top of page

Notes on Sexual Personae
(Addendum to the Function Levels blog)

Contents

Introduction

The Dionysian-Versus-Apollonian Gender Dichotomy

Master List of "Gender Personas" in Sexual Personae

 

Supplemental essays

Supplemental essay: The Androgyne

Supplemental essay: "Gender Personas" in Chapter 4 of Sexual Personae

Supplemental essay: "Gender Personas" in Chapter 5 of Sexual Personae

 

Introduction

A Patreon channel called "Better Than Food" has been posting a series of video reviews and livestream discussions of the book Sexual Personae by Camille Paglia (pub. 1990). Each video or livestream discussion covers one or two chapters of the book; the first one was dated March 31, 2024 and the series is expected to run through 2024 and into 2025. Link to the Patreon channel: https://www.patreon.com/booksarebetterthanfood

The following essays represent my own comments posted in response to the videos or posted in discussions on a Discord channel associated with the Patreon channel. I have gathered a few of them up and consolidated them here as a collection of information and opinions on Paglia's book.

 

This page on Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae isn't intended to be an integral part of my Function Levels blog. However I originally started exploring the idea of Function Levels after reading Sexual Personae, and I have quoted Paglia in my Function Levels blog. So I'm posting this material on Sexual Personae here as an addendum to the Function Levels blog, and it represents a concordance of sorts to Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae that I can refer back to for my own purposes in constructing my Function Levels blog.

 

Also, a disclaimer: I'm not an expert on the subject, and I don't have any training or background in psychology. I'm just an amateur posting personal opinions.

Background for Sexual Personae: Erich Neumann

Camille Paglia has acknowledged the influence of Eric Neumann's The Origins and History of Consciousness on her writing of Sexual Personae

 

Erich Neumann is generally considered Carl Jung's most brilliant student. In 1949, Erich Neumann wrote The Origins and History of Consciousness demonstrating in detail how much mankind's earliest cultures and religions have in common with the thought processes of infants and children. In other words according to Neumann, mankind's early religions (progressing from animism and totemism to early fertility religions to patriarchal polytheism, etc.) follow the same developmental arc and display the same psychological markers as cognitive development in children (progressing from infancy to childhood to adolescence, etc.).

 

Carl Jung reviewed Neumann's book before publication and wrote a very enthusiastic forward to the book. Jung said that Neumann represented a "second generation" of psychologists who are in a position to pull together the work of the earlier pioneers of psychology "and give a coherent account of the whole field of study, whose full extent the pioneer can only survey at the end of his life's work. This difficult and meritorious task the author has performed with outstanding success."[1]

 

Camille Paglia has identified The Origins and History of Consciousness as an influence on Sexual Personae. She called it "Jungianism at its learned best."[2]

 

Paglia gave a lecture on Neumann in 2005. It's an academic address and not particularly stirring or entertaining, but it gives some background on Freud, Jung, and Neumann. It is linked here: https://www.bu.edu/arion/files/2010/03/Paglia-Great-Mother1.pdf

 

Psychologist Jordan Peterson also mentions both Paglia and Neumann in a quick 5-minute video at YouTube. Peterson sums up the gist of The Origins and History of Consciousness and says that it can serve as an introduction to studying Jung. The title of the video is "Carl Jung and Erich Neumann: The Successful Development of Consciousness" by Jordan Peterson. It is linked here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiNQu0foqx0

Structure of Sexual Personae

In the first three chapters of Sexual Personae Camille Paglia utilizes Neumann's theories to develop her own unique version of a Dionysian-versus-Apollonian dichotomy (which she explains in Chapter 3), and then from Chapter 4 onward Paglia shows how her version of the Dionysian-versus-Apollonian dichotomy works itself out in Western culture across the centuries, right up to modern times. It's really quite an ingenious and far-reaching application of Neumann's ideas by Paglia.

To spell it out a bit more:

Sexual Personae: Integration of Eric Neumann's ideas

Neumann says that at the very early "uroboric" (newborn) stage, infants initially only notice the mother, who is represented symbolically as "The Great Mother." The father goes relatively unnoticed by the infant; the father only seems to be an appendage of the Great Mother. The experience of the infant also gets mirrored in ancient mythology: In the earliest religions, rituals usually centered around one main fertility goddess, an all-encompassing Great Mother goddess who is in charge of both life and death. She is attended by deadly beasts or demons or phallic accessories that represent the father in his role as "appendage."

