Sunday, January 3, 2010

R.I.P., Mary Daly


[Note: comments to this post have been closed while I'm traveling.]
I read a little of her work for a feminist theory class in grad school. It didn't really speak to me, and I thought there was plenty there to criticize. But her influence on gender studies was undeniable, and truly transformative. Her works were also those rare books written by an academic that went out and transformed the lives -- yes, I do mean lives -- of women and men outside the university. She was an unapologetic radical feminist who put women first and never backed down from a position in order to avoid alienating men or women less radical than she (and face it, that's most people), a woman who once described herself as a "positively revolting hag" -- and meant it in a good way.

And that brings us to the other thing about Daly: the language. Mary Daly took the words of the English language, moved them around, combined them creatively, capitalized whatever she felt deserved to be capitalized, redefined terms with wild abandon, and just expected her readers to keep up. Reading her prose was a bit like being caught in an avalanche, and I was known more than once to roll my eyes at what seemed like lexical excess. But there was also something delightful and playful about all of it. Read one of her paragraphs, perhaps something from her middle or later work: Gyn/Ecology, or the revised preface ("reintroduction") to the second edition of Beyond God the Father. Don't worry about understanding it as you go along; just let the words bubble off your tongue. It's wild and delirious, like something by Ornette Coleman. It's also the language of someone who knows that seriousness of purpose shouldn't -- in fact, must not -- stop you from taking real joy in what you're doing.

That is what I'd like to take away with me.


Digger said...

Ah, shit. I was just looking through some of her stuff today, too.

Historiann said...

Thanks so much for this, Notorious. It's lovely, smart, and wise.

I have to admit that I really am in awe of the battles she fought throughout her career--their intensity and the way she appears to have relished them. (As I write that, I realize that the public face of the battle may not match with the private experience of it.) I know that I personally am not at all suited to that level and duration of attack. How soft and snowflakey our generation of feminists must seem to women like Daly. How accomodationist and gradualist we are!

Her life was perhaps a kind of reminder of the powerful challenge that celibate women and women outside of heterosexuality can represent to patriarchal institutions.

Susan said...

I first read Daly when I was 19 or 20, and it really was one of those life shifting experiences. And she kept the struggle going to the end. I sometimes thought she was too dogmatic (in the case you linked to, she had a pre-requisite for hte class that the student had not met -- that should have taken care of it) but she really stood up for women and for justice without compromise. (I'm a compromising type.) And she was a brilliant philosopher and theologian, who knew all her sources. There was a lot of learning there.

Audrey said...

Mary Daly was perhaps the greatest radical lesbian thinker of the 20th century. She was out in the world, her words, books and inspiration reached women internationally. She was my heroine and she put women number 1 without apology. You could count on Dr. Daly to go to the mat for women, in a way that makes women's studies professors today seem timid and cowardly.
The pioneers are always the leaders, always the greats. She stated often that patriarchy tries to minimize women's intellectual abilities, and to erase women. Beware of what will happen next, because the trashing of Mary Daly by an ungreatful third wave is about to begin.
If the academy has become a dulled place, remember Mary Daly coined the word acadamentia!
Hisoriann really should be in awe of the battles Dale fought, because she did it according to her own inner light. Because of her I traveled to Europe, developed razer sharp analysis of patriarchy, and did my own heroic battles, because I knew she would never let me down. All radical lesbian feminists celebrate her, because in her life, we have ours!

squadratomagico said...

I read Daly as an undergraduate, and learned a great deal from her. Just recently, I recommended *Beyond God the Father* to a trans student struggling with religion and gender identity issues.
I also, however, sometimes teach the "Burning Times" portion of Gyn/Ecology in a class on witchcraft, as an example of incorrect scholarship that derives from a particular political commitment. I pair her with Starhawk. And my students *detest* Mary Daly -- she's way too hard edged for my poor little fluffies around here! OTOH, Starhawk advances essentially the same, incorrect argument, and is embraced by them.
I'm pretty much the reverse. I know she's wrong, but I admire her anger, and her brio, and her playfulness all the same.
I saw her speak once, too, as an undergraduate. At first she requested that no males be allowed to attend the lecture at all, but my uni wouldn't allow it. She finally brokered a deal whereby male students and faculty could attend, but were not permitted to ask questions afterward. She believed that men tended to dominate discussion forums; she was tired, by that point, of continually being attacked; and she felt women students had more at stake in her ideas and would respond to them more engagingly.

