Back in the early 90s, when Clarence Thomas was being grilled about his predilection for Long Dong Silver porn loops and political correctness was casting its absurd pall over American campus life, I remember Naomi Wolf’s Foucault-derived feminist fantasies being the subject of fawning media attention. Charlie Rose and Larry King listened politely as this drop-dead gorgeous scholar-upstart spun her lurid tale about how modern women were being subjugated under the yoke of what she called The Beauty Myth, which, according to her extensive scholarly investigations, could be definitively traced to the insidious machinations of deep-rooted patriarchal ideation. Back then, few critics bothered to question Ms. Wolf’s biology-free worldview, or her grasp of real-world sexual politics. And if you were disposed to doubt, the best bet was to grumble quietly and wait for the silliness to run its course.
As the insights of evolutionary psychology slowly and stealthily wore on the liberal imagination, the PC hypno-germs began to wear off and Ms. Wolf quietly dropped her post-structuralist gender hegemony shtick in favor of ever increasing fits of flakiness. Her discursions shifted from the warmed-over semiotic palaver of academe, to focus on more personal — and conspicuously self-important — cultural terrain. The same commonplace realizations that occur to most people as they learn from the trials of life had a way of playing out as grandiose revelations to Ms. Wolf, who soon fashioned a career out repackaging folk wisdom as rarefied social insight. If Ms. Wolf discovered that professional life could be difficult, she wrote a book about it. If she was given to wax nostalgic over her sexual awakening, she wrote a book about it. If she got knocked up, well, time to hit the lecture circuit. The world must know.
Seemingly oblivious to her privileged status, Ms. Wolf’s forays into glorified self-help prosaicism were invariably propped up by a pretense of sagacity that a less sensitive soul might chalk up to the sheltered pedigree of a Jewish princess. But her obliviousness wasn’t without a certain endearing charm. And at some point, I stopped scoffing and began to chuckle. What would be next? A prolonged meditation on Wolf’s discovery of innate sex differences? A treatise on animal psychology based on her experience as a pet owner? A cookbook?
I suppose I should have guessed that the next chapter in The World According to Naomi would have a spiritual ring, but even I wasn’t prepared for the Jesus bomb. Whatever could have prompted a smart Jewish neo-feminist wordsmith to profess her faith in Our Lord and Savior? Much less to serve up her new found faith with such bordering-on-Shirley-MacClaine adolescent-boy-channeling weirdness? Did it have something to do with being traumatized by Ali G? Could it be a final rebuff directed at her one-time mentor Harold Bloom, whom she famously — if dubiously — accused of sexual harassment?
Or just maybe, could it be that Ms. Wolf — Naomi — is being quite sincere? And I am being mean.
True to form, the culturati have begun to pile on, and I expect there will be more to follow. It won’t be long, I imagine, before Camille Paglia chimes in with a measure of polished spleen. And while I’m sure I’ll check in on the din, I think I will refrain from wallowing. Whatever is to be made of Naomi Wolf’s apostasy, or of her penchant for self promotion, or of her over-hyped career as a shape-shifting feminist gadfly, she has become a curious fixture in the rhythm of American middlebrow culture. I wish her well.
And while I like to think my deeply considered atheism leaves me pretty well inoculated against the Jesus bug that caught Naomi, I also recall a time when I claimed I wasn’t a "cat person." Yet here I sit with a little gray-furred fucker purring on my desk, obscuring the monitor. And the love that wells up is as real as indigestion.