Then there comes a later stage in the life of infants where the growing infant learns to distinguish two separate parents; Neumann calls this the "Separation of the World Parents." In a related development, the child's ego (consciousness) separates itself out from the id (unconscious): The Great Mother is repressed into the unconscious and takes up residence there while a symbolic Great Father figure rules consciousness. 

 

This experience is reflected in later mythology as creation myths leading to patriarchal polytheism: A multiplicity of gods and goddesses headed by an all-powerful male figure. The old Great Mother fertility goddesses are demoted to "daemonic" monsters in the Greek myths (reflecting their repression into the unconscious), hence Paglia's focus on figures like Medusa with her phallic appendages (her snaky, writhing hair): The Great Mother of the uroboric stage has now become the Terrible Mother populating nightmares: witches, evil stepmothers, and blood-sucking castrating vampiric women.

 

Returning to the infant: With the Separation of the World Parents comes an additional new concept--the idea of "oppositeness." That is, the infant begins to differentiate objects in the world mainly by noting opposites: Mother versus Father, dark versus light, unconscious/asleep versus conscious/awake, etc. Based on this new concept, the growing child identifies himself or herself with one side or the other of the parental "oppositeness." Neumann and a number of other psychologists over the years have suggested that children show a great degree of personal agency in identifying themselves with one biological sex or the other. And because the mother tends to be the primary caregiver, this choice tends to revolve around the child's relationship with the mother: The psychologists suggest that boys typically define themselves in opposition to the mother while girls typically define themselves in terms of similarity to the mother.

Sexual Personae: Paglia's innovations

This becomes the starting point of Paglia's version of the Dionysian-versus-Apollonian dichotomy where: 

  • Males define themselves in opposition to the Great Mother (who lives on in their unconscious); in other words they flail about and strive to build a concept of "Apollonian" masculinity which is separate from--and opposed to--the "chthonian" or "Dionysian" Great Mother residing in their unconscious; 

  • Females define themselves as similar to the Great Mother residing in their unconscious; they can simply be/exist because they find themselves in harmony with their unconscious and live according to the cycles of nature and womanhood (menstruation, childbirth, nurturing, etc.)

 

This provides the background for Paglia's comments about the differences in the sexes, such as "Men know they are sexual exiles. They wander the earth seeking satisfaction, craving and despising, never content. There is nothing in that anguished motion for women to envy." In other words, men are exiled from the Great Mother (who represents their own unconscious drives and emotions) by virtue of their stance of opposition toward her.

 

And then from Chapter 4 onward, Paglia shows how the Dionysian-versus-Apollonian dichotomy works itself out in Western culture across the centuries, up to modern times. In essence, the Dionysian-versus-Apollonian becomes a proxy for a gender binary existing on a spectrum (see below), which can be subdivided into a number of "sexual personae" or identities/roles/masks that we adopt in life (and which appear in Western culture).

Introduction

The Dionysian-Versus-Apollonian Gender Dichotomy

DionVsApol

Paglia's book Sexual Personae is a survey of Western culture (art, sculpture, literature, drama, etc.) showing how culture balances the dichotomy of the Dionysian versus the Apollonian, where:

  • The Dionysian is associated with the Feminine influence, that is, disorder, chaos, nature, emotion, and earth (Dionysus was the dress-wearing god of drink, ecstasy, fertility, madness, etc. who presided over the women's Eleusinian rites);

  • The Apollonian is associated with the Masculine influence, that is, order, symmetry, culture, rationality, and sky (Apollo was one of the most "spiritual" of the Greek gods, being the god of oracles, prophecy, healing, archery, music and arts, light, knowledge, etc.)

 

For reference: See Wikipedia for more on Paglia's version of the Dionysian-versus-Apollonian dichotomy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollonian_and_Dionysian#Camille_Paglia

To play around with it a bit more:

For ease of handling, imagine a "gender spectrum" going left to right with Dionysian on the left, Apollonian on the right, and a neutral position in the middle. The result is an overall "gender spectrum" comprised of three "gender personas": Dionysian--Androgyne--Apollonian

 

[Note: I am referring to the three positions within the spectrum as "gender personas" in order to distinguish them from Paglia's "sexual personae," which are defined and used by Paglia in a somewhat narrower sense.]

 

Then take that "gender spectrum" and add in a couple extreme "gender personas" on either end of the spectrum: Extreme Dionysian--Dionysian--Androgyne--Apollonian--Extreme Apollonian

 

Then abbreviate the "gender personas" as follows: ExDion--Dion--Andr--Apol--ExApol

 

Note that gender doesn't automatically equate to biological sex: Men can be sensitive and empathetic; women can be tough-minded and goal-focused. Thus, a relative minority of men are Dionysian in terms of personality, and a minority of women are Apollonian. As a result both males and females can run the full gamut of either Dionysian or Apollonian "gender personas."

