March 29, 2007

From 'Three Moments in Paris' by Mina Loy

I post this poem here for Katy Murr who took an interest in Mina Loy on my teaching blog:

Mina Loy

One O’Clock at Night
Though you have never possessed me
I have belonged to you since the beginning of time
And sleepily I sit on your chair beside you
Leaning against your shoulder
And your careless arm across my back gesticulated
As your indisputable male voice roared
Through my brain and my body
Arguing dynamic decomposition
Of which I understand nothing
Sleepily
And the only less male voice of your brother pugilist of the intellect
Booms as it seemed to me so sleepy
Across an interval of a thousand miles
An interim of a thousand years
But you who make more noise than any man in the world when you clear your throat
Deafening woke me
And I caught the thread of the argument
Immediately assuming my personal mental attitude
And cease to be a woman

Beautiful halfhour of being a mere woman
The animal woman
Understanding nothing of man
But mastery and the security of imparted physical heat
Indifferent to cerebral gymnastics
Or regarding them as the self-indulgent play of children
Or the thunder of alien gods
But you wake me up
Anyhow who am I that I should criticize your theories of plastic velocity

“Let us go home she is tired and wants to go to bed.”


From The Lost Lunar Baedeker.

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  1. I found some things about Mina Loy. You’ve probably seen it already, but hey, I’ll give you the link of something which totally captivated me anyway: http://www.theliteraryreview.org/u2003/sheffield.html

    It’s strange how they talk about celebrating her ‘excess’—or at least, it is to me. Excess is something which is supposedly negative, not needed… and yet they absolutely revel in her use of it. Maybe it has something to do with her use of it as a rebellion?

    This part is one of my favourite parts of the essay: ‘the asterisk is the signal of a treasure which is not there” (7.190). The asterisk, or as Loy calls it elsewhere, “Lady Asterisk” (6.163), becomes the “signal” of her poetry’s “unconsummated significance.” ‘

    Anyway, to the poem above! The ‘Though’ makes us expect, and the ‘You’ makes us feel as if some secret may be revealed. It seems sort of letter/ diary-like. The lack of punctuation, just line, line, line makes it seem more statment-like, as if we should take it as the truth. The shortening of these lines, I like:

    ‘Through my brain and my body
    Arguing dynamic decomposition
    Of which I understand nothing
    Sleepily’

    It is almost as if because she is not understanding, what he is arguing/ roaring comes out as one whole monotony, steps of predictable monotony.

    ‘And the only less male voice of your brother pugilist of the intellect’ this confuses me. Why is it less male? I thought this was perhaps the woman speaker’s voice/ thoughts before reading the next line, where she seems to exactly seperate herself from the ‘less male voice’. Or maybe she is saying something about how the ‘arguing’ which ‘roared’ is no more ‘male’ than sleepy ‘leaning’ against a lover? I assume a lover. But it is difficult to tell… the ‘leaning’ could be mere ‘leaning’ against thoughts which flood her in the early morning, when she questions these things, and the lines between ‘male’ and ‘mere woman’ become more blurred than in the day.

    ‘And I caught the thread of the argument
    Immediately assuming my personal mental attitude
    And cease to be a woman’

    I like the ‘And’, the assumption that by her ‘assuming [her] personal mental attitude’ (which is arguably individual, allowed to be individual), she is not what they call a ‘woman’. She is saying that women were not expected to have their own ‘personal mental attitude’, in response to catching ‘the thread’ of their male’s constant ‘arguing’?

    ‘Beautiful halfhour of being a mere woman’ is one of my favourite lines. It seems to be a celebration of moving away from the expectation of a ‘woman’, and although by moving away she has become ‘mere’, she has also, in her ‘mental attitude’, become ‘Beautiful’. She draws the differences and similarities between male and female: the ‘animal woman’ contrasted with the ‘man’ who does not give a damn about intellectual gymnastics: thinking, rather than just going on instinct…

    It is strange she then draws them as ‘children’, as it is women who of course bear ‘children’, so is it the women who bear the man who is ‘Indifferent to cerebral gymnastics’, that are part of the problem?

