Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Mary Daly RIP

Mary Daly died on Sunday at the age of 81. She was a radical feminist and a theologian who wrote several challenging and difficult books. What I like about her work are some of the terms she made up, the whole new language she invented, though it is that language which makes reading her work so challenging. The effort is still worthwhile:

Daly most often contemplated the divine essence as a verb, Be-ing itself, so that worship is "not kneeling in front of a so-and-so but swirling in energy." Her language echoed quantum physics, and she was flattered if you said so: "I do think about space-time a great deal," she admitted. "It's a kind of mysticism which is also political."

These attitudes toward life and religion were reflected in the Feb. 26, 1996 issue of The New Yorker in which she wrote:

“Ever since childhood, I have been honing my skills for living the life of a radical feminist pirate and cultivating the courage to win. The word ‘sin’ is derived from the Indo-European root ‘es-,’ meaning ‘to be.’ When I discovered this etymology, I intuitively understood that for a woman trapped in patriarchy, which is the religion of the entire planet, ‘to be’ in the fullest sense is ‘to sin.’”

“Women who are pirates in a phallocratic society are involved in a complex operation. First, it is necessary to plunder--that is, righteously rip off gems of knowledge that the patriarchs have stolen from us. Second, we must smuggle back to other women our plundered treasures. In order to invent strategies that will be big and bold enough for the next millennium, it is crucial that women share our experiences: the chances we have taken and the choices that have kept us alive. They are my pirate's battle cry and wake-up call for women who want to hear.”

And so Daly would like to say: “I urge you to Sin. ... But not against these itty-bitty religions, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism -- or their secular derivatives, Marxism, Maoism, Freudianism and Jungianism -- which are all derivatives of the big religion of patriarchy. Sin against the infrastructure itself!"

Mary Daly was certainly not loved by all Catholics. Andre Lourde criticized her Euro-centrism and Wikipedia argues that she was a man-hater.

My own views on her are complicated, though I do recommend her writings very much indeed and would have loved to meet her in real life. I think that in a fair universe the public discussion on gender would have Mary Daly and others like her included as one side of the debate, the Boyz (and Girlz, in the background) of the Wingnuttia as the other side, and me as the moderate middle. That this is NOT the public discussion we have at all but one where someone like me would be deemed as a feminist extremist tells you that Daly got something right.