“Time Is on My Side”. – Review

“Time Is on My Side”. – Review – book reviews

Marsaura Shukla

Mary Daly, Quintessence…Realizing the Archaic Future: A Radical Elemental Feminist Manifesto. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998. 288pp. $24.00 (hardcover).

Rosemary Radford Ruether, Women and Redemption: A Theological History. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998. 366pp. $20.00 (paper).

The liquor store around the corner from my apartment has in its window a digital sign counting down in rapidly moving milli-seconds to the year 2000. [1] A friend of mine is developing a class on time and millennialism in the New Testament. The terrors of Y2K appear as a motif in television commercials for cars, insurance, soda-pop. As the twentieth century and the second millennium of the common era draw to a close, we all, in different ways, have time, history, and change on our minds. This cultural preoccupation forms a link between the otherwise very different books under review here. Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford Ruether each conjures her own vision of time as that in which the feminist project finds its “home.”

Ruether begins Women and Redemption with a series of pointed questions about the meaning within the Christian tradition of the Christian claim (Galatians 3:28) that “in Christ there is no more male and female” (1). An organizing presupposition of the book is that this claim has been interpreted differently at different times in Christian history, and, furthermore, that the various interpretations “are relative to the way women are defined in creation or ‘original nature’ and the ‘fall’ or the consequences of sin” (1). Ruether’s project is to trace the relationship in history between changing paradigms of gender and changing interpretations of sin and redemption.

Beginning with the New Testament and ending with a survey of contemporary feminist theologies, Ruether presents certain key eras within the Christian tradition by focusing on the lives and works of representative figures. The first section of the book deals with the conflicting interpretations of gender and redemption in the earliest Christian churches and the development of the “orthodox” theological syntheses of Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine in the late-fourth and fifth centuries. Ruether’s aim in this section is to historicize the notion of “orthodoxy”:

We can only glimpse a time when a great variety of Christianities, some experimenting boldly with the personal and social changes and theological interpretations of redemption, not only competed with emerging clerical and patriarchal forms of Christianity, but in many places were the predominant forms of Christianity. These, just as much as those who won as the “orthodox,” saw themselves as building on ancient traditions going back to Jesus and the first generation of his followers. (51)

The movement Ruether traces is one from an original situation of diversity toward a growing monolithicism. The point is not a new one, and some would argue against Ruether’s suggestion that once “orthodoxy” emerged, diversity ceased to characterize Christianity. Nevertheless, this movement plays an important role in the broad picture Ruether is drawing of the shape of Christian history and the significance of this history for contemporary feminist reflection. It becomes clear toward the end of the book that Ruether sees a contemporary need to “reverse” this movement toward a monolithic orthodoxy: “[The] incorporation of many religious traditions in new syntheses … calls European and Euroamerican Christian feminists to discover more about our repressed plurality of identities” (281).

The next section of the book traces two paradigm shifts in the understanding of gender and redemption, both of which take place within the context of the Quaker movement. The first paradigm shift involves the redefinition of women, within seventeenth-century Quaker theology, in terms of a complete original equality with men and a related condemnation of women’s subordination as sinful domination. Ruether then follows the developments of the Quaker movement in late-eighteenth and nineteenth century North America in order to trace the second key paradigm shift, from an otherworldly understanding of redemption to a this-worldly understanding that mandated social activism.

These two key paradigm shifts, Ruether argues, lay “the basis for a feminist reading” of Christianity (273). The seventeenth-century Quakers, as apocalypticists, did not at first translate their theology of spiritual equality into social reform, although their own communal religious life was characterized by the active ministry of women. This shift to an emphasis on social reform occurred in the English-American millennialist sect of the Shakers (a sect of the Quakers) and the women’s rights movement that arose from the abolitionist struggle of the 1840s, led to a large extent by women of Quaker background. In keeping with her general strategy of presenting history through a focus on individuals, Ruether traces the relationship between Quaker theology and political liberalism, between the abolitionist movement and the beginnings of “first-wave” feminism, through the stories and theologies of women activists such as Angelina and Sarah Grimke and Lucretia Mott. This focus on individuals enlivens Ruether’s hist orical study.

