Critic Camille Paglia is the author most recently of Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art From Egypt to Star Wars, and is University Professor of Humanities and Media Studies at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Before talking about how contemporary culture is corrupting high art, she talked cheesesteaks, John Lennon, Joan Rivers, Duran Duran, and the view on the way into LAX in the Zócalo green room.
What work of art do you wish you had included in your book?
Oh yes, there’s so many. Oh my goodness. There’s a gorgeous yellow jasper fragment of the head of an Egyptian queen in the Met’s collection that’s just sensational. It could be one of [the pharaoh] Akhenaten’s wives or his mother, who was really formidable. All it is is her lips. Everything is smashed except for the bottom of the face. It shows the power of art—just a fragment can descend over the millennium. And I wanted to include fashion photography.
What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
Well, I don’t know about a worst job. What odd jobs have I had? In college I was the toy lady at Woolworth’s. I also was the ward secretary of the emergency room of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse on the night shift—we got all the bullet wounds and car accidents.
Who makes the best cheesesteak in Philadelphia?
Well I go to Pat’s. But others feel that Geno’s, which is kitty-corner [to Pat’s], is the best. I’m a Pat’s aficionado.
What’s the last souvenir you purchased?
It was a keychain of a prisoner on Alcatraz that I purchased for my 9-year-old son yesterday at the San Francisco Airport.
Who’s your favorite Beatle?
My favorite Beatle was always John, but Yoko Ono ruined his sense of humor. She’s in my book actually. They’re both in my book.
Have you listened to any music today?
The only thing on my iPod for this book tour is Duran Duran’s album Notorious from the 1980s, which I think is fabulous.
What are you reading right now?
Who’s reading anything right now? The last thing I read was Joan Rivers’ new book, I Hate Everyone … Starting with Me.
Do you subscribe to any magazines?
Many archeology magazines. Architectural Digest.
How did you pass the time on the plane on the way here?
Staring out the window. I always have to have a window seat because I like to look at the landscape. I especially love the plane ride into L.A. because of the spectacular view of the mountains, and the strange—it’s almost like an intergalactic landscape. It’s one of the most special entrances to a city that I’ve ever seen, that last 50 miles or so coming into LAX.