THE THIN THREAD OF CONVERSATION:
AN INTERVIEW WITH MARY DALY
by Catherine Madsen

Daly imagines the overthrow of patriarchy by women's psychic powers. No doubt the end justifies the means, but can it work?

CATHERINE MADSEN is a contributing editor to Cross Currents.

Perhaps a certain amount of disclosure is needed. I am, if not quite an ex-radical feminist, no longer a loyalist to radical feminism. My circumstances and my opinions would still look radical enough to anyone but another radical feminist, but I am no longer willing to worry what another radical feminist thinks of me. When I found that liberation meant confinement to an ever-narrowing circle of acceptable thought and behavior, I did not renounce liberation, but I decided at least to draw my own circle.

I am also a jaundiced observer of feminist theology. As promulgated in seminaries and religion departments, it seems to have lost the edge of insouciance that first made feminism interesting; the combined constraints of theological study and feminist collectivity seem not only to draw a circle but at times to enclose it with an electric fence that warns the mind against too much exploration. Original thought is stunted in such conditions. What feminist theology has not produced -- cannot produce, as long as its main products are secondary source material and pastoral care -- is a female Luther, a female Swift, a female Nietzsche, trenchant and scatological and fierce. Feminist theology can talk, in decorous academic prose, about the erotic in spirituality; it avoids a show of libido.

Mary Daly, of course, is made of more volatile stuff. As one of the originators of feminist religious thought, she is not bound by its subsequent limitations; at this point, in any case, she calls herself a philosopher and not a theologian at all. Beloved only daughter of working-class parents in upstate New York, victor over a Catholic educational system that prevented women from earning graduate degrees in philosophy, sole female student for seven years at the University of Fribourg, where she earned three doctorates, she has paid in full for the right to criticize patriarchal institutions as recklessly as she chooses. After the publication of Beyond God the Father, in which she called for an exodus of women from the Church, she was given tenure at Boston College only because of the protests of her students (at that time nearly all men). Much of her work since that time has consisted in blowing exuberant raspberries at the Vatican, Boston College, and the keepers of the patriarchal flame generally -- who may have expected no better outcome from educating a woman, and must feel betrayed and vindicated by turns. For thirty-odd years she has hung on by a thread to the academy -- a thread that has now been cut by Boston College, which has suspended her for her long-time policy of teaching only female students in the classroom (and male students in independent study). Whatever one thinks of her policy, the college's tactic is a little too transparently vindictive, as is the role of the Center for Individual Rights (the right-wing backers of the student who brought suit against Daly for discrimination). One does expect, however na´vely, of people who call themselves conservatives that they will have some sense of their own long-term interests. If they had been trying to prove Daly right -- by demonstrating the power of a stripling boy to reduce an old woman to dishonor and poverty with the help of a male-controlled hierarchy -- they could not have chosen a better tactic.

Daly's wordplay and "insufferable stubbornness" (her own phrase) have put her closely in the neighborhood of Luther, Swift, and Nietzsche. She has evolved a sort of intimate slang, alliterative and erratically capitalized, whose purpose is to burst the bubble of male dignity and make female deference ever more impossible: a rhodomontade of invective (snools, Stag-nation, cockaludicrous, dick-tionary) that is either irresistible or intolerable, depending upon the reader. Her thinking is powered by the driving force of the syllogism, the high Thomist ecstasy of abstraction; it tars with a broad brush, but is always intellectual work. She incites her readers to great feats of boundary-breaking with epithets like "Positively Revolting Hags," "Nag-Gnostic Crones," "the Metapatriarchal Movement of Wayfaring Wayward Women." She is a proponent of parthenogenesis, in both its physical and intellectual forms -- the creation of "unfathered works." It is heady stuff, especially for young women testing their intellectual powers for the first time or for women long frustrated in their search for feminist allies. The very intimacy of the language makes it unanswerable; one must meet it either with resistance or with conspiratorial glee.