The final section of Women and Redemption presents a survey of twentiethcentury feminist theologies around the world. The overwhelming impression left by this last section is of the rich diversity of contemporary feminist scholarship. I cannot help but hear in this diversity an echo of the original diversity and syncreticism of the earliest Jesus movement. Given Ruether’s call to “discover… the repressed plurality of identities,” it is possible that this echo is meant to be an implicit validation of the contemporary feminist diversity. Ruether does not, however, argue this explicitly. In general, the presentation of history in Women and Redemption suffers from the lack of connection between the various eras of Christianity. At several places, natural points of comparison arise (for example, between the apocalypticism of some forms of early Christianity and that of the Quaker movement) that invite further analysis. Because of a lack of such analysis, Women and Redemption reads at times like a historical rep ort.

The subtitle of the book declares it to be a “theological history,” suggesting that Ruether understands historiography to be in some sense “theologically productive.” How this might be so only begins to become clear in the conclusion. Here Ruether defines her own approach to history against a radical Protestant paradigm “in which tradition is dismantled or bypassed by returning to what is seen as an original dispensation of revelation in Jesus” (279). She argues that to ignore intervening history in this way is both to “falsify the earliest Christian movement as much more like our own vision than it really was,” and to ignore “our actual heritage in a Christian history of ongoing reinterpretation that we continue “(280, my emphasis). In contrast, she asserts that “we need to own as ongoing revelation the process of continuous reinterpretation that lies behind our restatements of redemptive gender equality” (280).

Ruether’s approach to history is characterized by a simultaneous and interdependent sense of real difference and authentic continuity. She is arguing that when the past is falsified, the present loses a sense of itself as truly embedded in history. In addition to this general sense of the “value” of history, Ruether has a heightened awareness of the importance of history for feminist theology. Through her notion of continuous reinterpretation as ongoing revelation, she suggests that the retelling of history is itself a theologically creative activity. Ruether’s sense of historiography as “theologically productive” for Christian feminism becomes clear in the following statement: “Christian feminist theology is pushed… to dare to parallel the Jesus story with the stories of women who acted as liberators. Women become fully christomorphic only when one can tell stories of women who acted redemptively as parallel with the Jesus story” (278). Through this radical claim, Ruether posits “history” as the true “hom e” of feminist theology, the resource from which it draws its transformative power and the “place” that it is called to inhabit. It is as such a “home” that she has constructed her “theological history.” Her historiography is an “encounter with root stories that releases space for radically new envisionings” (280).

To turn from Ruether to Mary Daly’s Quintessence is to shift “keys” dramatically. While Ruether makes some radical claims about the significance of history for feminist theology in her conclusion, hers is a fairly conventional presentation. She stands firmly in the recuperative tradition of feminist historiography, and the rhetorical force of her project derives from the conventions of such scholarship. Daly, as we have come to expect, is doing something very different. Whereas Ruether is engaged in a “retelling” of some of the stories that make up Christian history, Daly is engaged in a kind of “re-visioning,” not only of history but of time itself.

The last line of Quintessence names the book a “Memory of the Future” (237). The paradoxical character of this description points to the complexity of Daly’s play with the notions of time and history. This “play” begins on the cover and pervades the entire work. The text I read, published in 1998. announces on its cover that it is the “fiftieth anniversary edition,” published in 2048 B.E. (Biophilic Era), of the “original” 1998 edition.

Quintessence is a “transtemporal” work, told in two voices: one, Mary Daly’s, from 1998; and the second belonging to a woman living in 2048 who writes under the name of “Anonyma.” These voices are interwoven throughout the book, with each chapter in Daly’s voice being followed by a section of “cosmic comments and conversations with the author” reported in the voice of Anonyma (“Annie” for short). These conversations take place primarily between Annie and Mary Daly, whom Annie “invokes,” but also include other women from 2048, like Kate, Annie’s mother. The “invocation” is not a summoning of Mary Daly’s “ghost.” It is, rather, something like a physical transportation — Daly is “drawn out” of 1998 “into” 2048 during the time she is writing Quintessence. Thus the book is not simply (although it is partially) about the passage of time, a view of what Daly’s work might “look” like fifty years from now. It is also a product of transtemporality, an “artifact” from a different time/space continuum.

