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Kate Orman
News From the House of Sticks
30th-Oct-2010 07:27 pm
From now on, I'll be posting about Islam, Islamophobia, Park51, etc etc etc, over at my main lj, dreamer_easy.

In the comments to my first post on the whole Elizabeth Moon/Park51 mishegoss, I said this:
"In the seventies, Black feminist Audre Lorde wrote to Mary Daly criticising the absence of African goddesses from Daly's book Gyn/Ecology. When she received no response, it became an open letter, which is full of respect, gratitude, and good will. It's a model of how to disagree civilly - that is, treating the other person as a fellow citizen, someone of equal worth with whom you must find a way to get along. Now I am old and weary, I aspire to Lorde's grace."
The Open Letter is well known; when Daly passed away at the start of this year, numerous obits and blog postings made mention of it.

Lorde's insights into white feminism's failings are powerful, but thing that especially struck me was her willingness to talk, despite Daly's stony silence. No self-righteousness, no "calling out", just good will and openness - while Daly was guilty of, at best, defensive stonewalling, or, at worst, arrogantly ignoring her.

As it turns out:

Lorde lied.

I'm still slightly reeling.

Her biographer, Alexis De Veaux, found Daly's response amongst Lorde's papers. Daly's letter apologises for the delay in responding (Lorde sent her letter in May 1979, Daly replied that September) and states: "You have made your point very strongly and you most definitely have a point." Daly says she's left a message on Lorde's machine and gives her own phone number; and she suggests they meet in person to discuss Lorde's criticisms. And they did meet and talk for an hour.

Lorde claimed she had never received a reply when she published the letter in 1980 and again in 1984.

I found this out yesterday (I'm reading Gyn/Ecology right now) and was so boggled that I raced into the State Library of NSW to peruse De Veaux's biography, Warrior Poet, for myself. It was true. Lorde was a liar. No, worse, she was a slanderer - like the jealous cyberbullies who spread lies about me. My heart sank and my blood boiled. (I'm lucky someone didn't call an ambulance.)

Daly later wrote: "Apparently Lorde was not satisfied [with their talk], although she did not indicate this at the time." In a 1982 interview, Lorde admitted, "I had no response that had any satisfaction to it". Which can only have been terribly frustrating - but is worlds away from being completely ignored.

What to do, then? Crumple up and throw away the Open Letter? Refuse to read anything more by Lorde?

No. And, no.

The letter's language still offers hope and grace. I invite you. I ask that you be aware. I believe in your good faith. Thank you.

What's more, the letter's criticism of white feminism is still important and useful. De Veaux suggests that, for Lorde, Daly had come to stand for white feminism and all its failings. "Mary Daly the person, then, ceased to exist," she writes, "But as an icon, Daly was an easy, if unwilling, target".

And what's even more, Lorde's work, like Daly's, has that extraordinary power that feminism has, to grab hold of my brain and shake it until the world looks slightly different than it did before. I'm really only getting started on both of them. Too many books, too few years in a life.

Besides, I am too old and too tired to police the edges of my mind, now. I need all the good insights I can get, even if they sometimes come packaged with bad insights. In any case, regrettably, I myself am racist; if I place someone beyond the pale (so to speak) for their prejudice, I'll only find myself standing there next to them.

The genuine openness to talk, the grace and hope, are there in the Carl Brandon Society's statement on Elizabeth Moon and Wiscon. The Society clearly and firmly repudiates Ms Moon's posting, but concludes:
"We ask both the Wiscon concom and Ms. Moon to take advantage of her presence at Wiscon 35 to make programming opportunities for Ms. Moon to engage in open dialogue with the community on this topic. We consider this sort of dialogue to be a primary responsibility of the Carl Brandon Society as an organization — particularly given our history with Wiscon — and we welcome the opportunity to engage in it. We also welcome other voices to work together with CBS in this dialogue."
The chances of real communication would've been slender. Sadly, now they are zero.

But I think, in this case, the last word ought to belong to Mary Daly:
"This piece ("Open Letter") has been assigned as required reading by not a few professors in academentia to students in classes where Gyn/Ecology itself has not been assigned, or a mere handful of pages of this book have been required reading. This kind of selectivity is irresponsible. It imposes a condition of self-righteous ignorance upon students, often within the setting of 'Women's Studies'. This is, in my view, a worst case scenario of pseudoscholarship. It is, even if 'well-intentioned', divisive, destructive. It functions, at least subliminally, as a self-protective statement about the purity and political correctness of the professor."
ETA: In Remembrance of Mary Daly: Lessons for the Movement
Daly, Mary. Outercourse: the Be-Dazzling Voyage. North Melbourne, Spinifex Press, 1993.
De Veaux, Alexis. Warrior Poet: a biography of Audre Lorde. New York, W.W. Norton, 2004.

PS Elizabeth, if you ever happen to see this - it would be my great pleasure to send you a copy of Waleed Aly's readable book People Like Us. His thoughts on Islam and the West partly reflect your own, but will also provide insights you may not have expected. Email me (korman@spamcop.net) with a postal address (your details to be kept strictly confidential, of course).
30th-Oct-2010 08:54 am (UTC)
In any case, I myself am (alas) a racist;

No, love, you aren't. Quoting David Gerrold doesn't have the same cachet as Mary Daly, but he taught us another trick with language; remember that first writing insight he gave us -- defining someone's character as a Jew, a black, ahomosexual, even a racist, kills them stone dead. A much saner way is to look at it as someone who is black, is Jewish, or has Jewish attitudes, or has gay leanings -- or even, despite her best efforts, has racist thoughts lurking in there.

Plus, that phrasing makes it that much harder for people to rip your words out of context...
30th-Oct-2010 08:57 am (UTC)
Plus that "alas" could look like sarcasm rather than regret. Hang about, I'll edit that bit.
30th-Oct-2010 08:59 am (UTC)
PS They don't need to take my words out of context - if I don't say something sufficiently outrageous, they'll just make something up. :D
31st-Oct-2010 12:18 am (UTC)
I have been watching this situation with great interest - and your comments on it, of course, given that I am both a friend of yours and a fan of Ms. Moon.

I must applaud this post - it is my opinion that we should respect and admire people for their acts which we feel are worthy of respect and admiration, without condoning their acts which we feel are not, or even while we criticise their acts which we feel deserve the same.

Also, it's hard to write about discovering flaws in your heroes.

For me, agreeing on ground rules about how to disagree is much more important than the subject of disagreement - because reasonable people can disagree reasonably. Otherwise how can great friendships grow between people of widely divergent faiths, political orientations, or other views?

Nice one Kate.
1st-Nov-2010 01:07 pm (UTC)
*tips hat* Ay thenk yew!
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