As one who was long ago surfeited with feminist pride and who has exacting tastes in obscenity, I am inclined these days to resistance. I was grateful for Beyond God the Father, which gave me the immediate impetus to leave the Episcopal Church; I waited eagerly for Gyn/Ecology, which promised to be one of the more striking events on the feminist intellectual landscape. By the time of Pure Lust and the Intergalactic Wickedary I had begun to think that "ludic cerebration," to be cerebral enough (and even ludic enough) might need some self-critical element. Daly doesn't have a self-critical bone in her body -- doubtless the best way to survive seven years' study as the only female at a Dominican institution -- and the energy of radical feminism is, for her, genuinely self-renewing and self-sufficient without any pitfalls. When Daly is right she is very very right; I am particularly struck by her analysis of "aphasia, amnesia and apraxia" as the paralyzing results for women who are barred from thinking and speaking of their experience (something Freud noticed too but with a less thorough understanding). She traces very accurately the dumb despair of being forbidden to know one's powers, and the exhilaration of using them in spite of all prohibitions. But she is oblivious to one thing that matters very much: the tendency of revolutions to go wrong.

A disenchanted reader must be particularly careful to distinguish her disenchantment with the writer's actual work from her disenchantment with her enchantment. Daly is not to blame for the bloodthirsty enthusiasm with which I would once (at least in my daydreams) have overthrown patriarchy and punished its worst offenders, by ingenuities that I later discovered are in every small-time torturer's repertoire. She did not intentionally contribute to the painful and vicious infighting in the rank-and-file feminist movement of the late '70s and early '80s -- a phenomenon that so perplexes her that in her recent book Quintessence she speculates it was caused by "man-made electromagnetic fields" (a hypothesis that cannot, however, account for similar breakdowns in the French Revolution and the Communist Party). She is a voice for genuine independence of mind -- and a voice that can be heard by women outside the academy, where it is much more difficult to feel entitled to do intellectual work.

At the same time, her idiosyncratic language has done what idiosyncratic language will do and created a sect; it is extraordinarily easy for women to use her terms to dismiss other women as insufficiently radical. She has added heavily to the lexicon of female contempt for the male anatomy, an amusing pastime as long as one doesn't object to forming the habit of contempt. Her use of terms like "diaspora" and "the Race of Women" -- for a sector of humanity whose presence is the precondition for anyone's existence, anywhere -- is an attempt to bend historical and biological truths that do not easily bend. One can't explain to a totally committed person what it is to stand suddenly just outside the commitment: to see it comparatively, to recognize that the euphoric hopes and unheard-of liberties are becoming a new set of repressive boundaries, that the giddy bravado coming out of one's mouth has begun to sound like other forms of bravado one does not want to indulge. When I was thirty or so -- an insignificant library clerk desperate with pent-up intellectual strivings that seemed to have no good outlet in "Womyn's Culture" -- I encountered a book on the Nazi effort to delimit a German aesthetic; I recognized in one breath the parallels to my own earnest effort to develop a lesbian aesthetic, and woke to the prolonged intellectual hangover that anyone suffers who has given too much of herself to a political movement. One does not want, after a shift like that, to be invited into a conspiracy; one does not want to bolster one's serious love of a woman with sneering caricatures of men. One begins to mistrust altogether the impulse toward purity.

An interviewer who approaches Mary Daly with irreconcilable differences of temperament, ideology, and strategy does not get very far. She is famously impervious to critique: the Australian critic Meaghan Morris has written of her "preemptive disqualification" of critics as dupes or casualties of patriarchy -- the "fembot," the "Painted Bird," the "token torturer." There is some justice in Daly's claim (elaborated below) that criticism arises from the envy of the analytical thinker for the free imagination -- the envy of the Devourer for the Prolific, in Blake's terms. But the critical faculty is not, I think, exclusively the turf of the analytical thinker. Analytical thought can be a poor second to what the free imagination puts itself through on the way to doing its work. Consider the following exchange from one of the utopian sections of Quintessence, which alternate with the analytical sections (the "I" is Anonyma, a citizen of Lost and Found Continent fifty years in the future, and "Mary" is Daly herself):

"Are there men and boys on the other continents?" [Mary] asked.