The “cosmic comments and conversations” significantly complicate the sense of “time” that pervades Quintessence by rendering the 1998 of and to which Daly is speaking “the past,” a past radically different from the “present” of 2048. In the intervening years, the world has become a new place. Annie reports this “history” to Daly in one of the early conversations:

Wild Women and other Elemental creatures eventually achieved critical mass and acted to overthrow the moribund patriarchal rule. This Fierce Shifting of energy patterns was achieved with the help of our Sister the Earth, who vomited out many of the poisons that had sickened her. As she cleansed herself, there were many geographic and climatic changes. (61)

During this “Tremendous Transition,” in 2018, the members of the Anonyma Network (a group of five thousand “Foresighted” women — Kate, Annie’s mother, and her “Cronies”) “Dis-covered” the Lost and Found Continent. In the “Gynocratic and Gynocentric” world of 2048, the Lost and Found Continent is a “joyous Women’s Space” and a “Power Center [generating] Elemental Energy,” guarding against the “danger of slippage” back into patriarchy (66).

The idyllic world of the Lost and Found Continent is clearly meant both to contrast with the “necrophilic” mess of 1998 and to provide a “happy ending.” The 1998 introduction to the “Manifesto” proclaims that “the writing of this book is a Desperate Act performed in a time of ultimate battles between principalities and powers. More than ever all sensate and spiritual life on this planet and anywhere within reach is threatened with extinction” (1). In the “cosmic comments and conversations” we learn that the worst-case scenario of extinction was avoided through the activism of the Anonyma Network and its radical feminist “Foresisters.” Furthermore, we are shown that the war against patriarchy, waged by Daly in all her work, has been won, and on Daly’s terms. As Kate says to Daly, “We’re here to tell you that you Battle Axes won!” (191). At the risk of belaboring the point, Daly describes in another conversation the reaction of her friends every time she “returns” to 1998. “When I tell them about you they say ‘So there is hope! There is a Future Sisterhood. We were right all along. We won’t be defeated after all!’ And that reawakens Vision and Courage” (233).

At the level of a projected “happy ending,” Quintessence is easy to dismiss. This is in no small part due to the heavy-handed style in which the “cosmic comments and conversations” are written. Daly’s (or perhaps I should say “Annie’s”) skill in constructing dialogue and narrative does not match her talent for manipulating language to create the “parodic” critiques and diatribes that characterize her work. [2] Yet, to read this book as nothing more than a flat-footed account of how the radical feminists will save and then rule the world would be to miss the point.

The “literary conceit” of Quintessence invites such a mistake by suggesting that the 2048 “cosmic comments and conversations” form the appropriate context within which to read the 1998 “manifesto” sections of the book. Such a reading, however, enacts precisely the preoccupation with the linear passage of time that Daly is working hard to resist and invites us to resist. When this “literary conceit” is reversed, and the “manifesto” sections of the book are read instead as the context for the “comments and conversations,” it becomes clear that this book is not an empty exercise in “happy endings,” but, rather, an attempt at transformation, at the production of “Transtemporality,” a state that requires falling out of linear time. This project is named most clearly in the second part of the title of the book, “Realizing the Archaic Future,” which “does not mean simply waking up and Seeing. It means working to open the Way for Transtemporal/Trans-spatial and Interspecies Bonding” (6).

The primary way in which Daly articulates the effects of patriarchy in her “Radical Elemental Manifesto” is as “diaspora,” feeling “cut off from our Foresisters….Severed from our own history,” fearing “that our own Reality is being splintered/destroyed by agents of dividedness” (37). The Radical Feminist project requires that this state of diaspora be transformed into Positive Diaspora:

Our participation in this transformative work requires that we break out of the dreary state of temporal as well as spatial diaspora. Temporal diaspora is the state of separation from our Real Present and therefore our True Past and Future. The institutions of patriarchy, most notably the media, foster this separation by embedding deadening archetypal images/molds into women, making us prisoners of archetypal deadtime (a.d.). Deviant Women dissolve these molds by performing Original Creative Acts, thereby participating in Background Time, which is Original/Archaic Time, beyond the stagnation/timelessness of patriarchetypes. By our successions of such acts we create a Real Future, which is an Archaic Future. (119, 121)

Daly’s identification of the state of “temporal diaspora” and its “reversal,” “Positive [‘Transtemporal’] Diaspora,” gathers together several threads from her earlier work. “Archetypal deadtime” is defined in Wickedary as “Timeless Time, lacking genuine movement, having no real past, present, or future,” [3] and is associated with “tidy time,” which is defined as “fathered time; measurements/divisions that cut women’s Lifetimes/Lifelines into tidy tid-bits; dismembered time…” (Wickedary, 62). These are opposed to “Archaic Time,” defined as “Original Creative Time…” (Wickedary, 97), and “Tidal Time,” “Elemental Time, beyond the clocking/clacking of clonedom,…. Time that cannot be grasped by the tidily man-dated world…” (Wickedary, 62). Within this web of oppositions, the “Archaic Future” is defined as the “direction of the movements of Archaic time,” a “reality created through successions of Original Creative Acts/Actions” (Wickedary, 97).

