Academic journal article MELUS

Eugenicist Mistress & Ethnic Mother: Mina Loy and Futurism, 1913-1917

Academic journal article MELUS

Eugenicist Mistress & Ethnic Mother: Mina Loy and Futurism, 1913-1917

Article excerpt

   --you are on the eve of a devastating psychological upheaval
   --all your pet illusions must be unmasked

--Mina Loy, "Feminist Manifesto," 1914

The politics and poetics of the notorious Jewish-British-turned-American poet Mina Loy dramatize the tension between personal investment and social critique, a tension that she enacted from 1913-1917 through an apparent commitment to the racist Futurist movement while also experimenting with the poetics of racial inheritance. By relying on controversial forms such as the Futurist manifesto and sexually suggestive poetry, Loy repudiated her background in Victorian rhetoric while perversely embracing a discourse of eugenics that we might deem counterintuitive to a mother of mixed racial heritage. (1) Loy's investment in racial purity, on the one hand, and the complexities of mixed racial heritages, on the other hand, appears to have authorized Loy's 1914 warning of an impending psychological upheaval in which all "illusions"--about futurism, motherhood, and national identity--"must be unmasked." (2) In fact, in unmasking Loy's own illusions, her rhetoric of liberation appears as paradoxically entangled with the discourse of racial purification that informs her radical experimentation as a poet.

Between 1913-1917, however, Loy contradicted her early prose work, caught as it was within the web of the Futurists' "indomitable intellects," with a radical poetry about motherhood. While her prose was originally intended to reject Futuristic ideology, but often was reduced only to adopting it, her poetry more adequately addressed the fates of three of her own imperfect children. Only in Loy's poetry about children published during the same period does a new rhetorical focus on the acceptance of imperfection coalesce with the freedom of form Loy desperately sought: a new mode of democratic poetry she eventually brought with her to the United States before becoming a naturalized citizen in 1946.

Loy chose poetry as a more radical means for communicating her anti-Futurist message, a message about motherhood that likely surprised even her. Astonishingly, Loy's most persuasive and heartfelt rejection of Futurist ideals, as well as her contribution to the woman question, lie not in her "Feminist Manifesto" nor in her unpublished prose, but in her poems about motherhood. When seen together, both Loy's "Feminist Manifesto" (1913), and such poems as "Parturition" (1914) and "Songs to Joannes" (1917) appear as individual and idiosyncratic feminist responses to counter the feminist social discourse rendering women either as mistresses or as mothers at the time. Loy, it seems, would become both mistress to the Futurists and mother to racially-mixed children. Via Futurism, Loy challenged the conventions of poetry; via feminism, at times through an appeal to Futuristic ideology, she challenged the conventions of womanhood. In unmasking the racial underpinnings of the avant-garde, Loy's mediation among Futurism, ethnicity, and feminism speaks to the complexity of motherhood in the first decades of the twentieth century and beyond.

Considering in particular the significance of Loy's unpublished works--among them, "Brontolovido," "Esau Penfold," and "Goy Israels"--in relation to Loy's biography and to the questions of ethnicity in Loy's writings, this article will begin with a brief discussion of Loy's family background and her physical and intellectual love affairs with the Futurists Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Giovanni Papini. Using this background to establish Loy's complicated understanding of ethnic identity, this essay will ultimately juxtapose readings of Loy's autobiographical fiction based on relationships with her parents and her lovers with her poetry about motherhood.

A true cosmopolitan, Loy was born December 27, 1882, to Sigmund Lowy, a Jewish Hungarian tailor, and Julia Bryan, a British Christian conservative (Burke 15). During her life, Loy lived in Munich, Paris, Florence, Rome, New York, Mexico, South America, and, finally, in Aspen, where she died in 1966. …

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