readers will get through this book without being somewhat overwelmed by its sparkle, and god/desslike overview of Western literature. It is in the connections that Pagalia really bewilders, uncovering tropes that testify to her originality, showing the marks of a real poetess in prose. There are two chapters on Oscar Wilde and one might recall while reading them a conversation that took place between Wilde and Whistler. Whistler had said something clever, to which Wilde responded. "I wish I had said that." "You will Oscar," answered Whistler, "you will." For all Pagalia's creative, poetic tinkering with concepts, some of those concepts are those of other authors who get far too little recognition here. When she uses the metaphor of a wedge in talking about sexuality why doesn't Pagalia credit Susan Sontag's work on pornography, and really, in a book constructed around the antagonism of Apollo and Dionysus, what about citing Norman Brown's ground breaking work "Life Against Death." Unless you have a taste for sado-masochistic imagery and the determination to try to figure why it so fascinates this author don't attempt this book. That apart, the work will do little but stimulate the poet/ess in you, or if you are a critic, cause you a great deal of anxiety.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By "claireodeon" on 6 Jun 2004
Format: Paperback
this is a treat of a book. the author is erudite in her knowledge and picks and links thoughts and ideas. she has a clear view and this is a classic. anyone who is intersted in archetypes, media, film and culture will find much thought provoking material is this great book.
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By CARL LOGAN on 1 Oct 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
great book
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 71 reviews
65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
A brilliant mix of belles-lettres and philosophy 29 July 1998
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Paglia has gotten so much press in recent years, due to her self-transformation from obscure academic into media pundit, that it's easy to sniff at the awe-inspiring strengths of her first and greatest book. There is something in "Sexual Personae" to annoy and upset everyone - but Paglia irritates because her brilliant mind neatly and decisively rips apart received ideas. By asserting the truth of certain basic oppositions - Apollo/Dionysos, Christian/Pagan, male/female - Paglia creates a thinking-space where we can see how art and literature have flourished in the tense zone between these poles. You cannot help but admire the range and depth of her erudition and interests, particularly in an age where American intellectuals say more and more about less and less. Paglia's prose is clear, dramatic, and of an adamantine brilliance that, in its better passages (the introduction, "Renaissance Art," and "Pagan Beauty," come to mind) stuns yo! u with its insights. I applaud her defense of the male imagination's sexual peculiarities, always kept on a short leash in Puritan America, and greatly look forward to the second volume. This book should be required reading in freshman composition courses. Reading this book changed my view of reality permanently. Paglia says many thing which I had always sensed, but could never put into words. The firestorm of opposition which her ideas have generated merely indicates her strength as a thinker. You owe it to yourself to read this book!
55 of 65 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
A book this outstanding is rare, as I can see from the customer reviews many have perceived. Paglia's book, which I read when I was 17, crystallized my thoughts on art, sexuality, and human nature: like her I was a freakish female fan of Oscar Wilde, the gay male sensibility, and decadence. I had truly been searching for this book since I was 13 years old and got my first adult public library card, and thereby discovered the endlessly fascinating world of literature and art--the existence of which I'd never suspected. I'll never forget sitting down with this book during Grade 12 Spring Break; my mother and little sisters were away visiting relatives, so I had the house to myself during the day and I sat in the dining room from the time my step-father left for work at about 7 am to the time he returned about 5 pm, reading. It was by far the longest and most difficult book I had ever read, and I took time over it because as other customer reviewers have pointed out, Paglia addresses such profound, disturbing ideas in such original, provocative ways that I did no less than go over my whole life in my head from my earliest memories to test Paglia's ideas. Needless to say, Paglia won more often than not: the myth of original sin is a better explanation of art and human nature than the myth of social constructionism.
If you are truly open to ideas and you love art, don't read this book unless you want your life completely changed for better or worse. Almost ten years later I find myself completely intellectually alienated from both peers and most professors in my university English program because I continue to fight UNCOMPROMISINGLY for art and independent thought (not to mention intellectual rigour and standards and good prose!), thanks to Paglia's inspiration. But it makes it worthwhile when I come on and see that others have felt the same way I do. For you others, if you're looking for other *special* works of criticism (neither the run-of-the-mill merely accurate kind nor postmodern drivel), I recommend George Toles's A House Made of Light: Essays in the Art of Film and Stanley Cavell's Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. If you read them after Paglia you'll have some balance, too, since Toles and Cavell emphasize the link between art and morality, while treating the subject with the complexity it deserves.