"Yes," I said. "But since patriarchy is essentially finished, the implications of that change are enormous. . . The world today is Gynocratic and Gynocentric. . . The Earth's transformation has required that her inhabitants grow through profound psychic changes. Those who were not able to grow could not endure in the purity and strength of the New energy field. They simply withered away. . ."

'Are you saying that men who insisted on clinging to patriarchal beliefs and behaviors became obsolete and 'died off'?" asked Mary.

"Yes, they rapidly became extinct," I said.

"And what became of the patriarchally assimilated women who identified with the roles and rules of patriarchy?" asked Mary.

I answered, "Those women who refused to release themselves from the phallocratic dependencies and habits that had been embedded in them under the old system were in effect refusing to evolve. So they also could not survive in the New energy field."

The free imagination -- the imagination at work on a convincing fiction -- might say: We are reading about death; is there any whiff of death in this passage? We are reading about mass death -- a form of mass death that serves as the deliverance of our desperately overtaxed planet; is there any ambivalence among these survivors and beneficiaries of mass death? Does anyone mourn the dead? What does a death look like whose cause is the planet's retaliatory violence for violence committed on it? Is it really an advance for the indifferent, broad-shouldered earth to take up selective killing? The free imagination recoils from the impersonal fait accompli with a tidy moral lesson attached. If it's going to be like that, one might as well die with the phallocrats; it's as bad as the Rapture.

All that said, I liked Mary Daly. If, more or less inadvertently, she has replicated all the worst faults of the system she broke with -- the massive ego-strength that permits no dissent, the elaborate logical scaffolding, the simultaneous unabashed reliance on miracles, the absolute lack of perspective -- she has also brought with her all of its virtues: intelligence, good humor, persistence, the indefatigable demand for justice. What struck me most forcefully about her quickness of mind, her unassuming charisma, her mild, immovable purpose, was her essential innocence: it does not occur to her, it cannot be made to occur to her, that words may have consequences the writer doesn't intend. If, for myself, I consider that innocence well lost, there's still something moving about seeing someone who has it.

At one point in her life, Daly was fond of quoting a line from Peter Berger's The Sacred Canopy: "The subjective reality of the world hangs on the thin thread of conversation." It does; at moments during an interview that was generally at cross purposes, the threads twined and the world was suspended. Subjective realities are among the most difficult things on earth to bring into consonance. Perhaps one simply has to be grateful for all the consonance one can get.

*

CM: Some Europeans have told you that you think like a European. I'm curious what they meant.

MD: Well, I studied there for seven years. That's the way I was trained. They're interested in analytic. . . thought, you know, and so much over here is empty babble! I don't know what else they meant. They loved Pure Lust -- the analysis of Virtues and Vices, the scholastic terminology.

CM: Having come back to the States after those seven years, and lived with the intellectual conditions here, what's your sense of what your work has accomplished for feminism and for philosophy?

MD: That's not the way I think. I'm right in process, so I don't think of it as something that has accomplished but is accomplishing. I'm still doing it very vigorously, particularly in this battle against Boston College; I'm speaking all over the country. What I'm trying to do right now is wake women and others up to the right-wing backlash -- the converging of conservative Catholicism and fundamentalism and all the rest, together with biotechnology, nectech [cloning, genetic manipulation, biological warfare]. All of that is stifling diversity and integrity, and so what I'm really working for is critical mass, a critical mass of feminists, ecologists. . . rebels. . . so there can be a survival of consciousness, a survival of biological and spiritual integrity, intellectual integrity. And it's been very exciting -- radical feminism is really alive, it's just gone underneath. Like Harvard Divinity School, two nights ago -- it was incredibly exciting when I spoke there, I could feel the mass shifting. The faculty weren't there, of course, but the students, and others who weren't from the school. . .

