[Femme Futura: The Curious Feminism of Mina Loy] [11.19.07]

Among the major movements or theories of art and life to have some hold over the first quarter of the twentieth century, especially in the European continent, the dissonant strains of Feminism and Futurism are one pair that seem least likely to inspire a common cause or champion: they may have one in Mina Loy. Her feminist credo finds articulation in her tendency toward frank expressions of female sexuality, childbirth and maternity, but Loy makes certain that her critics will have no recourse to label her as “feminine.” Her futurist poetry represents a rebellion against poetic convention, and she goes so far as to proclaim, “I was never a poet.” [1]

An untraditional approach to both life and poetry barred her from eminence among any but her immediate coevals, but ensured her longevity as a unique voice of dissent and innovation.

To those who did not understand or appreciate Loy or her work, she inspired bemusement at best, and censorship at worst. If she has any audience at all, it is her reputation as a stunningly beautiful woman with bold ideas about sex and sexuality that seems to earn notice, and which has overshadowed her true talents as a participant -– a precipitant even -– of the new art of her era. Severe dissociation from traditional doctrine has sometimes meant heresy, when it often enough ought to signify art’s greatest salvation, the innovative impulse of genius. As indicated by these lines from her “Apology of Genius” (77), she was little concerned with acceptance within a given tradition, and expressed her sense of exceptionalism:

Our wills are formed
by curious disciplines
beyond your laws (18-20)

Loy understood the fault of human psychology, which clings to the familiar for comfort and derides the unknown out of hand as contrary, misguided, or even as offensive. Her poetry has suffered the harsher of these judgments, considered lewd, unsavory, and barred as unfit for public consumption. She was not inclined to defer to the censor’s balks in her pursuit of her art:

In the raw caverns of the Increate
we forge the dusk of Chaos
to that imperious jewellery of the Universe
– the Beautiful – (31-4)

Envisioned as anti-sentimental and averse to the guidance of the past, Loy’s work falls in line with that of such artists as Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Valentine de Saint-Point, one the author of “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism,” the other of the “Manifesto of the Futurist Woman.” It is typical of Loy’s inflammatory wit that she would use the techniques of Futurism –- punctuated by curtailed grammar, demolished syntax, and misogyny -– toward her own ends as a Feminist, which in her way she was. For, although she denied the equality of women to men, she only did so in service of her idea of Woman as a force separate from that of Man. The irony of this stance becomes clear when stood in comparison to the more abrasive tenets of Futurism, of which one of Marinetti’s invention translates variously as:

We will glorify war — the world’s only hygiene — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom-bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for woman.

Despite the last of these ideals, Loy and Saint-Point agree with Marinetti in some respects, particularly the dictates for speed and for aggression. They both speak of the insipid powerlessness of women within the old male/female dichotomy, left nothing but the weakness of sentimentalism. To Loy’s mind, there were limited options available to women under the old formulation:

As conditions are at present constituted –- you have the choice between Parasitism, & Prostitution — or Negation.

The choice, as poet and woman, was to be a leech and bawd, or to take a chance and face-off with the “chaos” that an utter denial would entail. As Saint-Point says elsewhere:

We have to take the brute animal for a model. [2]

In order to assert feminine power, as opposed to the masculine, for which aggression meant power, Loy proposed a destruction of the boundaries between maternal and sexual drives in women. She set out to prove -– and succeeds in doing so -– that the feminine can be as aggressive, decisive and vital as it masculine counter. Insistent upon the idea that

…you must make sacrifices & the first & greatest sacrifice you have to make is of your virtue,

Loy proposes her instigations as a kind of Spartan call to maternal excellence. She writes in her “Feminist Manifesto” that to realize a full sense of self and realize a freedom from the moralistic valuation of virginity and the societal constraints put on women as sexual beings, that:

The first self-enforced law for the female sex, as a protection against the man made bogey of virtue — which is the principal instrument of her subjection — would be the unconditional surgical destruction of virginity through-out the female population at puberty — (154-155)

She goes on to propose:

Every woman of superior intelligence should realize her race-responsibility, in producing children in adequate proportion to the unfit or degenerate members of her sex —

Compare, again, to this imperative exclamation from Saint-Point’s pamphlet:

You owe humanity its heroes. Make them!

[1] Conover, Roger L., ed. “Introduction.” The Lost Lunar Baedeker: Poems of Mina Loy. New York: Farrar, Strauss, Giroux, 1996, xii.

[2] de Saint-Point, Valentine. “Manifesto of Futurist Woman (Response to F. T. Marinetti).” 1912.


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