Academic journal article Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry

Desires Dissolvent: How Mina Loy Exceeds George Bataille

Academic journal article Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry

Desires Dissolvent: How Mina Loy Exceeds George Bataille

Article excerpt

In a poem first published in 1923, Mina Loy describes the human ego as a "carnose horologe"--a fleshy, time--telling instrument. (1) While an ego is arguably circumscribed by flesh, it is not usually considered fleshy; Loy's use of "carnose" asks us to reconfigure the ego as inseparable from its body, and this demand jars against the definition of carnality as opposed to all things spiritual or intellectual. More specifically, carnality refers to the body as the seat of passions or appetites, proclivities sensual or sexual in nature. In Loy's writing, she frequently toys with the term carnality, its variants, and its extended meanings. "Mass Production on 14th Street" is a poem about the excesses of market capitalism; here Loy associates and aligns carnality with carnival, writing that the "iris circus of Industry" generates "orgies of orchid"

   among a foliage of mass-production:
   carnations
   tossed at a carnal caravan
   for Carnevale. (2)

Loy employs a floral conceit that returns us repeatedly to the body: "iris" being both plant and centre of the eye, or locus of perception; "carnation" a crown-like flower whose name is associated with "coronation" and "incarnation." "Carnation" thus connotes the revered-becoming sovereign--and one of the most celebrated acts of humility in Western culture: Christ's decision to take up human form. But Loy's poem exhibits no deference to the venerable flower; tossed at a carnal caravan, these carnations are sacrificed to Loy's carnivalesque diction (circus, orgy, carnevale) and syntax, her deliberate repetition of sounds and word play. As Loy writes in a poem on Joyce: "The word made flesh" can "fee[d] on itself." (3) Loy does not associate the deific or sovereign with the act of communication; hers is a self-sufficient, secular view of the word. Loy's writing strives to embody language and explore the language of embodiment; the human subject frequently dissolves in the wake of her struggle with the physicalities of life and language.

I am suggesting that Loy presents us with a dissolute self-a self disunited, unrestrained, and wanton--even as I am aware that there is a tacit, longstanding disagreement among critics as to whether Loy's writing articulates a self entire, one capable of transcendence, or a self mired in and sustained by the vicissitudes of the flesh. (4) My own sense is that Loy's presentation of the subject is fed by her fascination with human passions. This fascination underscores her understanding that the self is innately, endlessly divided--nothing akin to an inviolate whole. As such, Loy's alignment of carnality and the carnivalesque in "Mass Production" is not incidental, but integral to her oeuvre; for Loy, human appetites are often comical, even uproarious. In what follows, I will consider Loy's use of risibility--the desire to laugh--as it accompanies and extends her examinations of other desires such as sexuality and hunger. Like Loy, many modernist philosophers were preoccupied with laughter; its causes and effects earned the attention of Nietzsche, Bergson, and Freud, among others. Their discussion had a notable effect on Loy, and on the work of many of her peers, of which Wyndham Lewis's The Wild Body (1927) serves as a particularly cogent example. Loy can be seen responding to philosophies of laughter in her best-known poem sequence, "Songs to Joannes" (1917), where she portrays risibility and sexuality as conduits to ecstasy. In so doing, Loy foregrounds the precepts of one of Nietzsche's philosophical descendents, namely Georges Bataille.

In the thirties, Loy writes Insel, a novel where her interest in carnality does not abate, but shifts direction. The book is about Mrs Jones, an artist and art dealer living in Paris who attempts to mentor the reclusive and impoverished artist Insel, a figure tangentially associated with the Surrealist movement. (5) The couple are described as clowns who talk, laugh, and eat together. …

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