CM: So much of the way you go about your work is through examination of language -- its misuses, its reversals, the need to "reverse the reversals" and recover truth and energy, the potential of radical feminist language to puncture patriarchal arrogance and pomposity through mockery and derision. I'm struck by the parallels between what you say about the deceptions of patriarchal language and something that George Steiner said in his 1959 essay "The Hollow Miracle" about the corruption of German by the Nazis:

Languages are living organisms. . . They have in them a certain life-force, and certain powers of absorption and growth. But they can decay and they can die. . . Actions of the mind that were once spontaneous become mechanical, frozen habits (dead metaphors, stock similes, slogans). Words grow longer and more ambiguous. Instead of style, there is rhetoric. Instead of precise common usage, there is jargon. . . All these technical failures accumulate to the essential failure: the language no longer sharpens thought but blurs it. . . The language is no longer adventure (and a live language is the highest adventure of which the human brain is capable).

MD (she likes the quote): This is Rudolph Steiner?

CM: George Steiner.

MD: Oh, I don't know him.

CM: He's a literary critic. So my question is this: As you work at unmasking decay and death in the common language, how do you guard against the same thing happening to your own language?

MD: Doesn't seem to be happening. Because I keep inventing. I just don't think that way, see, about guarding against. I'm thinking about plunging ahead. All right, I think you guard against decay, in general, and stagnation, by moving, by continuing to move. And with courage. And courage is like -- it's a habitus, a habit, a virtue: you get it by courageous acts. It's like you learn to swim by swimming. You learn courage by couraging. I often draw the Spiral Galaxy on the blackboard, and instead of stars there are Moments. So each Moment, a real Moment, is an act of courage, and that means that the world will speak back to you -- and that Moment speaks to the next one, and the next one, and the next one. OK, take the labrys: everything is double-edged. You "guard against" best by not even guarding -- just by risking tremendously, and then you jump -- Leap -- into another sphere, or dimension.

CM: Where do you think radical feminist language generally is in the greatest danger of losing its energy, and becoming a "mechanical frozen habit" or a kind of jargon?

MD: See, this is where we have certain differences, because I never think of it that way. I don't mean to criticize you, I'm just giving my natural reaction, that "in danger of" or "losing" is kind of a negative take on it. My question is, how can we regenerate the energy of radical feminism? I don't think of the danger. Because I just refuse to acknowledge danger. Maybe that's crazy.

CM: I think it's a difference, probably, in our positions. We're from different generations: you've been inventing radical feminism all this time, and I've been partly inventing it and partly seeing it come down already invented -- seeing it adopted by other women my own age who were desperate for some kind of help in getting beyond where they were, and who sometimes clung on too tight to other women's formulations and used them in a doctrinaire way.

MD: Well -- there is a phenomenon, it bores me, but -- of women in their thirties and forties -- and I don't want to get into generationalism, because that's boring, I want communication among the generations -- but, of "knocking down tall poppies," as they say in Australia, or trying to pick off this generation -- mine -- that was so alive in the '60s and '70s. I'm more alive than they are. And I think it happens when they're not able to create themselves. So this kind of envy -- anger. . . I never suffered from that. First of all because there was no living generation of feminists. I mean there was Virginia Woolf. And Simone de Beauvoir, just preceding. But getting back to your question, which was, where is radical feminism in the greatest danger of losing its energy and becoming a jargon? I almost wish there were a danger, the fact is that -- See, that isn't the way it is, you keep inventing new words, you just keep moving. So I would say, how do we keep it alive? But that isn't even right, you keep alive by being alive, and by daring, and by listening. See, it isn't hard for me, right now, to keep alive, because they're trying to kill me. It's perfectly obvious: I've been fired out the back door, they've taken away my tenure, I'm in danger of great poverty. They offered me this rotten little retirement agreement, I refused, and they lied and said that I have retired; the whole scenario is the most disgusting kind of rape scene, it's like a gang rape. And so I've decided, if they want me to be silent, I'll yell it from the rooftops. It's just made me freer, really. The more they do, the more I can expose. So I'm not in danger, because I'm not comfortable. I think the danger of a real radical feminist being comfortable is, like, nil. Don't you think so? A radical feminist.

CM: Yeah; but I don't think that's my question.

MD: Well, I don't know if I can meet your question.

