Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Encomium of Mary Daly

 [update: *below in a post script]

In black history month of all times, why praise Mary Daly of all people? Yes, we all know she died a month ago today. But why not remember somebody like Audre Lorde, whom white Mary so infamously would not acknowledge? Why don't we remember people? And how do we recollect them? As if from the grave they can have power over us still alive; will their ghosts overpower me?

*I want to say that I was very surprised reading early January blogs (but not posting then myself) to see how many "feminists" were slow to speak of or were silent at the death of Daly. Were you surprised at how few "bible" bloggers mentioned Daly at all? And when any, anybody, re-member-ed Mary Daly, wasn't it strange -- almost chorus-like -- that refrain that "she pissed me off" or at least "she surely went too far"?

For me, if there's anything Mary Daly teaches us to recall it's that we can, do, and must listen rhetorically. Actually it was Audre Lorde's listening to Mary Daly that started that. Or was it Krista Ratcliffe's listening to Aristotle -- the way afrafeminist poet Maya Angelou listens to him -- overhearing him talking but not allowing many of us to listen? Or was Ratcliffe's listening in on Lorde, and Daly, in dialog, almost, again? Listen:
...eavesdropping may be employed effectively not only as a rhetorical tactic but also as an ethical choice, or a tactical ethic.
     To define eavesdropping for rhetoric and composition studies, I invoke one aspect of Mary Daly's method of "gynocentric writing"--that is, uncovering gender potentialities in words by studying their dictionary definitions, reworking them, and excavating their etymologies (24). The goal of Daly's method is to expose gendered dismissals of words and mine their "obsolete meanings" (24). For eavesdrop, a common dictionary definition is "to listen secretly to the private conversations of others" (Webster's New World). At first glance, this definition connotes a gendered dismissal of the term, a dismissal accomplished by associating eavesdropping with a feminine busybodiness--remember, for example, Gladys Kravitz, the nosy neighbor on the television series Bewitched? But at second hearing, this definition resonates with Daly-esque possibilities. I found Old English etymologies of eaves suggesting "edge" and "margin" and "border" (Webster's New World; New Shorter OED): I found an archaic definition of eavesdropping suggesting "to learn or overhear" (Webster's Third); I found a Middle English definition of eavesdropper suggesting "one who stands on the eavesdrop [the spot where water drops from the eaves] in order to listen to conversations inside the house" (Random House).
     Together, these lexical threads weave a composite of eavesdropping that signifies an effective rhetorical tactic. Its moves include: choosing to stand outside . . . in an uncomfortable spot . . . on the border of knowing and not knowing . . . granting others the inside position . . . listening to learn. From such a composite, eavesdropping emerges not as a gendered busybodiness but as a rhetorical tactic of purposely positioning oneself on the edge of one's own knowing so as to overhear and learn from others and, I would add, from oneself. (pages 104-05 of Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness).
You and I -- "red and yellow black and white" -- remember this month, remember black history, the black histories and herstories, how Audre Lorde listens and speaks and remembers Mary Daly (with Krista Ratcliffe eavesdropping, and us with her).  What tactic, what ethic, what rhetoric must we choose?

*  post script

I wrote this post quickly, yesterday.  And today I suppose some of you just may want an explanation for how the postmortem passé praise for Mary Daly sounded, to me anyways, somewhat like the encomia of Helen by men like Isocrates and Gorgias.  Someday we may want to listen to the rhetorics, the feminisms, of Helen and Gorgias.  But Bettany Hughes, historian, gets us thinking, presently, the following:
When, in Ancient Greece, the rhetorician Gorgias stood up and delivered his 'Encomium of Helen' (a defence of Helen of Troy's indefensible character) - this was a great joke. How can you laud the most sluttish femme fatale of all time? But the rhetoric also got people thinking - maybe, just maybe the skilled speaker had a point.
And we all know that Hughes has much to say about Helen.

I first learned of Daly's death from a Facebook status post.  It was a quick post by the non-black, non-woman, non-homosexual, non-theologian, fellow feminist, astute academic, bible believing Hugo Schwyzer.  One of his status posts on January 3rd was this one:
getting word that iconic feminist theologian Mary Daly died today. She made me uncomfortable every time I read her work, and that's high praise -- she was extraordinarily adept at provoking productive, transformative discomfort.
At his blog, Schwyzer didn't say much more about Daly except when posting more than a week later his thoughts entitled, Neither male nor female: Jesus as man, Jesus as role model.  Here's the bit:
I’m not a theologian. I’ve read theology, talked about theology, studied theology (medieval Franciscan scholasticism was a doctoral field of mine at UCLA), but I’m not a theologian. Others have wrestled with these questions for centuries, and feminist theologians in particular (one notes at this point the passing eight days ago of the important, if controversial, Mary Daly) have offered critical analyses of our reflexive habit of referring to God as male.
Jesus, however, certainly was physiologically male. In his human aspect, he was a man (the early church fathers struggled against those who could not bring themselves to acknowledge that Jesus pooped and peed). And from my standpoint, the maleness of Jesus Christ matters because in his life and ministry and relationships, Jesus himself embodies a full and complete manhood....
Given that Daly, probably infamously, wrote The Church and the Second Sex and Beyond God the Father, it's no surprise that Schwyzer writes of her in this context.

The best posts on Daly listened to her speaking for herself, or as herself, in the contexts of her church or her college and her life.  Some of these are blog posts by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux.
Besides Suzanne and Michael, the only other "biblio"-blogger on the Top 50 Biblioblogger list to mention Daly's death at all is Celucien Joseph, who posted the well-written NYT obit.  Mostly silence.  Huh?

Other feminist bloggers and blogger friends, it seems, recalled Daly in the context of her "sinning," her "racism," her "transphobia."  Do a google blog search if you need to remember. 

Or listen for yourself, eavesdrop rhetorically.

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