The Spectacle Blog

Re: Fogma

By on 10.10.07 | 5:04PM

Shawn, I too enjoyed reading Paglia this morning (over coffee: and went a little crazy on it). So it is with great joy that I take a stab at your question about the diff between nature-worshipping Romanticism and emotionalism.

Now Paglia's an avowed atheist, and I'm not, but I know we're both not Romanticists. If Tocqueville is right that unity is an obsession in the democratic age, to the point of detesting the irreconcilable disunity between creator and created, then the resolution that might appeal to new-agers (Paglia, self-described, is one) is one in which everything is God, thereby avoiding the painful realization that God is not everything but created the universe ex nihilo.

But it's not clear to me that Paglia is up for nature-worshipping instead of universe-worshipping on a totally abstract spiritual plane. There's a big difference -- though often obscured by well-meaning if confused 'spiritual' types -- between hugging a tree and opening a chakra. I think Paglia, if anyone, understands how close nature-worshipping Romanticism gets to straight up paganism, a much dirtier and more crazed knot of faiths and supersititions than new-agery in its unadulterated form.

The link between emotionalism and Romanticism of any type is revealed in the way the Romantics wound up worshipping nature (and youth, and art, and so on) less 'for their own sake' than for the sake of experiencing a sense of awe that had otherwise been shut off by the collapse of Christian faith. This kind of instrumental worship -- done therapeutically for purposes of psychological gratification and evading the pain of guilt -- is what Alasdair MacIntyre called 'emotivism' in his classic book After Virtue (now on its third edition, with an illuminating new preface). Interestingly, Freudian therapy was very consciously un-Romantic.

But to your question, it'd appear on closer inspection that, as you supposed, the similarities between emotionalism and nature-worshipping Romanticism are more important and obvious than the differences. I only wonder whether Paglia's new-age atheism dispenses with both those poses -- incidentally making her commentary about a zillion times more interesting and appealing than the histrionics you often get from our modern-day emotional Romantics.

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