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

By | 1 August 2017

Earlier in the poem, we are introduced to an image in which ‘Exodus at leisure’ is ‘painting    knowing not why sunflowers turned sunwards’ (ibid., 115). Through these lines Loy connects three motifs which structure Exodus’s figure as vitally artistic. The phrase ‘knowing not why’ reminds readers of Exodus’s earlier reaction to his ‘young pulse’ and the exclamation: ‘How should he know he has a heart?’ The essential questioning of his own existence finds some relief in Exodus’s artistic endeavours. In the passage cited above, this connection is made explicit through the phrase ‘Painting / Feeling his pulse’, which is soon repeated in the isolated couplet: ‘He paints / He feels his pulse’. The repetition of such similar phrases enacts the beating rhythm of a pulse which throbs throughout the verse, combining various images to create an organic and active portrait of the interactions occurring within Exodus’s consciousness. Additionally, as they are presented, in a couplet form, the lines allow for a moment of stillness and a Vorticist centre. In this way, Loy further establishes that the act of creation is closely tied to Exodus’s pulsating uneasiness.

Andrew Michael Roberts, in his article ‘Rhythm, Self and Jazz in Mina Loy’s poetry’, states that Loy ‘represents the self as rhythmically dispersed and articulated across time, language and sequential experience’ – which can be understood always as a ‘sense of process, the movement through time of a subject existing as a node of experience both physical and psychic’ (Roberts, Salt Companion to Mina Loy, 123). In this way, Loy’s writing displays the strong influence of the Steinian principle of the ‘continuous present’ and shows a primary concern with the materiality of language. The verse is patterned to show that words in Exodus’s consciousness also undergo a process of ‘acclimatisation’, in order to appear again, altered. Exodus’s sunflowers ‘sunward glow’ with an ease that can only come through his investment in an artistic practice for the sole sake of ‘high pleasure’. Thus what is greatly ‘unknown’ in Exodus finds a form of expression in both the language of painting and pure mathematics, as well as in the economic discourse he adopts to create an identity in his professional life.

Potter observes that ‘Exodus, trying to understand the mystery of Englishness pursues the ideal by chasing the English Rose’ (Potter, Salt Companion to Mina Loy, 63). The passage above presents the first mention of the hedge-rose, which here refers to the collective population of Victorian women in England. By creating an image which directly represents this population, Loy demonstrates Exodus’s fetishisation of the ‘virgin’ culture which alienates him. The women become, as a multitude, part of the new environment for Exodus as opposed to individuals themselves. Here, they catch his attention (and ours as readers through their separation in one line) as a ‘hedge-rose’, but soon after:

The parasite attaches to the English Rose
at a guinea a visit
he becomes     more tangible to himself (…)

(LLB, 119)

The ‘English rose’, as ‘virgins capitalized / to tantalize!’ (ibid., 120), becomes a part of Exodus’s economic discourse of exchange – ‘at a guinea a visit’ – and this in turn allows him to become ‘more tangible to himself’. Soon the verse is infiltrated by the sound of the rose in its arrival with repeated ‘r’ sounds – ‘lyric / aroma of the rose’. By the end of the first section,

Exodus knows 
no longer father
or brother
or the God of the Jews
it is his to choose
finance or
romance of the rose

(LLB, 121)

Loy uses ‘simple rhythms and full end rhymes’ to ironise her subject matter’ (Goody, Empire, Motherhood and the Poetics of the Self, 65): in this almost comical ending to a complex chapter, ‘father’ chimes with ‘brother’, ‘Jews’ with ‘choose’, and ‘knows’ with ‘rose’. The sequence exemplifies Loy’s play on traditional fairytale tropes (Januzzi, Mina Loy: Woman and Poet, 411) as the rhymes here are deceptively simple whilst they actually denote the commencement of an ill-fitted marriage.

Ada, the ‘English Rose’

Loy titles the second section ‘English Rose’, and provides a startling portrait of ‘Ada’ or ‘Albion’, Exodus’s new-found partner and Ova’s mother: as Potter suggests, she is ‘an array of ideological constructs’ (Potter, Salt Companion to Mina Loy, 65). While it is established that an essential movement or restlessness defines Exodus, Ada is conversely defined by a stagnant sterility bred by colonial ideology. Ada lacks, most crucially, the mental movement needed to be critical of one’s culture, and thus she unconsciously and confusedly channels sexual repression and imperial ideology into her own practices as well as those of her children. Most prominently she mentally worships a dualism propagated by evangelical Christianity, one avenue for which is a continual fixation on bodily, and more specifically, female shame. Jaskoski encapsulates Loy’s characterisation well when she states that ‘disparate analogies cluster around the figure’ of the ‘English Rose’: ‘The associations elaborate the properties of the flower in order to suggest the matrix in which Ova will form her consciousness’ (Jaskoski, Outsider Artist, 355). Ada embodies this matrix of cultural and feminine repression which she herself polices. Ada’s inner consciousness seems to perpetuate a fear which originates from an inability to understand her own ‘intuition’. The language used to depict Ada’s consciousness is in itself comparable to a circulating movement, but as a Vorticist portrait the centre of the cluster words which belong to her, gravitate around a core of continuous negation:

Early English everlasting
      quadrate Rose
trimmed with some travestied flesh
tinted with bloodless duties       dewed
with Lipton’s teas
and grimed with crack-packed
the prim gilt
of a luster-scioned

(LLB, 121)

Where Exodus is one of many immigrants silenced and alienated to the point of being unsure of their external identity and worth, the Rose is a complex matrix of various internalised ideologies in one entity.