However the five "gender personas" will exhibit themselves differently depending on biological sex. So it's worth distinguishing one set of five "gender personas" specifically for males and another set of five "gender personas" specifically for females. Additionally, I will illustrate them using "archetypes" taken from Sexual Personae to describe each position.

 

Male

  • ExDion = Decadence, sadomasochism, voyeurism

  • Dion = Dionysus

  • Andr = Beautiful boy, Tiresias, male Mercurius

  • Apol = Apollo

  • ExApol = Fascist, predator

 

Female

  • ExDion = Damsel-in-distress

  • Dion = Venus of Willendorf

  • Andr = Pythoness, female Mercurius

  • Apol = Amazon, Venus Barbata and Venus Calva

  • ExApol = Vampire, femme fatale

Master List of "Gender Personas" in Sexual Personae

The following list represents those chapters of Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae discussed thus far on the "Better Than Food" Patreon channel: Chapters 1-5 as of June 2024. The list will be revised and updated as new discussions are posted there.

 

Page numbers reflect the paperback edition of Sexual Personae.[3]

 

Male

  • ExDion: Euripides the playwright (p. 109); Hellenistic Beautiful boy (p. 123); Virgil's Aeneid (p. 130); Roman Empire (p. 130-1); Great Mother worship (rites of Cybele) in Rome (p. 137); Botticelli’s Primavera (p. 151-2)

  • Dion: Dionysus (p. 88); Hellenistic Greece (p. 99, 125); Euripides' Bacchae (p. 99 & 103-4); Laocoon (p. 99)

  • Andr: Tiresias (p. 46); Wordsworth, Keats, television talk show hosts (p. 46); Male Mercurius (Hermes/Mercury) (p. 88); High classic Beautiful boy/kouros (p. 109-123); Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier (p. 141-2); court sycophants (p. 142-3); Michelangelo's Giuliano, Dying Slave, and Victory (p. 165)

  • Apol: Chephren (p. 59-61); Apollo (p. 73-4); Early and high classic Greece (p. 99); Aeschylus' Oresteia (p. 99); Archaic kouros (p. 123); Roman Republic (p. 125-7); Christianity in Rome (p. 138); Cellini's Perseus (p. 146); Donatello's David; Leonardo da Vinci; Michelangelo; Michelangelo's David and Moses (p. 158-9)

  • ExApol: Rapists (p. 23-5); Nero, Caligula, and Nazi commandants (p. 25)

 

Female

  • ExDion: (none described as of Chapter 5)

  • Dion: Venus of Willendorf (p. 55-7); Vegetable Aphrodite (p. 79)

  • Andr: The Pythoness (Gracy Allen) (p. 47); Nefertiti (p. 69-71); Athena (p. 82-7); Female Mercurius (Shakespeare's Rosalind and Ariel, Goethe's Mignon, Tolstoy's Natasha, Patrick Dennis' Auntie Mame) (p. 88); Leonardo's Mona Lisa; Leonardo's The Virgin with Saint Anne; Michelangelo's viragos (p. 160)

  • Apol: Artemis (p. 77-8, 80-1); Katherine Hepburn (p. 80); Belphoebe (p. 80); Olympian Aphrodite (Bette Davis, Elizabeth Taylor, Venus Barbata and Venus Calva, the Bearded and Bald Venus) (p. 87); Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (p. 150)

  • ExApol: Vagina dentata (p. 13); Medusa (p. 14); Mona Lisa (p. 15); Gorgon & Medusa (p. 47-50); the Sphinx (p. 50); the Furies (p. 51); the Harpies and Sirens (p. 51); Circe, Scylla, Charybdis (p. 52); Mae West, Marlene Dietrich, Bette Davis, etc. (p. 54); Euripides' Medea (p. 108-9)

 

Supplemental essay: The Androgyne

Supplemental essay: "Gender Personas" in Chapter 4 of Sexual Personae

Supplemental essay: "Gender Personas" in Chapter 5 of Sexual Personae

~Posted May 22, 2024

MasterList

References

[1] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness, trans. R.F.C. Hull, with a forward by C.G. Jung, Bollingen Series XLII (Princeton University Press, 1954, First Princeton Classics edition, 2014), p. xiii.

[2] The Origins and History of Consciousness. (2024, April 1). In Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origins_and_History_of_Consciousness

[3] Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae, Art and Decadence From Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson (First Vintage Books Edition, 1991).

bottom of page