Digger said...

I loved the challenge of reading her. Even where I disagreed, she got me thinking and looking at things completely differently than I had. Gyn/Ecology is one of the very few books I've read that literally made my brain hurt. It was hard work, but worth it.

The lack of press coverage of Daly's death (as gauged by a Google News search) bothers me a great deal.

Audrey said...

We should question the lack of major news coverage of the death of Mary Daly. That is patriarchal erasure in action. What's even worse is feminist and women's studies erasure, the not crediting her as the source of so much in feminism.

She was the real deal when it came to women's revolution and women's libersation. Even women fear the kind of radical action and scholarship she fought so hard for.

Sorry to hear that the feminist fluffies can't handle her intellectual brilliance, but then again, most people can't fathom Einstein's writing either.

Let's make sure larger media outlets write about her life and dealth, and that we right on making a film biography of her life, because her life is the women's heroic journey in so many ways. She made lesbian feminists proud! She fought patriarchal with every ounce of her strength, and those who are free are quite threatening to the fembots and totalized women who have yet to be free.

I'd love to hear more from women who knew her, studies with her, or who went to lectures. She was in many ways a woman of deep mystery that I'd love to know so much more about. Sisters, we need to celebrate the life of Mary Daly!

katydid13 said...

Mary Daly's work never particularily spoke to either, but stories about her life did. I read her work in class on women in western religious traditions my first year in college. I'm wondering how it was possible that I missed that she was a lesbian. I'm kind of shocked it didn't come up in discussion.

Now I'm wondering if I should re-read her work as someone with more life experience than I had at 18.

Anonymous said...

I first read Dr. Mary Daly writing in the 80s as a young Black woman in seminary. I also had the good fortune of hanging out with her when she came to the seminary for 3 days. She was the real deal. She cared about women. She told me she didn't hate men, she just didn't spend time on them because the rest of the world did enough of that. As a scholar her work was impeccable. I didn't have to agree with her on everything to agree that she was brillant and knew that women were (and still are) getting shafted around the world, many by so-called religious leaders. White and Black women scholars had a lot of fallow ground removed by Dr. Daly. Although she has yet to receive the media and scholarly attention she deserves, I have no doubt that just like the work of the brillant Zora Neale Hurston, who died penniless and tossed aside, there will be those who will unearth Daly's genius in the years to come and all who have ears an courage will hear it.

Rev. Martha Simmons, Co-Owner The African American Pulpit Journal

shameless hussy productions said...

Damn, I wish more than ever I still had the scathing letter she sent me after I wrote to her almost 20 years ago to confess that my friends and I had "pirated" Gyn-Ecology to create a wild play that toured the Fringe theatre circuit.

The play featured "Hag" and "Nag" who flew about on a ladder in order to free words and wild women and it was called The Happy Cunt... maybe you had to be there. In any event, I was sorry to have made her angry but it was a great joy to speak her words and become saturated in her ideas and ideals.

I have most all her books and though there are many points I don't agree with they still resonate profoundly in my soul - and most importantly - have convinced me to Live out Loud.

I wish her a Be-dazzling voyage to the other side.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Thank you all so much for sharing your stories. I've only had to delete one comment so far, written by a man who insulted another commenter who voiced disagreement with some of Daly's work. Please, let's not turn this into more-feminist-than-thou. And if you want to use abusive language to describe the women (and men) commenting here, you'll need to take it somewhere else.

In spite of one problem, I'm going to keep the comments open for now, as I'm enjoying reading these remembrances and assessments of Daly's impact on your lives and/or careers. I think this is a real testament to the power of her work.

Amanda said...

One of the sad side effects of being constantly attacked, the way Mary Daly was, is that you get worried about what will happen to your work.