CM: Well -- when Gyn/Ecology came out, in the late '70s, the passage I turned out to be most grateful for was actually one of your side points; I put it on my refrigerator. "The Amazon Voyager can be anti-academic; only at her peril can she be anti-intellectual." That wasn't a message one heard very often in those days in radical feminism. It's not that intellect wasn't out there, but there was a kind of. . .

MD: Leveling?

CM: Exactly. And -- well, for example, you're quite open about the usefulness of Aristotle and Aquinas to your own thinking.

MD: Oh, I love that stuff. Yeah.

CM: You don't let them get away with anything, but they were influences in your intellectual training.

MD: They still are.

CM: And still are, just as Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir and Matilda Joslyn Gage later became. My generation of radical feminists -- I'm sorry to talk about generations, and of course they can be transcended, but there is a common experience there -- the women around me tended not to allow each other male intellectual influences, not without a lot of suspicion and mea culpas and apologies. As if the proper study of womankind is woman, and only woman, and only by means of women's works.

MD: No, I'll take it wherever I can get it. If there's an insight, I'll take it.

CM: So the phenomenon of women decamping from radical feminism wasn't only -- as is sometimes suggested -- because they couldn't face the truth about women's condition, how terrible things are for women worldwide; at least that's not why I decamped, it was because I couldn't put up with this directive to be so incurious.

MD: I never experienced that. It never hit me, absolutely. Maybe it was thrown at me, but. . . Before radical feminism was actually a phrase used by anybody, I was one, I just didn't know the name. So I guess I was less susceptible to those [pressures].

CM: It seems it should be a general truth, that once a woman's curiosity about women is roused, she can become curious about everything at a new level?

MD: Yes.

CM: There's this funny use of what have become radical feminist precepts to limit and hem in women's imaginations, it's very strange.

MD: See, I haven't experienced that. Give me an example.

CM: Well -- I'm hesitant to put it this way, because people really aren't responsible for their disciples, but I've heard women quote you in the way other people use Catholic dogma, or Freudian psychology: it's this airtight little system in which they've got everybody figured out. It's a terrific contrast with the way you are, because your whole self-presentation, your speaking, your writing, your whole sense of the universe is bursting with joy: you're having a wonderful time. And this is so joyless -- their eyes glaze over and they flip a switch, and this taped message comes out, You're-only-saying-that-because-you're-a-fembot-and-driven-by-Male-Approval-Desire-et-in-saecula-saeculorum-Amen. And they are not really looking at the woman they're analyzing, they're never really seeing her.

MD: It's a strange phenomenon to become this icon. There's nothing of you in it. Read my books.

CM: The cost of discipleship. What do you think writers can do to discourage their readers from doing this?

MD: I don't -- see, again, there are a lot of problems I simply don't think about. Discourage -- I try to encourage them to think for themselves. But if they won't crack the book open what can I do.

CM: Or if they've cracked it open and they've memorized it like a catechism.

MD: Yeah. Right. But -- well, then they didn't get it. Because the last thing about it is -- you know: you don't memorize. I don't care if they like my words, I love that if they like my words. But make up some of your own.

CM: When feminists criticize your work, where do you think they're the most wrongheaded?

MD: Maybe they focus too much on criticizing. You know, it seems to me that if you spend a lot of time criticizing rather than creating, that suggests a lack. I do have critiques of de Beauvoir, there are a lot of ways in which I think she's wrong. And I've written about it, but I don't spend a lot of pages on that; I respect her for what she's done. So I think a lot of that [focus on criticism] is just leaning on me, or on any village guru -- and that's not what I ever want to be -- leaning on me instead of branching out. My intention, say, in writing Gyn/Ecology was to -- truly for it to be a springboard, say for example the Second Passage [Daly's comparative analysis of Indian Suttee, Chinese footbinding, African genital mutilation, European witchburnings, and American gynecology, with an afterword on the influence of Nazi medicine on American gynecological practice]. And instead, You didn't do it perfectly, there's something wrong with what you did about the African genital mutilation, oh go to hell. It's just a springboard! You carry on, when you have specific knowledge.