Potter asserts that Loy is ‘interested in the ideological constructs of the ‘paradox-imperial’’ (Potter, Salt Companion to Mina Loy, 63), and explains that ‘the paradox-imperial rests on an idea of shame which fears and polices the disruptive energies of Bolshevism and modern forms of subjectivity’ (ibid., 65). The verse visually connects ‘quadrate rose’ with ‘paradox-imperial’ to imply that this relationship, the ever-expanding net of ‘arrested impulses’ created by self-oppression, is the primal structure of Ada’s consciousness. Whilst semantically the Rose exists within a web of paradoxical traits, the difficult vocabulary coupled with the strange physicality of the words themselves, presents readers with an impenetrable quality. Paradoxically the English Rose is both expansive – ‘everlasting’ – and compressed: ‘trimmed’. She is ‘tinted’ and ‘dewed’ yet ‘bloodless’; ‘prim gilt’ yet ‘travestied’ and ‘crack-packed’ in ‘herd-housing’. Phonetically, the verse is littered with plosives and numerous consonantal clusters which at once create a rapid pace and foreign texture. Loy perpetuates a descriptive parallel between the image of a natural rose and Ada’s mentality. Whilst some references are more overt – ‘petalling’ – others, such as the sequence in the last four lines of the passage, require the reader to correlate multiple faculties simultaneously in order to understand the structural ties to a rose. ‘Penetralia’, meaning the sanctuary or inner sanctum of a temple, evokes mental connotations of a dome structure, similar to the inner dome of a rose petal, and perhaps this ‘core-crown’ can also be imagined as ‘luster’ (or lust) attached to and distanced by a branch – or ‘scioned’. The words in the verse self-consciously attempt to present themselves as rose-like, beautifully unattainable1.

Loy proposes a reappraisal of the feminine in her refusal to keep the female body at a distance for cultural speculation – in later sections of Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose, and in other poems such as ‘Parturition’ (1914) and selections from ‘Lovesongs’ (1915), Loy’s femininity is essentially embodied. Understanding the Futurist’s scorn for oppressive ideals tied to a conceptual femininity is helpful in observing how Loy critiques Ada’s internalisation of these values and the crippling effects this can have on one’s understanding of oneself. Goody states: ‘Loy suggests that it is in the place of the body, the site of a potentially authentic subjectivity, that liberation and self-definition begin. This physicality is not a stable place of identification, a consistent ground or source for meaning, but it is the terrain on which Loy locates the female ‘I’, which produces and births the self’ (Goody, Empire, Motherhood and the Poetics of the Self, 72). This interpretation helps to shed light on how Loy shows the pitiable and ghastly confusion Ada feels towards her own maternity. In a later section called ‘Psychic Larva’, Ada or the English Rose is described in the following terms:

To the mother
the blood-relationship
is a terrific indictment of the flesh

under cover 
of clothing and furnishing
‘somebody’ has sinned
and their sin – 
a living witness of the flesh – 
swarms with inquisitive eyes

the lasting
presence of a vile origin 

There is no liberation
from this inversion
of instinct
making subliminal depredations
on Ova’s brain

(LLB, 147)

The act of generation is inextricably tied to its origin in sin. In the passage above Ada is connected to her daughter Ova through a bodily ‘blood-relationship’ which is an organic and growing ‘lasting/ presence’. The ideologies which Ada internalises and uses to define her bodily shame are shown to be dangerously perverse. Her shame literally entails a scorn for vitality and regeneration – origins become ‘vile’. Loy clearly shows this ‘inversion/ of instinct’ to be a dangerous and contagious element of Victorian culture, capable of making ‘subliminal depredations’ on the infant Ova who has not yet been contaminated by its paralysing ideology.

  1. The ‘paradox-imperial’ for women of the Victorian age was, even for the Futurists, a decadent understanding of femininity as a continual oppression of instinctive urges. Peter Nicholls documents that although Marinetti initially introduced the idea of ‘scorn for woman’ as a key point within the ‘Founding Manifesto’ of Futurism, it became one of the first artistic movements to involve female artists at more than just a peripheral level. In Mafarka the Futurist, one of Marinetti’s novels, he shifts the object of attack from ‘woman’ to ‘the sentimental significance’ attributed to women (Nicholls, Modernisms, 87). Nicholls states: ‘The female body is the symbolic centre of this set of negative and disabling forces since it is the traditional cultural focus of desire and deferred pleasure, the emblem whose unattainability is conventionally the guarantee of its transcendent power’ (ibid., 88).
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