Vorticist Portraiture in Mina Loy’s Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose

By | 1 August 2017

Although Pound and Lewis passionately deny it, Vorticism’s theoretical basis is in fact heavily dependent on both Futurism and Cubism. According to Reed Way Dasenbrook, Vorticism makes an amalgamation of the two by applying Cubism’s sincerity of form onto Futurism’s absolutely dynamic subject matter. Within this framework, there are three principles of Vorticist theory that can be used to analyse Loy’s poetry. Firstly, Vorticist art as dictated by Pound had, above all, the essence of intensity. He states that Vorticism is ‘concerned with the relative intensity or relative significance of different sorts of expressions’ (Pound, Gaudier- Brzeska, 104). For Pound, this poetic intensity could be found in new relations between images. If the image is understood as a ‘complex’, Pound states that the presentation of the image, ‘instantaneously’, gives a sense of ‘sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits; that sense of growth, which we experience in the presence of the greatest works of art’ (Pound, Literary essays, 4). Thus, for the Vorticists, through strict adherence to form, a poetic image could in fact achieve concentrated dynamism. This insistence on immediacy actually correlates with Stein’s attempts at capturing a ‘vitality of movement’ within her verbal portraits—what Juliana Chow terms, a ‘principle of going’ (Chow, Motion Studies, 78). Although Pound and Stein had different and at times conflicting methods of achieving a sense of dynamism, Loy’s hybrid poetics accommodate both.

In Loy’s writing, Pound’s sense of ‘sudden’ growth and ‘freedom from time limits and space limits’ (ibid., 4) essentially correlate with a Steinian questioning of agency as the poetic ‘I’ dissolves into the materiality of the text. In Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose, Ova represents a budding creative or ‘artist’ figure. However, change and character progressions occur in Loy’s text as moments of high intensity where character and environment, foreground and background, word and referent are essentially fragmented and reconstituted in new formations suited to the subject’s revelation. These moments of intensity occur suddenly and are disjointed from the poem’s narrative, as in the case of Ova’s revelation in ‘Illumination’ (Loy, LLB, 163-164) which will be discussed later in this paper. They are both transformative and the stillness at the centre of the vortex within Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose. When they occur, such moments of transformation have the effect of utter intensity for Loy’s characters, yet, surprisingly, they are not designated any easily identifiable cause. In this way, they are ‘liberated’ from the usual understanding of temporal and spatial limits.

A second defining quality of Vorticism is its essential concern with the irresolvable – a ‘refusal of all unitary, fixed definitions of the self’ (Adams, Blasting the Future! , 118). Vorticism therefore both competes with, and accommodates within its own aesthetics, the movements of Futurism, Cubism and Expressionism. Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose presents verbal portraits of its characters, consisting of multiple and often conflicting motivations and interests. They each play various roles within the text, in relation to each other, to themselves and also to the narrator. By presenting the characters as being in themselves not one unified entity or ‘self’, but instead, a sophisticated net of relations, Loy suggests that they embody a spatial existence, necessarily accommodating dynamic forces and tensions. Perloff reiterates the importance of considering Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose as a complex network and composition when she writes that Loy’s poetry is ‘a temporal mode, a satiric narrative, however broken and self-interrupting, in which structures of voice and address take precedence over the ‘constatation of fact’ as Pound called it, of the image’ (Perloff, English as a Second Language, online.). It is this fascination with hybrid linguistic registers that further classifies Loy’s writing as ‘Logopoeic’ as opposed to a more generic ‘Imagism’.

Finally, a focus on the irresolvable within poetry and its subjects leads to Pound’s insistence that Vorticist works encompass what he termed a ‘self-interfering pattern’ (Pound, Gaudier- Brzeska, 97) – essentially a universally recurring pattern, paradox or action found in particular instances: the ‘luminous detail’. This model could also be understood in poetry as ‘a sort of permanent metaphor’ within the content, which also embodies an ‘absolute rhythm’ that corresponds to recurrent emotions. Poetry which contains these elements necessarily contains a ‘vortex’ (Edwards, Vorticism, 119). It is the play of the universal within particular instances that creates Vorticist ‘intensity’. Perloff notes a similar pattern in Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose when she observes that the ‘de-particularisation’ of the poem’s main characters is ‘symptomatic of Loy’s larger metaphysical perspective’ (Perloff, English as a Second Language, online.). Through a disjointed and satirical play on tropes from an ironic distance, Loy is actually able to achieve a sense of a prolonged present and relevance at the heart of her verbal portraits. As recurring motifs emerge, the poem creates a language and referents of its own. For instance, in Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose, a central universally recurring pattern appears to focus on the radicalisation of binaries. This radicalisation is a ‘permanent metaphor’ which injects activity into static relations and creates a dynamism at the centre of each character. The possibility of being able to represent this self-perpetuating pattern through art is what Ezra Pound refers to when he states: ‘The image is not an idea. It is a radiant node or cluster; it is what I call a Vortex from which and through which and into which, ideas are constantly rushing’ (Pound, Gaudier- Brzeska, 106).

Ultimately Loy encompasses elements of both Pound and Stein’s poetic approaches in her own work. Many of her texts do construct the figure of an artist or ‘genius’, but this figure is never in a linear relationship of ‘constructing’ the world and entities around her. Instead she stands within a constant flux of influences where forces both outside and within her relate in various ways on multiple levels. In Loy’s work, genius is not a condition but a process. Burke concludes that whilst ‘Pound’s sense of the artist’s relation to form’ involves the ‘poet sculptor’s forceful mental imprint upon matter’, Stein and Loy are ‘more concerned with physical properties of language as ‘belle matiére’ itself’ (Burke, Getting Spliced, 107). Loy’s artist figure is created through a poetics that is closer to Stein’s because like Stein, her poetry neither ‘deploys language as a transparent vehicle’ or ‘eschews reference all together’ (Holbrook, Companion to Modernist Poetry, 350). In Barbara Will’s book Gertrude Stein, Modernism and the ‘Problem of Genius’, she articulates how ‘genius’ for Stein is at once ‘the essential, autonomous’ subject ‘creating absolutely new and original works of art’ and at the same time, ‘a way of existing and relating in language that is open-ended, processual, collaborative and resistant to any symbolic authorial containments’ (Will, Gertrude Stein, 1-2). A similar accommodation of conflicting methods and functions of language is what essentially defines Loy’s poetics and her own vision of the artist. Simultaneously her complex poetic form amalgamates Vorticist principles with preceding movements.

The following close readings of excerpts from each of the three main sections (Exodus, Ada and Ova) of Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose will identify Loy’s use and appropriation of Futurist and Cubist techniques as well as her use of Stein’s aesthetic principles. I will demonstrate that both Vorticism and Stein’s conception of the artistic subject help to understand Ova, Loy’s artist in Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose as Loy’s characters are constructs of conflicting motivations and traits, born from an essential need that is in itself continually reforming.

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