CM: Do you think the shape of academia has something to do with this, the fact that everybody's learning to do a certain kind of analytical, critical thought, and rather than producing creative work, they've got to produce analytical work?

MD: Oh, yeah. It's what I call academentia. Everyone's supposed to look to authorities. And criticize. And so you have to break out of it -- take what you can from it, but break out of it. I hate it. Sure, there was always the dream of the university, but look what's happened to me. It's perfectly logical. No, we need a diversity. And with the backlash, this right-wing takeover, there'll be literally nothing. You know, the CIR, the Center for Individual Rights, which planted the boy in my class. . . It's not even an issue, it's like changing the subject, to keep talking about discrimination; I don't discriminate. That's not discrimination. They are against gays and lesbians, radical feminists, blacks, all minorities, and blah blah, and having a voice. One monoculture, which is comparable to the monoculture being generated by bioengineering -- which is a cleaned-up way of describing genetic mutation. But then that's typical of patriarchy, and its reversals, which is the most key concept: in everything "they" do, "they" meaning patriarchs and their henchwomen, and anyone who is imitative of them, they always are the reverse of what they claim to be. So of course in patriarchal education the mind is stultified. What else would you expect? And law, oh God. The concept of reverse discrimination -- the thing is that people buy it. And they don't seem to have the wits to untangle it. [They say] I've violated Title IX. What was Title IX for? But -- Oh, well, but you're discriminating.. . . So I've found it very useful to do this diagram when I speak now, to show what happens. For example, there was this fellow at Lawrence Livermore laboratories, who was asked, "Why are you making weapons of death?" That's the genus, weapons. Then two subcategories, weapons of death, which is a redundancy, which leaves room for a contradiction: weapons of life.

CM: You quoted that in --

MD: That was in the Wickedary. And again: rape. "Forcible rape" is an absurd thing, it's redundant, and that leaves room for another kind of rape --

CM: Consensual, maybe.

MD: Yeah, or benign rape. So that diagram helps people see -- I've just picked that up and found it useful recently, to make it clear what's going on. With "reverse discrimination" you have to change to the word to a more apt word, which is oppression. The redundant thing would be to say "oppression of the institutionally powerless by the institutionally powerful"; of course that's who does it, they're the only ones who can do it. And then you get room for -- oh, the opposite! Oppression of the institutionally powerful by the institutionally powerless. So a black guy can oppress white guys, et cetera. It's nonsense. But our minds have been so set to that, and it goes back to the myths -- including the religious myths, even though we decry them. Like the Trinity: the Trinity is a model for cloning.

CM: In Byzantine icons, the persons of the Trinity don't look different from each other: it's not an old guy with a beard and a young guy and a bird, it's three men who look identical.

MD: In Fribourg, we spent months studying the Trinity. The idea was, there are two processions: the Father generates the Son, and he generates the Son by thinking of himself, but his thought is so perfect that it is himself, it is identical with himself, so they're consubstantial. Of course there's no time in this, because it's eternally happening. And so the Father generates the Son, and in the second spiration the Father and the Son love each other -- of course they do, because they're the same guy masturbating --

CM: And they produce! That's a good trick.

MD: They spirate the Holy Spirit. But the thing is that it is a model of cloning, because it's total sameness. The same thing with Christ: Christ is a perfect clone. The incarnate Word. It's all there in Tibetan Buddhism too. With the Dalai Lama, they take this little boy, and take him away from his mother, and there's no matrilineal -- he's the reincarnation of the previous one, and so it's cloning. It's the mythos. And I think they are themselves uncomfortable to live out these myths, which they're constantly saying they don't believe, or they don't even mention because they didn't believe them -- they think; but they're living them out, perpetually. So reversal is absolutely important. And I think more important than George Orwell's "doublethink"; he didn't go quite as far.

CM: Thinking about Fribourg and all that inculcation of tradition, does anything ever jump out of your thought and suddenly announce itself as the residue of Catholic training and have to be rethought?

