Mary Daly, RIP

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Daly.jpegTwenty-five years ago, I almost interviewed Mary Daly for a profile in the Boston Globe. She agreed to talk to me, then changed her mind. So I wrote a review of her then-latest book, Pure Lust (excerpt after the jump). She was the great feminist theologian, thanks to The Church and the Second Sex, an exercise in post-Vatican II liberalism that appeared in 1968. Of course, over the next 40  years she went way, way beyond that–on a journey that, I would guess, only a very few intellectual devotees could actually follow. An amazing, hermetic performance. And now she’s gone, a gnarly giantess no longer roaming the earth.

Just as the Gnostics pieced Jewish, Christian and pagan lore into
cosmological myths of their own, so [MARY DALY] turns her hand to
feminist mythography. The book is organized in three “realms,” each a
stage in the Nag-Gnostic pilgrimage. First comes the realm of
Archespheres, where reside the true meanings of things; these are
grasped by decoding the subliminal messages in patriarchy. Next are the
Pyrospheres, realm of the passions, access to which is necessary for
women to rage free of the patriarchal trammels. Finally the journeyer
is able to break through to the realm of Metamorphospheres,
transforming “herSelf” through processes of Be-Longing, Be-Friending
and Be-Witching.

The prescription includes a good deal of the
quasi-mystical, quasi-magical nature- communion characteristic of
feminist spirituality in America these days. Indeed, Daly’s distinction
between “adult” modes of thinking (patriarchal) and the “natural
knowing” of childhood (feminist) betrays an almost Wordsworthian
romanticism. Daly is, however, always herself. And in the land of
radical feminism, not the least of her distinguishing marks is a
continuing bond to the
philosophia perennis of Roman Catholicism.

“Pure Lust” lacks the provocative bite of “Gyn/Ecology,” with its
chapters on Indian suttee, Chinese footbinding, African genital
mutilation of women and “Torture Cross-Cultural Comparison” of Nazi
medicine and American gynecology. The new book seems, in fact, to exist
in a self-enclosed realm of its own, beyond proof or disproof,
untouchable by other principles or truths. Pure philosophy, as it were.
But it is pleasant to think that when they get around to writing the
history of Thomistic thought in the 20th century, there will be a
chapter towards the end on the Gyneo-Thomist of BC, Mary Daly.