Camille Paglia Believes That Revenge of the Sith Is Our Generation’s Greatest Work of Art
Camille Paglia, the indispensable art critic and long-serving Professor of Humanities at the University of the Arts, has for over two decades lived in the shadow of Camille Paglia, the polemicist, enfant terrible, expert provocateur and, according the British writer Julie Burchill, “crazy old dyke.” Paglia is the lesbian who doesn’t like lesbians, the pro-drug libertarian who wouldn’t touch the stuff herself. And, through no fault of her own, the extravagances of Paglia’s proclamations have too often lead spectators to overlook the marrow of her ideas.
She became an international celebrity in 1990 upon the release of Sexual Personae, wherein Paglia argues that Western art and culture are underlined by the pagan fixations on phalluses and Earth goddesses that pre-date Christian hegemony. An ardent defender of free expression and inquiry, she was a darling of the British and American talk show circuits on account of her parallel advocacy for Madonna’s tits and Rush Limbaugh’s revulsion at the sight of them.
Paglia’s mission today, however, is less confrontational and yet more ambitious: She wants American culture to embrace the story of art. Paglia has just released Glittering Images, a direct and beautiful volume dedicated to the study of 29 works throughout art history. The book launches her quest to make David’s La Mort de Marat as common in US public schools as Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Crucially, Paglia has the writerly gifts to make introductory art history sing to the uninitiated and old hands alike. It’s an essential work by an essential public intellectual. Paglia hasn’t left behind controversy, either: in the book’s final chapter, fed up with the direction of contemporary art, she argues that George Lucas’ Revenge of the Sith is the greatest work of art in recent memory. So, if you’re just wrapping up that MFA, set your sights on Mace Windu and Padmé Amidala instead of Jessica Warboys and David Altmejd.
Anyway, we were delighted to speak to Camille Paglia about contemporary art, education, penises, her goals for this new project, and Lorraine Bracco’s terrible acting.
VICE: So, Camille, how come contemporary art is so terrible?
Creative energy has migrated into industrial design and digital animation—videogames, for example, are booming! Commercial architecture is also thriving, as shown by amazingly monumental new buildings everywhere from Dubai to Beijing. But the fine arts have become very insular and derivative. There is good work being done, but it too often reminds me of ten other sometimes better things over the past 100 years. The main problem is a high-concept mentality. There’s too much gimmickry and irony and not enough intuition and emotion.
Well, what about Revenge of the Sith? You say it’s the greatest work of art, in any medium, created in the last 30 years. It’s better than… uh, Matthew Barney or Rachel Whiteread or Chris Ware or Peter Doig?
Yes, the long finale of Revenge of the Sith has more inherent artistic value, emotional power, and global impact than anything by the artists you name. It’s because the art world has flat-lined and become an echo chamber of received opinion and toxic over-praise. It’s like the emperor’s new clothes—people are too intimidated to admit what they secretly think or what they might think with their blinders off.
THE NOVELIZER -
AN INTERVIEW WITH ALAN DEAN FOSTER ON THE ART OF ADAPTING SCI-FI MOVIES INTO BOOKS
Even if you’ve never heard of the author Alan Dean Foster you definitely know the titles of his works: Alien,Aliens, Alien3, Transformers, Star Wars, The Thing, and many other novelizations of films. Over the past four decades, he has successfully reverse-engineered more than 30 movies based on original scripts into book form, making him the most prolific sci-fi novelizer of all time. And given the recent trend of studios forgoing the commission of novelizations, he may never have a successor.
While film novelization is often considered a base, mercenary source of income, devoid of literary merit and limited to the creation of cheap single-edition paperbacks with embossed covers, it has in fact been practiced by the most respected authors of science fiction. Orson Scott Card novelized The Abyss; Arthur C. Clarke wrote the novel 2001 at the same time he was hashing out the film’s screenplay with Kubrick; Isaac Asimov not only novelized Fantastic Voyage but followed it with a sequel, Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain; and Michael Moorcock novelized The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle, a book based on a movie based on the Sex Pistols, who were based on an impresario’s idea of something that sounded like “sexy young assassins.”
Novelizations have existed since at least the 1920s, commissioned by studios as a way for moviegoers to relive their favorite science-fiction and horror films after leaving the theater. The advent of laserdiscs, VHS tapes, and DVDs threatened their existence, yet they persevered, finding new audiences into the 80s and 90s. Shortly after the turn of the millennium, the market for novelizations began to dry up; even a spate of new video-game novelizations could not restore vigor to what had once been a great (if not respected) sector of the publishing industry. How will the science-fiction fans of tomorrow satisfy their appetite for transmedia literature? Will novelizations still exist? I called Alan to find out, and we ended up talking about a lot of other things, too.
VICE: I’ve wanted to talk to you about the Alien novelizations for a while, but I’m glad it didn’t happen until Prometheus had come out because I’ve been wondering what you think of it.
Alan Dean Foster: I haven’t seen it yet.
Really? Why not?
Well, it comes from living in a small town where the nearest theater of any consequence, or the nearest theater period, is a 20-minute drive away; and the fact that my wife can’t go to the movies anymore because she can’t sit up that long; and the fact that I don’t live someplace like LA or New York or Boston where there’s a like-minded group of people to whom I can say, “Hey, let’s go see Prometheus.”
I’m amazed you could resist the temptation. You spent so much of your professional career immersed in the Alien franchise. Aren’t you curious?
It’s kind of funny because everyone talks about tipping points, and I think we’re nearing the tipping point where people will no longer go to see movies. They’ll read the reviews, they’ll see all the clips on YouTube and on io9 and TV and that’ll be about 90 percent of a movie. The actual movie won’t even have to be made. They’ll simply talk about the movie that would have been made, and shoot all the good stuff for the clips online. The reviewers will review the clips—and the rest of the movie, you’ll kind of just fill in the blanks yourself. I’m afraid that’s the way we’re headed, and I’m only being half-sarcastic.