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Martin, J. (1992). Sexual Personae. Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson: By Camille Paglia. London/New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990. 718 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 61:670-674.

(1992). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 61:670-674

Sexual Personae. Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson: By Camille Paglia. London/New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990. 718 pp.

Review by:
Jay Martin

Massive in size as it is, this book announces itself to be but the first volume of the history of the clash between what Camille Paglia calls the "Apollonian" and "Chthonian" impulses in the Western tradition. By these terms, of course, she means to signify the conflicts between civilization and nature; artistic organization and biological chaos; order and impulse; or paganism and modernism. In a forthcoming volume, she says, she will "show how movies, television, sports, and rock music embody all the pagan themes of classical antiquity" (p. xiii). Actually, in the present volume she discusses the contemporary period quite frequently, so that the entire argument, historically applied, is very clear. Paglia's thesis and its application will infuriate many readers; some will utterly reject it, while others will be fascinated by it. Few readers will be able to accept every one of her assertions; few will be able to deny that she has set forth some important propositions. In short, the book is—and is meant to be—controversial, compelling, engaging, a kind of guerilla warfare against most accepted conventions, an insistence upon violent criticism and violent ideas.

Her "largest ambition," Paglia writes early on, "is to fuse Frazer with Freud" (p. xiii), the study of myth with the understanding of psyche.

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