    ‘Anyhow who am I that I should criticize your theories of plastic velocity

    “Let us go home she is tired and wants to go to bed.” ‘

    Of course – she is the woman, the women, who bear the men, the men who play with theories of ‘plastic velocity’, as they resemble the ‘self-indulgent play of children’. The last line is so sufficient: the passive way he talks about her, paired with this poem showing evident power and intellect over ‘plastic velocity’, to which she ‘understand[s] nothing’.

    (Sorry this reply is so long.)

    10 Apr 2007, 14:50

  2. Katy, I’m glad that you like the poem. It as first published in Rogue in 1915, a year after her ‘Feminist Manifesto’. I like the play of maternal imagery in it which I think is important to her poetics. The title specifies the early hours of the morning, atime when teh day is still in the throes of being born. The poem opens with a description of a distant yet physically present figure and to me, the situation is reminiscent of the newly born child’s relations with its mothers when it is born. A child is not exactly possessed by its mother yet it belongs to her in an inexplicable wya. The two words both suggest a kind of ownership, but the difference lies in their connotaions; ‘belonging’ can suggest the status of a native, being familiar with a place or people or being the member of a unit, while ‘possession’ indicates a more bodily hold on a place, person or object. I think that this poem is a play between these two ideas. Loy was very interested in Futurism and one of the Futurist concepts was an ideal of union between a man and a woman without the very human flaws of possessiveness and jealousy.

    At the beginning of the poem, the speaker lies half-asleep almost in a state of incubation. The motif of the slumbering woman occurs in a number of Loy’s poems; this is the woman without self-consciousness who acts as a parasite of man and never reaches her full potential like a foetus that is never born.

    About ‘And the only less male voice of your brother pugilist of the intellect / Boomed as it seemed to me so sleepy / across an interval of a thousand miles’. I guess that we have to wonder about the phrase ‘less male’, less male than who or what or in comparison to who or what? I wondered whether this brother pugilist is less male than the main speaker and his ‘indisputabl;e male voice’ as a reference to the competition between them, but it is ambiguous. Is she actually challenging the notion of maleness as she does with the notion of being a ‘mere woman’?

    I think that you are exactly right about the ‘personal mental attitude’. Loy claims an essential humanity that is retained by both men and women – a personal mental attitude. To be born as an authentic woman is to realise that masculine language is not alien nor is alien thought – it is only society that creates these myths.

    This part of the poem is one of my favourites: ‘Beautiful halfhour of being a mere woman / The animal woman / Understanding nothing of man / But mastery and the security of imparted physical heat / Indifferent to cerebral gymnastics / Or regarding them as the self-indulgent play of children’. I think that I read it slightly differently to you, but see what you think. The famous Futurist, Marinetti, wrote that women were sensual creatures, ‘skilled in the use of their naive elegance to carry on teh most audaciously lascivious games’. To the Futurists, woman was opposed to intellectuality. However, Loy surmounts this with an image of woman as a defenceless animal. It is easier, says Loy, to be mastered by man and live within his protection than to fight against sexual prejudice. It is easier to pretend that men are children than to realise their chauvinism. To accept conventional femininity is to be blissfully unconscious, but it is also to be ignorant of man’s domination. Loy prefers John Stuart Mill’s dictum: ‘It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied’. I think that like Mill, Loy realises that conventional sensual pleasures (or conventional romantic love) must be sacrificed for the progress of man and woman. As Loy writes in her feminist manifesto: ‘Women must destroy in themselves the desire to be loved’.

    13 Apr 2007, 14:31

  3. Katy Murr

    Just to let you know, I am going to reply – have been crazily busy recently, but hopefully I will have some time later tonight or tomorrow where I can think about my reply. I’d rather leave it later and have something I’ve considered than even more unthoughtout blah! Anyway, sorry for the tardiness.

