Camille Paglia on Writing



Toor: How did you learn to write?

Paglia: Like a medieval monk, I laboriously copied out passages that I admired from books and articles — I filled notebooks like that in college. And I made word lists to study later. Old-style bound dictionaries contained intricate etymologies that proved crucial to my mastery of English, one of the world’s richest languages.

From: Rachel Toor’s interview with Paglia in The Chronicle of Higher Education

And from her Conversations with Tyler interview:

I feel that the basis of my work is not only the care I take with writing, with my quality controls, my prose, but also my observation. It’s 24/7. I’m always observing. I don’t sit in a university. I never go to conferences. That is a terrible mistake. A conference is like overlaying the same insular ideology on top of it. I am always listening to conversations at the shopping mall.

COWEN: My last question before they get to ask you, but I know there are many people in this audience, or at least some, who are considering some kind of life or career in the world of ideas. If you were to offer them a piece of advice based on your years struggling with the infrastructure, and the number of chairs, and whatever else, what would that be?

PAGLIA: Get a job. Have a job. Again, that’s the real job. Every time you have frustrations with the real job, you say, “This is good.” This is good, because this is reality. This is reality as everybody lives it. This thing of withdrawing from the world to be a writer, I think, is a terrible mistake.

Number one thing is constantly observing. My whole life, I’m constantly jotting things down. Constantly. Just jot, jot, jot, jot. I’ll have an idea. I’m cooking, and I have an idea, “Whoa, whoa.” I have a lot of pieces of paper with tomato sauce on them or whatever. I transfer these to cards or I transfer them to notes.

I’m just constantly open. Everything’s on all the time. I never say, “This is important. This is not important.” That’s why I got into popular culture at a time when popular culture was — .

In fact, there’s absolutely no doubt that at Yale Graduate School, I lost huge credibility with the professors because of my endorsement of not only film but Hollywood. When Hollywood was considered crass entertainment and so on. Now, the media studies came in very strongly after that, although highly theoretical. Not the way I teach media studies.

I also believe in following your own instincts and intuition, like there’s something meaningful here. You don’t know what it is, but you just keep it on the back burner. That’s basically how I work is this, the constant observation. Also, I try to tell my students, they never get the message really, but what I try to say to them is nothing is boring. Nothing is boring. If you’re bored, you’re boring.


Watch the full interview below:

Check out the transcript as well.