Mary was very concerned about copyright, as well most women should. I had a hardback first edition of "Pure Lust" -- we were reading it in our Tokyo, radical feminist reading group, so I'd put "Tokyo, Japan" on the inside flap and the date I started reading the book. Years later, when I met Dr. Daly in person, and asked if she would sign a few of her books, she looked in shock at "Tokyo" and said, "we haven't published there yet!" I explained that I'd gotten the book in America and just wrote the city of our lesbian reading group in the flyleaf.
No wonder she was so mad at the "C" word being used with her beloved Gyn/Ecology-- the very antithesis of vulgar language used to demean women!

Bigbalagan said...

I read Gyn/Ecology when it first appeared and although as a man I might have felt attacked her reinvention of the language---or perhaps her rectification of its built-in patriarchy---simply made her sound right. When you see, as she so thoroughly demonstrated, that the very language we use is bending our minds and reinforcing the violence and domination of the male and the powerful, it becomes more like an epiphany, or an illumination, than an argument. It's typical that I only realized she had died from my regular blog rounds, in this case on Feministing (and now here). She would not have been in the least surprised.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Interesting to see this post at this moment - at the *very moment* when NPR (All Things Considered) finally broadcast a story.

Marlene said...

Yeah Notorious, finally NPR gets around to doing a piece on Daly two days after she died. Would a major male philosopher be so ignored in this way? Thank the goddess for the feminist blogs, we're doing Mary proud everytime we do an end run around patriarchy!

Anonymous said...

I'm in pieces about this woman's passing. She was one of the only feminist leaders that spoke quite directly to me on so many levels. I hope everyone sin's largely today. Viva la sisterhood.

Julian Real said...

[not for publishing, unless you'd like to]

I want to extend a sincere apology to squadratomagico for insulting HER.

I just reread her comment, and, for reasons that are UTTERLY unclear to me, I assumed that comment was made a man. I think I was conflating her moniker with someone else, who I'd run into in the past, who was, indeed, a man, and a sexist one at that.

So I thought I was addressing a MAN, as I would NEVER ever, ever (ever) purposefully insult a woman at all, let alone online, let alone on a woman's blog, let alone on a woman's blog in a post remembering Mary Daly!!!

(Wow. Talk about me stepping into a big pile of it: of my own!!!)

So I'm so sorry for upsetting you or anyone else and, albeit unintentionally, being a big ol' misogynist jerk. And PLEASE know that my message was not directed intentionally at a woman.

I think I've been reading too many comments by men lately, in feminist environments, and was too emotional over Mary's death, was especially upset at the lack of recognition of her brilliance, and was just venting against the wrong person in the wrong place.

(I found the right person to vent against: this fellow who keeps showing up in my mirror! Hmmm, I'm thinking stalker.)

AND, as for a Jan. 2 post you NPhD: I totally support you in your action and address to that person who was attempting to out you. I hope you keep any evidence you have of who that person is, locate an IP if possible, and find out anything else you can using Google Analytics about whoever did this, as a prank, joke (not the funny kind), mind game, or whatever.

There is or has been a small band of misogynist/antifeminist men out there in cyberland whose sole and soulless purpose is to "out" online feminist bloggers. I hope you remain safe, and happy blogging to you!!!

squadratomagico said...

I'm not sure exactly how to respond to this since I (a) never saw the original insulting comment; and (b) feel rather odd that I am being forgiven for it, not on the grounds of having the right to express a balanced* opinion about Mary Daly, but simply by virtue of being a woman. Quite frankly, I think that's a little strange. Either you have a problem with my comment or you don't... I'm not sure what my sex has to do with it.

Do you fear offending my Delicate Sensibilities? Sir, I am not that genteel.

*And I would ask you to note that my comment is by no means negative towards Daly -- just one particular part of her scholarship. In fact, I believe my comment was admiring, on the whole.

Audrey said...

It's kind of painful reading the stuff on the blogs that so diminish Dr. Daly. Not only did she have to face unbelievable male attacks all of her professional life, but then her feminist sisters are falling all over themselves to reject her vision.