    21 Apr 2007, 14:11

  4. I hadn’t considered the maternal imagery, but now you talk about it, it is so apparent. Have you read ‘Catrin’ by Gillian Clarke? When you say ‘A child is not exactly possessed by its mother yet it belongs to her in an inexplicable wya,’ I am reminded of her poem, in particular, ‘the tight/ Red rope of love which we both/ Fought over.’

    Anyway: I can see why that would be an ideal, but isn’t the idea impossible, because, as you say, ‘possessiveness and jealousy’ are human, and instinctive? How did Loy’s ‘Feminist Manifesto’ fit into futurism?

    So, being Feminist, she’s waging to scorn upon the idea of supposed ‘maleness’ as a possession, where possession is so often wrongly taken to mean ‘strength over’?

    What you say about society—how did the whole ‘Futurism’ and Futurism within poetry try to change our politics and society? To eradicate the myths so that society is not a constraint, but to live within a society of poems and language which allows people to build their ‘personal mental attitude’ would be one where we can live as truely and equally as possible? Maybe if more people read we would have something closer to this…

    I see why that’s one of your favourite parts; it is the beginning of a transition, a movement into thought. Why was woman opposed to intellectuality? Because it to be ‘intellectual’ is/ was to regard rational thought over emotion? So did that mean they thought women were opposed to thought? No… that would not work, if arguing for a ‘personal mental attitude’ – because that surely would only be reached by freedom of thought.

    What do you mean by ‘conventional femininity’?

    Isn’t it majorly the problem with how women often think they ‘should’ ‘act’ in order to be accepted into male love? Which is due to society creating the myths you talk of, and from women and men not thinking against them. I find this, ‘better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied’ incredibly intriguing. Problem is, ‘a fool satisfied’ would be so without thought that they probably would not be able to see their lack of independant thought and actions, and so, to themselves, they would not be a ‘fool’, nor someone who was just ‘coasting’ through life; because they would know nothing else.

    PS: I mentioned Swithun Cooper on my blog, because I could not find any of his poems except from that on the Tower Poetry website; he has now sent me some poems (they are delightful), and recommended I read your work! He talked about the Heaventree Press as well, so I presume had something to do with Warwick.

    24 Apr 2007, 18:27

  5. I don’t have much time right now, but here are some comments from Marinetti to consider and will write back in detail soon.

    Manifesto of Futurism

    Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an agressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent atack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man.

    We will glorify war the world’s only hygiene – miltarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for women .

    We will destroy museums, libraries, academics of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.

    02 May 2007, 14:23

  6. ‘Except in struggle, there is no more beauty. No work without an agressive character can be a masterpiece. Poetry must be conceived as a violent atack on unknown forces, to reduce and prostrate them before man.’ It sounds as if Marinetti was bored with the previous art which went before, that he thought it meek? This quote, I can comprehend: movements go against something before which didn’t pleasure the people/ caused anger. By agression, they could expect to acheive change.

    ‘We will glorify war the world’s only hygiene – miltarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of freedom bringers, beautiful ideas worth dying for, and scorn for women .’ But this—why scorn for women? Women, as seen in WW1, WW2, were vital for the home front; ammunitions etc, & generally clearing up the mess the men created through war and hunger/ desire for more [land]. Why is patriotism supposedly ‘hygenic’? Isn’t it the blatant thought of your country/land/what is yours innately being superior to someone else’s, simply because it is yours/ you come from that place? I’m not sure what he means by ‘beautiful ideas worth dying for’, nor whether he is intending this to be glorified or not.

    ‘We will destroy museums, libraries, academics of every kind, will fight moralism, feminism, every opportunistic or utilitarian cowardice.’ (I expect you send me these quotes because you know I would struggle with what they are trying to say, and whatever I am somehow trying to define in my thoughts as right/ correct/ necessary for society.) To destroy libraries and museums, the very thing which often allow people to actually think—to move away from the art they seem to hate so much, would seem a stupid thing! I fail to see their reasoning here, expect to be as outlandish as possible, with the intent of creating a furour!

