The Public Interest

Madonna’s intellectual

Mary R. Lefkowitz

Winter 1993

AS THE TITLE suggests, many of the pieces in this collection are variations on the themes of Paglia’s Sexual Personae. Paglia identifies the archetypal elements in pop culture, sees beauty in advertisements, and finds deep meaning in rock routines and role-playing. Her categories are universal and all-encompassing.  No academic nit-picking here. “Madonna has both the dynamic power of dance and the static Apollonian power of iconicism.” Period. Never mind whether Nietzsche’s exciting, but simplistic, characterization of experience really works, either for the Greeks or us. Along with the Nietzschean Apollo and Dionysus, Paglia analyzes human experience with the sweeping Freudian categories of male and female. She seeks to fuse Frazer and Freud, restore Frazer to Jung, link present to past. Such generous helpings of intellectual sauce, so readily applied to both high- and low-cultural fare, make her work look appetizing and even nourishing. But after one puts the book down, the meal does not sit so well on the stomach. One begins to wonder whether one has really had the intellectual feast promised by the delectable prose.


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