Monday, March 29, 2010

Mary Daly's Meta Definitions (and Meta Methods)

I'm imaging your response as you read my post's title.  Perhaps you're rolling your eyes (as my teenage daughter did this morning when -- upon my asking her again why she was has having to serve detention at her private Christian school -- she said, "I forgot to get my Bible out of my locker for Bible class, okay?").  Or maybe you're just a little intrigued (as my spouse and I are - upon being invited to a Seder this evening after just being invited to a "Lord's Supper" palm Sunday service yesterday).  Or could it be that you're laughing nervously (as the college students of my Vietnamese colleague snickered and shifted when trying to understand and to role play the scene of a U.S. film in which the characters do things not entirely appropriate in a Southeast Asian context)?

I really have intended to write my post here to reflect on Mary Daly's "meta" definitions and such methods.  Here's a little of what I think.

Who you think you are -- your self-reflective situation -- very much determines what you do with Mary Daly's writings, particularly her book Gyn/Ecologythe Metaethics of Radical Feminism.  The fact is that such a book demands your response.  Yours.  You may, for example, decide that you need not to read it, or at least not again.  Or don't have time for it, unless someone nice invites you to read along.  Or, when reading it, you might see that you do not get it.  You might accuse it of making your eyes roll or of other things.

My particular interest (at least one of my interests in particular) is the subjectivities that Daly's "radical feminism" evokes and invokes.  How we -- you and I -- might be provoked 35 years later still is of interest.  I am bringing this up during your women's history month.  (I am suggesting that you are doing things, as I am, without necessarily even knowing what or why or how exactly.  But, I am also hopeful and optimistic that we can pay attention.  I don't believe for a second what the anonymous writer of the British Times speculates when he or she suggests that Daly's "initial challenge to established theological doctrines and emerging feminist movements may not appear radical today.")

With her own 1990 introduction to her book Gyn/Ecology, Daly is already writing a 15-year-old history of the writing of her book.  The history includes her most kind and her most critical readers and some of their responses.  Her brief history about her book also includes some of her "exigencies" for writing in the first place.  This is what Lloyd Bitzer, in developing his theory of rhetorical criticism, would call Daly's "rhetorical situation."  She did not write in 1975 in a vacuum; and she was not re-writing in 1990 in a vacuum; and now there's no abstract happy-world vacuum that she's written in, now that she's dead and you're still alive with me, we now part of her history (even if you, or I, ignore or yawn at what she's written and re-written).  Daly's brief history writing is a reflection on, a bringing up to date, the past problems.  And it's one of her reflections on some of the varied responses.  She is not herself alone, so it seems, intending to write the final, the perfect, the definitive, the "super" constructed, the true, the only, the authoritative response.  She is not intending to write anything at all like a definitive response.  However "radical" it comes across to you, it is therefore in some way open to your response.  If her writing is not radical, as you see it, at least it's fairly miraculous, I think, that you've continued reading this blog post on her (radical) writings thus far.

One of the most important statements of re-membering that Daly makes is this memory:
      My reversing of patriarchal reversals in Gyn/Ecology involved/ required functioning in what might be called "a subliminal mode."  This way of thinking/ writing probably would not have been possible for me if I had not spent years studying medieval theology and philosophy, and writing dissertations in these fields at the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, the medieval city in which I lived and studied for seven years.  For there I learned to think and write in a theological/ philosophical language that could not say what I was trying to say.  So in my dissertations [both in philosophy and in theology] I was writing in code without realizing that I was doing this.
      ....  Having caught on in some deep way to the multileveled nature of discourse, I was enabled to reverse the process I had learned in Fribourg and decode patriarchal texts, thus exposing their hidden meanings. [pages xxvi-xxvii of the 1990, 15-year-retrospective introduction to her 1975 book.]
What I'd like you and me to re-read is that bit about "writing" that's "without realizing."  This is profound.  Daly is confessing that she has had to catch "on in some deep way to the multileveled nature of discourse."  Elsewhere, in the new Preface of her book, she explains the need to de-mystify some four very specific "male methods of mystification":  Erasure, Reversal, False polarization (i.e., male-defined feminism vs. male-defined sexism), and Divide and conquer.

And in the very next section of her Preface, she explains very clearly (or at least straightforwardly, so it seems) the title and then the subtitle of her book (i.e., Gyn/Ecology and then the Metaethics of Radical Feminism).  These are "a way of wrenching back some wordpower."  She gives the "Merriam-Webster" given definitions of "meta."  She re-views the inventors of (male) ethics, including Aristotle (who, I'm recalling, coined the term "ethics" by smashing together a common Greek word with an uncommon [feminine] suffix).  And she so begins un-erasing and re-versing and exposing the untruths of binarying and of the patriarchal con-questing.  Daly intends to reverse the "reversal."  Men, she sees, have through their history (of women) reversed many things.  Daly's project is akin to post-modernisms' de-conconstructions of constructs of power that come after her.  It's akin to that coined imperative of meta-noia [μετα-νοεῖτε] of the very Jewish Matthew's John-the-Baptist and his equally Jewish Jesus that comes before her.

Therefore -- well before Daly so carefully lets readers in on what she's doing as an intentional author with her title and her subtitle -- she has said this.  (Are you ready?  Am I?  Do we get the nuances here, the changes there, and the generative qualities of self-transformation and not only mere reformation?)
      I have coined the term metapatriarchal to describe the journey, because the prefix meta has multiple meanings.  It incorporates the idea of "postpatriarchal," for it means occurring later.  It puts patriarchy in the past without denying that its walls/ ruins and demons are still around.  Since meta also means "situated behind," it suggests that the direction of the journey is into the Background.  Another meaning of this prefix is "change in, transformation of."  This, of course, suggests the transforming power of the journey.  By this I do not mean that women's movement "reforms" patriarchy, but that it transforms our Selves.  Since meta means "beyond, transcending," it contains a built-in corrective to reductive notions of mere reformism. 
      This metapatriarchal process of encountering the unknown involves also a continual conversion of the previously unknown into the familiar.... (pages 7 - 8)

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