Alice Yaeger Kaplan

  • SEASON'S READINGS

    Sex, Art, and American Culture: Essays, by Camille Paglia. New York: Vintage Books, 1992.

    So far we have seen two acts of the razzle-dazzle Camille Paglia show. The first act—the exposition, as it were—was Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson, a tumescent tome that ranges swaggeringly over the whole of the Western cultural patrimony, resembling in its ambitions such old-fashioned surveys as Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis and E. R. Curtius’ European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, but hyped-up and amphetamized for the MTV generation. Dirty, too—Paglia’s willful

  • “French in Action”

    Last year at Yale University a group of students filed a complaint with a sexual-harassment grievance board against a French-language teaching method, “French in Action,” claiming its sexism was preventing them from learning the language. The case was unique in that a course, rather than a person, was being charged with harassment.

    “French in action” is a first-year French course based on total immersion in the language. French is the only language used in the classroom from the first day on. Students follow a stylish series of video presentations throughout the year, recounting the tongue-in-cheek

  • the New Hard-Boiled Woman

    RECENTLY I TOOK A GROUP of 16 college students, half women and half men, to Paris for the summer, to teach a course on French literature of the modern city. I wanted my students to become flâneurs in the tradition of Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin. “Wander through the city,” I said. “Read your novel in the neighborhood where it was set, keep notes on the novel and on the place where you read it. Have adventures.”

    I had forgotten one thing: wandering is not an equal-opportunity activity. In my group, the women who wandered were constantly hassled, provoked, even accosted. We began practicing

  • Nuclear Fear

    Nuclear Fear: A History of Images, by Spencer R. Weart, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988, 535 pp.

    NUCLEAR FEAR IS BOMB SHELTERS in middle-class neighborhoods. It’s a year’s supply of canned food and hunting rifles to keep the neighbors out—if it should come to that. Nuclear fear is staged in Doom Town, a row of mannequin-filled houses set up near a test site. After the nuclear blast, the living rooms are photographed to show twisted plastic bodies covered with glass. Nuclear fear structures our social space. Even suburbia can be understood as a response to the 1950s notion that new