Mary Daly died at just the right time on January 3 last week. I have been heartbroken and weary with all the funerals I have attended lately, but when I heard that one of my favorite philosophers had left the planet, it was the cue that I needed to pick up her books again and remind myself why she was so inspiring.
I first discovered Mary Daly on the shelves of a used bookstore in Long Beach. When I saw the green spine with the words “Pure Lust” I knew that was what I wanted. Her playful use of language and insistent focus on joy hit me a like a warm ray of sunshine breaking open a dark day. When I felt suffocated and stifled by Kant and Hegel, frustrated by academia and lost in my own life, here was a woman who was writing about philosophy as a means of creation. I was ecstatic. Even better, I was home.
To quote, “ Each leap of direct insight implies tearing away layers of distorting man-made lenses that have ‘corrected’ our vision. Each leap involves averting the attacks of the trackers who would keep us in line, and it involves attracting/drawing our own latent capacities into fuller Realization.”
Here was someone utterly unafraid to Capitalize, slash/unite or even re-move the standard patterns of English. It was philosophy that worked as poetry, blowing away the borders and making the language fresh. Breaking English apart and opening it up to other meanings changed my perspective. I could almost feel new synapses growing. What fun, just at the point where I had forgotten philosophy could even be fun.
When she published “Webster’s First New Intergalatic Wickedary of the English Language” it had only a passing nod towards Daniel Webster. Daly’s definition of a Webster was one who spins the web, adding to creation. Before there was a world wide web with computers and ideas, Daly was focused on the connections that foster communities, grow new ideas and dis-cover older forgotten meanings.
I thought about her from time to time over the last few decades, but her ideas slipped farther away from my life as I focused my writing into poetry and fiction. After spending most of the last year writing in the ill-fitting straitjacket of Associated Press Stylebook (a set of rules so obtuse and anti-logical it makes government seem simple) reading Mary Daly again feels like a breath of pure oxygen after the aroma of an overcrowded freeway.
She lived a good long life, wrote books, taught classes and lectured. She had been ill for the past few years, and her death was not unexpected. She was 81. She accomplished a great many things in her time. For her ardor and her ideas, I am forever in her debt.
I have had too much of death lately. I have lost old and young, and while the difference between the death of an older woman who had the courage to plan her own funeral and the death of a young woman who impulsively ended her life is vast, the end of the sentence is that they are gone.
Mary Daly’s death feels different, because I had never known her in person, but only through the words that she wrote. She feels alive to me every time I open a book and read another paragraph.
To be reminded at this point in time that language is a joyful game and not an arduous test is a gift. To be here in the moment is the present.