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

1 August 2017

Throughout Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose, Loy presents the realm of Ova’s consciousness, before she has learnt to use language to categorise the world and express herself, as the fluid process of an elastic imagination.

The child
whose wordless
thoughts
grow like visionary plants
       
finds
nothing objective new
and only words
mysterious
    
sometimes a new word comes to her
she looks before her
and watches
for its materialization

     ‘iarrhea’

(LLB, 139)

As Virginia Kouidis notes, the poem uses the ‘child’s awakening consciousness as a metaphor for the artist’s interaction with the world’ (Kouidis, American Modernist Poet, 87). Whilst Ova in a pre-linguistic state is able to create, in a sense, her own imaginative relations between new words and the world they refer to, once she begins to understand the formal meanings and systems of the English language, the relations between words and world become inextricably tied to a restricting tradition and social currency. Thus Kouidis concludes that ‘Ova is constructing an arbitrary word-world whose destruction by social linguistic conventions threatens the artist in the soul of this Everychild’ (ibid., 89).

The passage above is evidence of Loy’s primary interest in the problematised relationship between dualistic realms. As the relationship between the referent (‘objective’ world) and sign (semantic ‘words’) is questioned here, so too is the relationship between the corporeal world and an intuitive, spiritual realm presented as sincerely mysterious throughout the poem as a whole. Exodus and Ova in different ways embody a curiosity for the breaking of binary understanding, and this principle is tied to Loy’s notion of art as fluidity. Passages throughout the poem which portray Exodus’s and Ova’s intellectual and imaginative development, tend to utilise a Cubist pictorial fragmentation of imagery. This fascination with multiple perspectives aligns Ova with her father and positions both characters in contrast with Ada’s mentality which relies on limiting analytical perspective and perceives the world and self as binary structures. Thus the refusal of definitive and static boundaries is evidence of Loy’s implementation of Pound’s ‘universally recurring pattern’ in her Vorticist compositions.

It is at once both humorous and of significance that the word Ova is fascinated by is part of the sound of her mother discussing ‘diarrhea’ with the nurse whilst attending to Ova’s younger sibling. Potter identifies Loy’s repeated reference to forms of excrement in Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose as a Modernist tendency to incorporate the ‘obscene’ within moments of ‘illumination’ (Potter, Obscene Modernism, 66) in an effort to find possibilities of the sublime in the mundane or even repulsive. It is also possible to interpret this stylistic and structural phenomenon, particularly in this instance, through Julia Kristeva’s theoretical notion of ‘the abject’ which she discusses in her essay, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (1982). Firstly, encounters with what Kristeva terms ‘the abject’, places the subject at ‘the border’ of their ‘condition as a living being’ (Kristeva, Powers of Horror, 3). The place of the abject is ‘where meaning collapses’ (Creed, Monstrous-Feminine, 65). The ‘abject’ itself can be experienced in various ways, one of which ‘relates to biological bodily functions’ (ibid., 47). Due to their disruptive nature, experiences with ‘the abject’ inherently disturb ‘identity, systems, order’ (Kristeva, Powers of Horror, 4). Through abjection, we experience the collapse of boundaries: human and non-human, order and disorder, sense and nonsense. Thus the function that ‘the abject’ occupies in Kristeva’s theory aligns with Loy’s interest in a poetics which radicalises binary systems. Ova’s encounter with the sound ‘iarrhea’ from her mother’s discussion of abject material, diarrhea, catalyses a process of understanding which is both physical and mental:

And in her ear
a half inaudible     an
iridescent hush
forms ‘iarrhea’
          
     ‘It is
     quite green’ she hears

The cerebral
mush     convolving in her skull
an obsessional 
colour-fetish

(LLB, 140-41)

The process which involves ‘cerebral mush’ ‘convolving’ to a ‘colour-fetish’ could also be understood through Kristeva’s psychoanalytic framework. Although it is not possible to accommodate an extensive discussion of Kristeva’s psychoanalytical theory here, on a basic level Kristeva argues that all individuals ‘experience abjection at the time of their earliest attempts to break away from the mother’ (Creed, Monstrous-Feminine, 49). This struggle exists in order for the individual to then develop a relation to the paternal, ‘symbolic’ realm which utilises the ‘autonomy of language’ (Kristeva, Powers of Horror, 13). Even more fitting of the characters and narrative in Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose, Kristeva describes the separation between mother and child as ‘a violent, clumsy breaking away, with the constant risk of falling back under the sway of a power as securing as it is stifling’ (Creed, Monstrous-Feminine, 50). Ova struggles through Loy’s layered verse to break free from ‘the armored towers’ and ‘curved corsets/ consulting’ (Loy, LLB, 140) to a make meaning in the ‘symbolic’ realm of semantic meaning, a ‘fragmentary/ simultaneity/ of ideas.’ Eventually this process, at a moment of stillness later in the verse, ‘embodies/ the word’ (Loy, LLB, 141). Understanding Ova’s growth through Kristeva’s theory of the abject also reinforces the idea that at this stage in her development, Ova is indeed, as Kouidis terms her, an ‘everychild’ (American Modernist Poet, 89). In a pre-linguistic state, Ova, at least in her own understanding of herself, is genderless. The constraints of her femininity are only recognised later as her interactions become social and thus her opportunities categorised according to her gender.

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