Few in our time have lived Emerson's words better: "Let me admonish you, first of all, to go alone; to refuse the good models, even those most sacred in the imaginations of men, and dare to love God without mediator or veil."
Especially that "men" part...
Mary Daly's riposte to Emerson comes in the unforgettable line from her spiritual autobiography Outercourse (don' t you love that title? Say it out loud... I like saying it... ): "I wanted to throw my life as far as it would go." And, shot-put style, reader, she did.
I'm looking back at Emerson's "Divinity School Address" for a class I'm teaching and I'm seeing Mary on every page, seeing her there with Jesus, with Ramakrishna, with Andrew Harvey and Walt Whitman and my dear Guru, She of laughingdark Assamese eyes... Mary thought a cat could be a spiritual teacher--I'm pretty sure the one she's petting in the photo is Ailleolg, her [male] prankster and guide who used to chase bottle tops in the bathtub as single-mindedly as Mary chased etymologies in Skeat's. She acquainted us with divinity at first-hand, Mary did, as provocateuse, as questioner, as pain in the ass (she called Boston College her "little laboratory of patriarchy")... as philosopher, as Witch: magic happened around Mary, coincidences piled up, breakthroughs and breakdowns and double-takes dropped around her like snowflakes.
I knew Mary Daly and I feel compelled right now--by her spirit or by the force of memory-- to tell you something: it bugged the shit out of her that people constantly quoted Beyond God the Father. "That was so long ago," she'd lament, and I must say to you, as quotable as that book is, go read another if you're of a mind to see what radical feminism or old-school (the only school) feminist spirituality are all about. Mary considered BGF a transitional work, not yet "post-Christian" enough and not nearly as incisive as what came after: Gyn/Ecology and Pure Lust and the Wickedary--my vote for her best and one of my absolute favorite works of philosophy.
And yeah, Gyn/Ecology, about which a reviewer wrote that reading it was nearly as torturous as the injustices it documented. Mary Daly seems to have been surrounded by such telling ironies, by critics whose words told more about them than they did Mary's books, by the vociferous "yes, but!"s whose vigor reveals that there really are no buts about it: we still live in a patriarchy and supporting and sponging off that patriarchy is easier than most of us want to admit. Naming the game got Mary in trouble--the mere phrase "African genital mutilation" spawned dozens of brainless screeds accusing her of racism, as if all those other woman-mutilating cultures at which Mary leveled her rage meant nothing-- as if slicing up women and girls exists on a cultural par with basket-weaving and kente cloth.
Reading Emerson and thinking about Mary has led me to consider what it really means to Be-Speak, Mary's term for speaking and writing powerfully, life-changingly... "radically," she might have said, til the word got so over-used that at least one academic applied it to chewing gum under theater seats. Emerson can still disturb, so deeply does he confront what we think we know, while most writers, especially the most controversial, wear their expiry dates like Miley Cyrus's tattoo. I've no idea what names Emerson got called, but Mary got called, incessantly, a "man-hater," which she manifestly was not-- and the epithet could not have been more transparent code for "this lady makes me squirm because she just doesn't buy in to the whole sterile, pinky-extended pseudo-intellectual trip the rest of us are on." Turn on to your own gynergy, Mary said, tune in to feminism, and drop out of the whole "phallocratic mind-fuck."
[Speaking of discomfort-spawned distorted perceptions: a women's studies classmate of mine fairly wailed in class one day, "How many times did she have to say 'phallocratic mind-fuck' in this book [Outercourse]?!?" The magick of Google now reveals the answer: once.]
She did make us see the world differently, whether in paranoic defensive shades or glorious auroric hues... and this is the true function of the Seer, the Witch, whether or not we agree with him or her point-for-point, for chants like Pure Lust or "Circles" are not editorials, are not liner notes but symphonies, fantasias, concertos of thought. They disrupt our habits of mind just enough to show us Other worlds, Other possible realities and selves. This is why they're dangerous and must be domesticated, as Emerson was, or damned, as Mary was.
And ya know, I'm just re-membering something: one night years ago, probably 1995 or '96, way back before it could have made sense to me, Mary said on the phone quite earnestly "We need angels." Jolted, I sputtered out some kind of incredulity; I may have even said "What in the hell are you talking about???" Whatever my reaction, it was enough that she very calmly and patiently--despite how scrappy she could be-- repeated, "We need angels. Don't you know-- angels are real. I'm not talking about those tame, churchy ones..." and in my cluelessness I tuned her out and I thought, Well, Mary's finally gone off the deep end. Angels!--sheeeit. But she was right, and if a pagan, radical feminist Pirate can be right about angels, what else could she be right about?
And hadn't I already seen Them around her? Hadn't we-- a grad school friend (atheist, btw) and I, as Mary Be-Spoke onstage at the Tightassed Baptist College we'd accompanied her to? And hadn't we been spooked? Yes, we'd seen two Angels, or spirits, or-- hovering around her as she spoke, as she made us cackle and made the Baptists cringe... and yeah, knowing me as you do, you know I tried to dismiss these Angels as stage-light artifacts, as products of set and setting, of "the power of suggestion" ... substituting one set of magic formulae for another.
Except--why hadn't I seen anything like them before? I'd been to plenty of readings, heard plenty of enthralling words from plenty of powerful talkers on plenty of stages under plenty of lights, and--no Angels. W.S. Merwin hadn't had any, nor had Dorothy Allison nor Angela Davis nor even Kamau Brathwaite. But Mary'd had. And Vanessa, my friend, was no fool, either, and she, too, was dizzied by Whatever or Whoever'd hovered 'round Mary as she spoke into the aether and ravished our souls the way Emerson must have, so long ago, in another America before another war as the children of another Moloch either tuned him out or turned their ears prickling to his new tongue.