MD: I think I've pretty thoroughly exorcised that. When I was studying, I loved it, and my curiosity drove me and drove me -- and I still love it. But I think the real impetus was Pure Lust. [A partial definition: "pure Passion: unadulterated, absolute, simple, sheer striving for abundance of be-ing" (Wickedary 89).] I just wanted to know. I didn't want to become something, a priest or anything like that; I wanted to get it, I wanted to know. And of course I loved it. And it was by that desire to know that I was pushed ahead, it seems to me, to -- YEAH. KNOW. I mean, just see it. It's inside out and upside down. And what pushed me to that, of course, was the speaking of feminism. Once feminism became a lived reality in community by the mid-'60s and early '70s I had all this baggage to work with. And it's really a very priceless thing I have, this treasure, I can always pull from it, and see more reversals.

CM: What does that mean for its perpetuation in the future?

MD: Perpetuation of -- the original, or -- ?

CM: Yeah, I mean, should somebody keep preserving the stuff?

MD: I know, I've thought about that. Should anyone -- actually, in my classes I have taught Thomas Aquinas, for fun. But not -- not mocking him, really, because it's a great intellect. My students loved it. And then we talked about, well, what's happening. But actually to have something like Fribourg again, no. . . it would be acontextual. I think the only way is to have somebody like me teaching it -- and undoing it.

CM: The heretics and blasphemers maintaining orthodoxy.

MD: Yeah. Right.

CM: I like that.

MD: In order to destroy it. "We had to destroy the village. . ." We had to save it in order to destroy it.

CM: That's a great reversal. [Laughter] I do have to confess that when I read Quintessence there was something that struck me as very Catholic. The deliverance of the planet from ecological disaster and patriarchal rule by women's psychic bonding, and the rapid, convenient reduction of the male population by Mother Nature without women having to get their hands dirty by murder or method -- it all comes about because women adjust their minds to the proper understanding of the universe, and it's a miracle and doesn't have to be explained. Conform yourself to the true doctrine and the universe will take your side and rub out your enemies.

MD: Well -- it's a leap of imagination. I was so sick of the '90s -- so fed up with the '90s -- that I wanted to jump, and this idea came into my mind and helped me to do that. It actually has turned out -- I have a quote about Quintessence from the New York Times, this tiny article. . . "The universe is expanding at an increasing rate, and the reason may be a force from another universe." They do think now there's another universe. "Dr. Andreas Albrecht, a cosmologist at the University of California at Davis, and his colleague Constantinos Skordis, have published a paper showing that a ubiquitous energy named quintessence could inflate the known universe like a balloon. 'Quintessence is a very ghostly thing,' said Dr. Nima Arkani-Hamed, who with his colleagues has presented evidence of how it might function within the ten dimensions predicted by superstring theory, which suggests that all matter is made from small vibrating strings." But the idea they got, that there's another world, the Otherworld Journey that I keep writing about -- and that this other world is influencing this world now, I was trying to say that in Quintessence. And so that's fun too. Because there are parallels between the new physics and -- and they love it, too, they love the parallels with Aristotelian philosophy.

CM: Your students?

MD: No, the scientists, the physicists. So -- yeah, maybe it sounds Catholic, who cares. It's my thought; if that's a challenge, I don't know, I'd have to think about it. Well, why not make it quick and spontaneous: my sense was, terrible urgency -- and I feel a terrible desperation; really, when Dolly came through, that exploded my brain. And then I started reading and reading about cloning, and genome theory, and all that. And I realized that I don't want to live in the world they're making. And there's no hope if you start with patriarchal premises. So I want to go back to the archaic past in order to get to the archaic future. So it is a kind of rapid transit, but then it is transtemporal. Why wouldn't it be rapid, everything is moving faster and faster.

CM: I suppose so, but -- the convenient disappearance of the patriarchs, and of males generally, just doesn't strike me as. . . sufficiently credible to give hope.

MD: I know, your use of the word convenient gives your cynicism away. But -- but why not? I mean, what it does is examine possibilities and new avenues of thought.

CM: Well, why not is because of so many attempts at conveniently disappearing other populations in the twentieth century.

MD: Well, I'm not disappearing them. It's just a possibility. It would be a wonderful one to me. Let it happen. Do you see any other way that patriarchy will disappear?