    09 May 2007, 19:54

  7. The Futurist manifesto can be rather annoying can’t it? I posted the extracts above because I wanted you to understand the macho movement that Loy was both attached to and writing against. I think that her portrayal of the men in the poem posted has a lot to do with her experience of men like Marinetti who were simultaneously mentors and figures to be fought against. As you noticed Marinetti’s comments seem to exclude quiet or ‘meek’ categories of art in favour of dynamism and supposedly masculine energy. Women as the ‘weaker sex’ come into this category too as does feminism.

    Here are some statements that Mina Loy makes in her Feminist Manifesto:

    Men and women are enemies, with the emnity of the exploited for the parasite, the parasite for the exploited – at present they are at the mercy of the advantage that each can take of the others’ sexual dependence. The only point at which teh interests of the sexes merge is the sexual embrace.

    I think Loy takes something of how the Futurists see women here and I also think that it realtes to the beautiful moment of being mere animal woman in the poem. I think that this following comment is significant too.

    Woman must become more responsible for the child than the man. Woman must destroy in herself the desire to be loved. The desire for comfortable protection rather than intelligent curiosity and courage in meeting and resisting the presence of sex (or so-called love) must be reduced to its initial element. Honour, grief, sentimentality, pride, and consequently jealousy must be detached from sex.

    13 May 2007, 15:15

  8. Katy Murr

    It’s strange, because in some ways it seems so forward, so thoughtful; yet in others, the apparent lack of thought is infuriating!

    ‘Men and women are enemies, with the emnity of the exploited for the parasite, the parasite for the exploited – at present they are at the mercy of the advantage that each can take of the others’ sexual dependence. The only point at which teh interests of the sexes merge is the sexual embrace.’

    It’s easy to see what she means about the sexual dependence… we can’t ignore that, although I do think that men and women don’t always /have/ to be enemies; it is difficult, especially with the ‘constrictions’ under which both sexes are supposed to confine their personality, their outward appearance to society (shaving hair, clothes, expected ‘manners’) but I wonder whether it is possible to move away from this in some relationships, or whether feminists/ those who believe and strive for equality, can only do that – just strive. (Maybe it is this sort of competition which brings men and women together, that in our differences we tug at each other, and tug at our ignorances of the other?) I don’t know to what extent we can remove ourselves from our society, and its expectations; we certainly, sadly, can’t completely. It somehow amuses me the way she uses the idea of being a ‘mere’ woman, and seems to turn it back on itself – to say that it is exactly ‘beautiful’. In whose thoughts, in humour for some women, or genuinely, for some men, I don’t know. I probably find it amusing because humour is often for what we aren’t comfortable with; women being described as ‘mere’ certains fits that idea.

    Why would Loy say, ‘Woman must become more responsible for the child than the man’? I could read this two ways: that the women must be more responsible for children than the responsibility of the men for the children, or that they cannot be responsible for the men which male children turn into, only for the children which they attempt to ‘raise’.

    What do you believe is meant by ‘initial element’? I can fully see the idea of trying to ‘destroy in herself the desire to be loved’ – by doing so, a lot of women, and men, fall into the stereotypes and falsities which prevent one from really furthering themself, and reduce themselves only to image.

    The last sentence has me divided. In theory, that sounds great; but realistically, how many people can manage this? Isn’t it instinctive for one to ‘feel’ those things, in sexual relationships? I like what she says about resisting the ‘comfortable protection’, I was talking about this with a (male) friend today. Particularly for people my age, they seem to end up in relationships, which albeit ‘comfortable’/ ‘stable’, seem to do nothing for really furthering the person’s ‘intelligent curiosity’, because for often, the ‘jealousy’ which guards a relationship turns into a suffocating of the person’s… of their development as an individual being.

    21 May 2007, 19:53


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