Mary Daly’s Amazon Grace: Re-Calling the Courage To Sin Big, New York and Hampshire, England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006
reviewed by Harriet Ellenberger
I want all of us to read Mary Daly’s latest book, sooner rather than later, and to read it aloud. Here’s why:
- Amazon Grace transmits energy at bolt-of-lightning levels, even more so when the sound of the words intensifies their meaning.
- Amazon Grace exposes made-in-the-USA fascism with such fierceness that reviewers in the homeland of homeland security have been leery of touching it. I think it’s our political responsibility to not let this book be buried.
- Amazon Grace sums up and takes off from a lifetime of the author’s philosophical work, work that is both solid and wide-ranging. Amazon Grace begins by announcing itself as “a challenge and an invitation hurled out to Daring, Desperate Women everywhere” – and it is – but the interweaving of idea, fact, metaphor, and story in Amazon Grace can prove central and illuminating for anyone desiring that life continue on earth.
I love the cut-to-the-chaseness of Amazon Grace – Daly wastes zilch time in getting to the point. Patriarchy is the global terrorist system that targets the planet and its life forms for destruction; woman-hating, nature-hating, life-hating, are at its core; and women who once knew this perfectly well, as well as those just learning it, need to begin again generating the energy between and amongst ourselves to name the system, confront it, transcend it. Even if, or especially if, the situation appears hopeless. To emerge from despair, do something.
I also love the time-traveling aspect of the book. Daly and nineteenth-century feminist Matilda Joslyn Gage hold frequent and fervent conversations throughout; Mary shows Matilda the televised bombing of Baghdad and briefs her on the history of atomic weapons; they travel together to 2056 B.E. (Biophilic Era) to meet with the survivor women of Lost and Found Continent.
These parts of the book work well if read as flights of the imagination, fictional devices to make vivid the author’s points about what has been, what is, what can be. But I’m noticing something additional going on with these time-travel stories: in telling them, Mary Daly performs the classic work of the tribal medicine woman or shaman. On behalf of the collective, she journeys into the realms of non-ordinary reality and brings back knowledge to make whole the life of her people. Her people are, to begin with, the daring and desperate women everywhere whom she addresses; through them, the circle enlarges to encompass the living beings of earth. She connects us to the intelligent powers of the universe, and this is a medicine woman’s job.
Finally, let me not fail to mention that the animals in Amazon Grace, from Mary’s cat Cottie, who, in ordinary reality, paws out significant volumes from Mary’s bookshelves, to Brontie, the telepathic brontosaurus who sets out on a vacation and ends up teaching Mesozoic-Era wisdom to the inhabitants of Lost and Found, are a pure delight.
In 1973, when Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation was published, Mary Daly seemed to me to be articulating the deepest desires and intuitions of an entire movement, myself included, and placing that movement at the center of hope for human survival. The fortunes of her work since then have mirrored the fortunes of the movement to which she devoted her thought and energy: first, she was made a sort of media star, then she was scapegoated, then her work was pigeon-holed and ignored. But the peril of women and all the creatures of earth that she described thirty-three years ago has only intensified in the meantime; the forces responsible for that danger have gathered strength and momentum and become more clearly visible; and the movement that could name and dispel them has been divided and dispersed, becoming an almost un-locate-able entity.
Under these circumstances, a mourner part of myself resists any re-kindling of communal energy and hope, wanting only to disappear into the woods (get me out of this mess, puh-leeze), while the spirit part of myself longs as much as ever to live and act and be part of something that is authentic, passionate, directed. I hate to drag Shakespeare into it, but “to be or not to be” really does seem to be the question du jour, for each of us. And be-ing confronting non-being has always been the focus of Mary Daly’s work. That’s what makes her books essential reading, more timely now than when they were first written.
Harriet Ellenberger was an activist in the U.S. civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements and a founding member of the Charlotte (North Carolina) Women’s Center (1971). She founded and edited the lesbian feminist journal Sinister Wisdom with Catherine Nicholson (1976-81), was a founding member of the bilingual feminist bookstore L’Essentielle in Montreal (1987), published a small feminist journal on the web called She Is Still Burning (2000-2003), and co-edited with Lise Weil several issues of Trivia: Voices of Feminism (2004-8). She lives in rural New Brunswick, where she and her partner are renovating an old farmhouse.For an updated list of works published in TRIVIA, please see this author’s contributor page.