CM: I don't know either. But if somebody put the tools in my hands to disappear them I wouldn't do it.

MD: I don't think anyone would put the tools in my hands. No, I didn't have the women in Quintessence out killing them. But I do think there's something wrong with that life form, to be honest. You know, in the '70s we commonly called them mutes [short for mutants].

CM: Yes, I remember that.

MD: And there are articles that I've found on the Y chromosome as disappearing, both in German journals and American ones -- that the Y chromosome is, perhaps it's taking a long time, but it's disappearing. The males obviously are terrified that they're going to disappear. So they have to clone. And I don't see that there would be any progress with male leadership, patriarchy -- none. Nothing but the opposite. So of course I go wild: see what happens. But no, I'm not a killer. I'm not into killing. I think the earth, being female at core, will take care of it. Or else there's nothing but disaster here.

CM: I guess I have more sympathy with Alice Walker's statement, "The good news is that Mother Nature is phasing out the white man. The bad news is that's who She thinks we all are."

MD: But why would She have to think that? Would you object more to having just the males phased out than to having everyone phased out? Don't you think you would prefer to have a survival of really creative minds, a leap, an evolutionary leap? rather than just have us all go, because those guys are in control?

CM: It's all hypothetical.

MD: I don't want to die with them.

CM: [An inarticulate silence. The thin thread of conversation has, for the moment, snapped; unaskable questions tumble around in my head.] I'd -- you know, I'd prefer to have intelligent people survive. If it were up to me. I wouldn't much care what sex they were.

MD: Well, sure, in Quintessence I have a population of males. And I know intelligent males, males that I really like. But -- the quote from Alice Walker suggests that we all have to go. I don't want to go.

CM: No, I don't either.

MD: So what are you going to do? Wait for them to. . . self-destruct? I'm in a hurry, so let it happen.

CM: But if neither of us is willing to destruct them, then it's up to somebody else.

MD: And I think there are somebody elses in the universe. Presences that are very very benevolent, and that wouldn't want evil to prevail. And I'm not equating male = evil, it's not that simple, there's evil in men and women, of course, but. . . I just have great. . . I do have hope, in the prevailing biophilia.

CM: One more negative question; it's my nature.

MD: I think so.

CM: -- Not negative at the outset, because I think there are certain parallels between your work as a philosopher and Nietzsche's, in the sense that Nietzsche is massively irreverent, and liberating, and was ignored during his lifetime in official philosophical circles --

MD: We have that in common.

CM: -- but had a very excited unofficial following, and changed the intellectual landscape. But then people picked up Nietzsche's thought and twisted it and misused it; the idea of the ▄bermensch was used horribly in a way he didn't intend.

MD: I doubt they were intelligent enough even to have read it. It maybe wasn't even the misuse of him; because it wasn't a use.

CM: It seems entirely likely that it would have happened without him. But I also think of Yeats, and his disillusionment with Irish politics, and his lines in "Meditations in Time of Civil War":

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart's grown brutal from the fare;
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love. . .

History doesn't give us many examples of an idea being played out benignly and at its best. The state was supposed to wither away under socialism; it didn't. And so on. It's clear in Quintessence how you would love to see your work being used by women in fifty years; how would you not want to see women using your work in fifty years?

MD: I don't care what they do. Because, for one thing, my idea of time is not as simple as it might appear. I think -- I think our foresisters are here now. I don't believe in linear time. It would be nice to think that what I've done, what I'm doing, is a springboard for others to carry on. I think I'm going to carry on too, though. I'm not going to croak and say it's all over. So -- it doesn't even matter to me if there's some adulation in the future or not. I don't give a damn, I just want to be alive and do what it is that I'm called to do. And I'm trying to do that.

Copyright of Cross Currents is the property of Association for Religion & Intellectual Life and its content may not be copied without the copyright holder's express written permission except for the print or download capabilities of the retrieval software used for access. This content is intended solely for the use of the individual user.


Source: Cross Currents, Fall 200, Vol. 50  Issue 3.