You can see why Camille Paglia might have sold out. The Camille Paglia lecture ("The Modern Battle of the Sexes") at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Monday, that is. If appearing with the ubiquity of a pop star on every frequency in the States, rather than hiding in a pigeon-hole in the University of Arts, Philadelphia, is a betrayal of the spirit of academia, then Paglia sold out long ago. But the beauty of Paglia's strategy - and the reason why she can attract an audience faster than Oxford Street Christmas lights can derision - is that she has managed to make her celebrity itself seem indivisible from a high-minded pursuit of the truth. When she roared on to the scene with her 700-page take on Western culture, Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson in 1990, it was clear that this dyke with a mike was determined to wage war on campus political correctness from without as well as within. The media obliged, snowballing her reputation for taboo-talking by giving her space to soundbite off about date rape (a construct), drag queens ("the great feminine model") and pornography (the wonder of...).
That her advocacy of another sexually frank Italo-American, Madonna, as "the future of feminism" was taken even moderately seriously underlined her shrewd ability to fit pop culture to her own theoretical ends. She hasn't had platinum-selling albums yet, but there is no reason why the people's academic shouldn't. Though she gets most attention when she goes on the offensive, her broad (some would say, crude) thrust placates both sides of the gender war: women should stop whining because they're the stronger sex and all hitherto existing civilisation is the anxious masculine expression of that (thanks chaps). Male penseurs, who made a splash in the Sixties (while she was graduating) get short shrift, however. In a nutshell: "We don't need any more French crap from ditsy Parisian intellectuals and their American sycophants." Whether or not this puts you off attending the Derrida conference at the ICA today is academic: there'll be returns released on Monday for Camille, but there's no getting a butcher's at Jacques. Vive la difference - as they both might say.
Camille Paglia's Sounding the Century lecture: 7.30pm Mon, QEH, London, SE1 (0171-960 4242); it will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 3 Mar 1998Reuse content