38 of 44 people found the following review helpful
The most important book of the last 3 decades 23 Oct 1998
By Glen Stegner ( - Published on
Format: Paperback
Paglia's "Sexual Personae" is a massive work of Olympian learning; the most important book of the last 3 decades and certainly one of the greatest literary tomes of the century. This book in itself is utterly more valuable than a complete undergraduate education at one of our most prestigious universities.
"Sexual Personae" embodies the kind of hard-thinking discussions of art and philosophy so direly needed as the 20th century comes to a close. Paglia forces us to see the embedded truth in old sexual stereotypes, easily cuts through the muddled sentimentalism of current poststructuralist jargon, and implores us to take stock of ourselves in an ascetic, self-responsible and disciplined way using wit, wisdom, and aesthetics as tools of self-knowledge in a turbulent age of decadent Empire.
Paglia sees human history through art with an all-knowing, unapologetic eye to the point of sophisticated fatigue. She revives the ancient Greek concept of the Apollo/Dionysus continuum, she is honest about human social and sexual catharsis, and for all the talk about Paganism these days Paglia forces us to come to terms with the concept in a way that removes its [beautiful and horrifying] dualities from the sterile, solipsistic MickeyMouse playground on which it has been snidely and carelessly tossed by lazy new-age boomer "intellectuals"--so blindly at the expense of the well-being of the next generation of philosophical thinkers.
In many ways, "Sexual Personae" is a kind of intellectual call-to-arms for Generation X. Paglia is brave, shows that she cares, and is willing to take abuse and get tough in order to get the job done. It is the Bible of the 1990's, and an indespensible book for knowing ourselves and our world.
91 of 113 people found the following review helpful
I am conflicted in simultaneous love & hate for Camille... 12 Jan 2000
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Camille is brilliant, and this book proves it. But this book also proves that Camille is bombastic, occasionally offensive, and tedious. There are parts of this book which sparkle and excite, but there are parts which make me question my decision to shell out the $$ for it in the first place.
In her analysis of everything (which is essentially what this book is), Camille makes absolutely brilliant links between diverse art & artists. She is at her best when she discusses the Dionysian & Apollonian nature of cultural movements, and her clarification of these duelling forces is incisive and thrilling. You wonder about the intellectual acrobatics she is performing in her scholarship, but you are happily amazed at the conclusion of the performance. It is an appealing notion to explain the world of art & culture in these grand, sweeping terms, and even the most anti-Paglia reader has to give her credit where credit is due for making persuasive arguments.
However, the book is tragically bogged down by Camille's cult-of-personality approach to her subject. Her constant pre-emptve strikes at critics are weak, and her own dubious politics are showcased occasionally, serving only to discredit her. She is also frequently impossible to follow, and when you are done with the book, after you get over the glow of her fabulous intellect, you have to wonder if she is just playing some sort of trick...because you have emerged with enough witty, esoteric cocktail party conversation to fill a lifetime (guaranteed to impress everyone at that alum function at your alma mater!) BUT you are still not quite sure what the point was. Which is a real shame.
Nonetheless, I recommend this highly. It is intellectual aerobics, and it is too easy to criticize Camille without ever reading her work. This remarkable book is something which I will never forget, and I have taken a great number of cohesive thoughts about culture from this text and mulled them over, coming to a personal conclusion of my own. It requires an investment of time & effort to get to know this book, but I do feel that it is worthwhile.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
i love her! 30 April 2000
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
I'm a female college student (gasp! horrors!) and I feel like I've spent my life searching for Sexual Personae. After howsomever many years learning about self and other and the trappings of multiculturalism, this book is a dream. It's the first piece of "feminist" (?) writing to address me in any real way. Why, despite our increased political equality do women continue to behave as inferior to men? Why do we loathe and enslave ourselves despite societal gains? Until we figure out the *real* answers to these questions we can't expect to move forward. Paglia knows the answers, and she presents them unflinchingly in all their horrible, naked cruelty. But her intelligence and wit are so strikingly Apollonian, it proves that women can escape their own Cthonthian nature should they choose to. Believe it or not, her book is heartening and optimistic; it presents a genuine challenge to women. No female will be comfortable wearily blaming society for her ills after she finishes this book.
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