Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to “Star Wars” by Camille Paglia, Pantheon, 195 pages, $30.
It is, among other things that are represented by Camille Paglia, her lot in life to remind us all how neglectful we’ve been in appointing – or merely recognizing – semi-scandalous scholars. At one time, the late UB fixture Leslie Fiedler was the champion of them all. Among those who followed in succession was Paglia, the spotlight-grabbing author of “Sexual Personae” and a brilliant provocateur who seldom let opportunities for noisy attention pass, even if it meant that she had to stalk Susan Sontag in the interest of forcing her out of whatever closet Paglia insisted she was in. It was no accident, then, that when his colleagues at UB arranged for a “Fiedlerfest” in his honor, Paglia was one of the star attractions.
Here is the ever-fascinating Paglia’s latest bid to turn all-too-comfortable thought upside down, which includes her already clucked-over nomination of George Lucas as “the greatest artist of our time” for possessing “pioneering boldness and world impact that we associate with the early masters of avant-garde modernism.” Lucas, she says, is “an epic filmmaker who turned dazzling new technology into an expressive personal genre … No one has closed the gap between art and technology more successfully than George Lucas.”
All of which would be fine if the films weren’t so often silly.
As for the rest of her tour through the world’s art galleries, she turns out, in her offerings on 29 works, to be a far less scandalous and even interesting docent than she promised to be. Nor, in the “sea of images” that comprises “modern life” is her taste all that helpful in leading us through “an age of vertigo.”
A Warhol Marilyn painting challenges nothing and elucidates little by the time she’s finished (see Arthur C. Danto and Gary Indiana.) To find, in the magnificent oeuvre of Rene Magritte that the image most worth discussion is “The Portrait” (a dinner still life whose slice of ham has an eye in it) is odd, especially when you consider the Paglia-esque possibilities of Magritte’s “The Rape,” a headless female nude arranged as a human face. It’s enjoyable but eccentricity flirts with weariness here.
– Jeff Simon