This blog is a welcome relief, and I feel so much Mary love here for some reason. I really hope a blog can appear for women who knew Dr. Daly personally to share their memories of who she was as a person, and what it was like studying or working with her. I'd also love it if we could YouTube some of her actual speeches or workshops or whatever. I think after all the attacks, she often became fearful or reserved in public. If you had Jesuits trying to fire you for 33 years, I think you'd get a little bit paranoid too.

Anyway, let's celebrate Daly. YouTube, personal stories, all the women who knew Daly. I'd love to hear from her huge gang of scholars nationwide, Emily Culpepper, Jane Caputi, Denise Connors, Janice Raymond...where are they all now? Thank you to all of them! Thank you radical feminist sisters, you've been my companions in greatness for decades now. I feel you are friends I can turn to to reignite the "She-volution" as Sonia Johnson once said. When Dr. Daly went to her very last Catholic mass, the song that was playing as she walked out on the church forever was the old hymn "Daily Daily Sing to Mary"-- she was so hysterically funny even in the midst of struggle, so joyously angry on behalf of us all.

squadratomagico said...

Oops -- I did not edit my last comment well. If I may re-post with corrections:

I'm not sure exactly how to respond to this since I (a) never saw the original insulting comment; and (b) feel rather odd that Julian apparently is ready to forgive me for my own comment, not on the grounds my of having the right to express a balanced* opinion about Mary Daly, but simply because I am a woman. Quite frankly, I think that's more than a little strange. Either you have a problem with my comment or you don't... I'm not sure what my sex has to do with it.

Do you fear offending my Delicate Sensibilities? Sir, I am not that genteel.

*And I would ask you to note that my comment is by no means negative towards Daly -- just one particular part of her scholarship. In fact, I believe my comment was admiring, on the whole.

Julian Real said...

To squadratomagico,

I do think it is problematic, and I don't tell women how to live their lives.

If you want to discuss why I find it disrespectful, I'll tell you. But I don't think this is the appropriate place, and in response to what Audrey wrote: YES. I agree. The silence is deafening.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I'm glad people are enjoying the conversation. I also want to underline that this blog and the posts on feminism in particular are designed to be welcoming to all opinions, including ones that thoughtfully critique other feminists. Feminism is such a diverse collection of movements that it would be irresponsible to impose a rigid orthodoxy. All of the comments here have admired Daly's life and work, even if some (including me) find places where we disagree with her.

Julian Real said...

Audrey, I heard from a white lesbian radical feminist friend that she died happy, with people reading her words to her. I am so grateful that was the case.

There ought to be whole courses in colleges devoted to teaching her work, without adding "but I don't really agree with a lot of what she says".

She deserves that level of recognition and respect, imo. White dudes get it all the freakin' time, for writing misogynist racist bs. Whole courses surrounding their writings, and trying to understand the depths of meaning hidden in them. Why isn't this so with Daly and Dworkin's work?

Jan said...

Loved knowing this: "When Dr. Daly went to her very last Catholic mass, the song that was playing as she walked out on the church forever was the old hymn "Daily Daily Sing to Mary."

Forty years ago Mary Daly had some hope that Goddess imagery might free us to the immanent and transcendent --- finding Her after ignoring Him and then realizing that the Infinite is Being, un-gendered. At least that's my take on her early philosophy. She shifted to paganism in her continuing outrage about the slowness of change --- and because she's been compared to the genius of Einstein, I'd point out that he left us the legacy of the bomb and said, in his later years, "if I'd have known, I'd have been a locksmith." The point being: Perhaps those of us remaining, with more patience than Mary Daly had, can return on a daily basis to the deep metaphorical well of honoring Goddess/Infinite Mother/Mary (a word translated as the Sea, the Source of Life on this planet), and then find our own spiritual courage in the face of existential anxiety in a physical realm of man-made dominance. Perhaps that is the other meaning of the song Mary Daly heard on her way out of the Catholic Church.

I could go on about how the Church has distorted Marian devotions in sublimation to the He-Godliness of Father and Son since Mary Daly's theological naming of greater Truth. It's a tribute to Daly's genius that the Church has had to work so hard in the past forty years of hypocrisy to constrain the Goddess Who Will Not Be Mocked. Here, Here. She Lives. Let’s sing to Her, daily, daily.