The definitions in Wickedary draw a verbal “map” of an alternative time/space continuum, the paradoxical “transtemporality” of which is captured by the notion of an “Archaic (“Original, Primal, Primordial” [Wickedary, 62]) Future.” In Quintessence, Daly takes the next step, that of Realizing (“[making] real… . [Bringing] into concrete existence” [Wickedary, 92]) this Archaic Future. The “cosmic comments and conversations” begin with an act of “invocation,” but in that act the future is itself “invoked” for the reader. The dynamic relationship Daly sets up between the 2048 and the 1998 sections of the book, so that each is read in light of the other, is an attempt “to shift the meanings of Past, Present, and Future,” to create a “counterflow of Time” (199). Quintessence is an enactment of a different way of inhabiting time such that the “diaspora” of present is transformed.

We have only to remove the blinders imposed in the pseudoworld of the foreground to See that these Future Women are Here Now…. This is indeed Intergalactic Travel. It is Transtemporal Diaspora that transforms temporal diaspora. Our Exile, Scattering, and Migration create an Outsiders’ Society that is outside anything imaginable to microscopic/telescopic (re)visionaries. And it is Re-membering that makes it Real.

Through the “cosmic comments and conversations,” Daly performs the “Here Now” of which she speaks. Her “Memory of the Future” is primarily an attempt to practice a transformed, re-membered present.

Daly has often been criticized for ignoring the historicity of women’s knowledge and experience. [4] While Quintessence does not really answer these critiques, it does add a twist to the conversation. Both in the dis-membering of temporal diaspora and the re-membering of Transtemporal Diaspora, time/Time is the primary organizer of women’s experience. Daly is asserting that it is from our sense of Past, Present, and Future that we get a sense of ourSelves.

Is time, as Mick Jagger claims, on my/our side? Both Ruether and Daly suggest that it is. Both, in different ways, approach the issue of identity and community within feminism through a “rehearsal” of history. Ruether rehearses history in the sense of recounting or relating facts. Daly’s rehearsal is more performance driven. She is practicing, drilling, training for/in a “counter-flow” of time. Yet both assert that some such “rehearsing” is an integral part of “performing” the future (Archaic or otherwise) of feminism.

Daly’s notion of the problem of “diaspora” resonates with Ruether’s sense of the necessity of locating and articulating the stories of women who acted as liberators. For Ruether too, a kind of “temporal diaspora” must be overcome — a diaspora that separates us from our “repressed plurality of identities” and, ultimately, stands as an obstacle to our becoming “fully christomorphic.” For Ruether too, “re-membering makes it real.” And yet “time” is conceived of differently by Daly and Ruether; as a result, the community into which we remember ourselves emerges differently in the work of each. The “pastness” of the past is all important to Ruether, both in the sense of its difference from the present and in its being our past, the forerunner of our present. To inhabit time so understood is to re-member ourselves into a “traditioned” community, a community that derives its future from precisely that which is not present. For Daly, on the other hand, linear time is that which we need to re-member ourselves out of . Time, correctly inhabited, is a Here Now, in which Past, Present, and Future are simultaneously experienced. The Past and Future gain their “Realness” from being Present. The community into which Daly calls us to re-member ourselves through this kind of overcoming of time is an “Outsider Society that is outside anything imaginable.”

While both Ruether and Daly assert that we receive ourselves in/from time, the differences in their “rehearsals” raise the issue of identity. How time is on our side shapes who we are. How we chose to “rehearse” time shapes who we as “performers” of the future become.


(1.) I want to thank Susan Simonaitis and Karen Trimble Alliaume for their help with this review.

(2.) The notion of Daly’s work as “parody” is developed by Mary McClintock Fulkerson [Changing the Subject: Women’s Discourses and Feminist Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994) 299-354].

(3.) Mary Daly and Jane Caputi, Websters’ First Intergalactic Wickedary of the English Language (Boston: Beacon, 1987), 62.

(4.) See, for example, Sheila Greeve Davaney, “Problems with Feminist Theory: Historicity and the Search for Sure Foundations” in Embodied Love: Sensuality and Friendship as Feminist Values, ed. Paula M. Cooey, Sharon A. Farmer, and Mary Ellen Ross (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1987), 75-95.

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