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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

April 25, 1993|CHRIS GOODRICH

OUTERCOURSE: The Be-Dazzling Voyage by Mary Daly (HarperCollins: $24; 477 pp.) Calling Mary Daly a radical feminist is like calling Joan of Arc a foot soldier. Daly, no wallflower, refers to herself as a nag-gnostic philosopher and theologian . . . and also a crone, a spinner, a be-speaker, a lesbian, a positively revolting hag and a righteously plundering pirate sailing the subliminal sea, "smuggling back to women gems which have been stolen from us by the patriarchal thieves." In this autobiography-cum-vision Daly tells how she came to write the books that made her reputation--most notably, "Beyond God the Father" and "Gyn/Ecology"--and it's an interesting tale until about 1974, which marks the end of what Daly refers to as the "second spiral galaxy." By that time Daly had earned three doctorates, repudiated the Catholic church in which she grew up, managed to get tenure in the theology department at Jesuit-run Boston College and discovered her life's work--creating a feminist alternative to the "man-made" philosophy of the patriarchy's "necrophiliac nothing-lovers." The last half of "Outercourse" is not nearly as engaging as the first because Daly, in describing how she built her new philosophy, becomes self-obsessed, self-righteous and more than a little authoritarian: forced to reject just about every ready-made philosophical building block as being infected by patriarchy, Daly resorts to invective, the creation of straw-men and quasi-religious prophesying. What she ends up with, essentially, is "Dalyism," a world view that is often fascinating, sometimes important, usually reckless and, frequently, pure hooey. For all that, though, "Outercourse" can be a funny book, Daly knowing--as she showed in 1987's "Websters' First New Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language"--that power begins in the ability to name.

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