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

1 August 2017

In the midst of her struggles through childhood, Loy creates a pivotal moment for Ova. The section titled ‘Illumination’ is a short passage that portrays Ova’s consciousness at the height of spiritual revelation:

Ova is standing
alone in the garden

The high skies
have come gently upon her
and all their
steadfast light is shining out of her
She is conscious
not through her body but through space

This saint’s prize
this indissoluble bliss
to be carried like a forgetfulness
into the long nightmare

(LLB, 163-64)

The language in this passage reflects key ideas of Henri Bergson’s theory and their elaboration in Vorticism. As Zelazo has observed, Loy’s writing personifies ‘Bergson’s ‘entering into a thing’’ (Zelazo, Altered Observations, 3), and Ova here is a meeting point for multi-directional forces within the scene. The elongated vowels of ‘high skies’ team with ‘gently’ to create an image of the great expanse falling onto Ova. Meanwhile, she is also assigned generative powers, as ‘steadfast light is shining out of her’. Loy conflates the movement of Ova’s past within her present with the force of the future in a non-linear depiction of the continuous flux of inner experience. ‘Forgetfulness’ necessarily implies a past to be considered and forgotten as well as lending an elusive tone to the disconcerting last line, ‘Into the long nightmare’. The nightmare here projects both forward into the future as well as backwards, defining the past. The present here is a vortex in which all these separate forces interact to create an ‘indissoluble bliss’. In ‘Illumination’ Loy appears to be portraying one moment from Ova’s deeper, ‘inner life’, with both the ‘flux’ and ‘polished nucleus’ of Stein’s compositions.

This combination of temporalities within one expansive moment of intuitional experience also embodies a significant aspect of Vorticist inspiration. In ‘Vortex Pound’, from the ‘Vorticist Manifesto’ in the first edition of Blast, the literary ‘vortex’ is defined as the ‘point of maximum energy’: the human agent conceives and directs, as opposed to merely experiencing and reflecting, the energies which surround and constitute being (Pound, Blast, 153). In the sub-section ‘The Turbine’, Pound states that ‘All experience rushes into this vortex. All the energised past, all the past that is living and worthy to live. All momentum which is the past bearing upon us, RACE, RACE-MEMORY, instinct charging the PLACID NON-ENERGIZED FUTURE. The DESIGN of the future in the grip of the human vortex. All the past that is vital, all the past that is capable of living into the future, is pregnant in the vortex, NOW’ (ibid., 153). Loy’s writing shares a sense of exhilaration with Pound’s ideas for a literary movement based upon the very dissolution of temporal boundaries into points of energy.

Ova’s development of a world view is elaborated in the poem through comparison with two other characters, who are introduced through titles resembling stage directions: ‘Enter Esau Penfold’ and ‘Enter Colossus’. These characters are regarded as being based upon Stephen Hawais1 and Arthur Cravan2, Loy’s first and second husbands respectively. These chapters of the poem are constructed as primarily visual collage. The language in these sections is often comical and cartoonish. Loy does not intend for the secondary characters of Esau Penfold and Colossus to be as complex as Exodus, Ada and Ova. Although they have defining qualities, their personalities are not presented as being in conflict like the three primary characters. Esau and Colossus seem to function within Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose as representative of artistic principles that Ova must consider.

In the text, Esau Penfold’s upbringing is shown to be inherently different from Ova’s. Esau begins his life from a position of privilege where he is granted access to sophisticated cultural discourse as a gendered birthright. As a result, Loy shows the process of his awakening to language as being predetermined, due to the fact that ideas and the intellect are presented for his taking, as opposed to Ova’s encounter with language which is foreign and unguided.

It is interesting to note that the verb assigned to Ova in her search for Beauty (In the section ‘Opposed Aesthetics’) is ‘coerce’ whilst for Esau it is ‘absorbs’. Whereas for Ova ‘Beauty’ is organic and alive – a ‘shy spirit’ amidst the mundane ‘excrements and physic’ – for Esau, ‘Beauty’ is not to be created so much as is its tangible evidence is to be sought; which can be ‘nowhere’ but in the branded ‘antique’. Esau attempts to commodify something eternally self-sufficient (Beauty) within the stagnant and finite (antique relics). Thus the ‘common manifestations of creation’ are for him but a ‘vast monopattern’ (Loy, LLB, 142-143).

Frost observes that Esau and Ova experience ‘different awakenings to language’ (Frost, Mina Loy: Woman and Poet, 168). Whilst Esau is ‘socialized early, articulate, precocious and satisfied’, Ova’s ‘pre-linguistic existence harbours a promise of imaginative flight sadly dashed by her entrance or fall into language’. The ‘abstractions and sensory evocations of the (Ova) passages are closer to Joycean epiphany’, according to Frost, and Ova’s acquisition of language is simultaneously a downfall as it ‘allows her to learn of gender asymmetry’ (ibid., 168). She identifies a ‘disjunction between Ova’s experience of language and its signification’, which ‘forecasts the trouble the female poet will have in forging a new world’: ‘Unlike the ‘Infant aesthete’ Esau, who already exists in a sophisticated linguistic world, the girl-child is trapped between symbol and thing’ (ibid., 170). Her body and femininity is presented to Ova as a physical reality which is subverted and cannot resolve itself within the cultural role to which it has been assigned. Thus, according to cultural paradigms, she is an ‘Ethnic mongrel and hybrid, a ‘male’ intellect in a ‘female’ body’ (ibid., 151).

  1. Stephen Hawais was Loy’s first husband whom she met at art school in her student years in Paris (Burke, Becoming Mina Loy, 67,) and whom she married shortly after, out of wedlock, in 1903 (ibid., 85-87).
  2. Arthur Cravan was a Dadaist poet and champion boxer who met Loy in New York, 1917. After living in near poverty the couple decided to escape to Mexico on their journey back to Europe. Tragically, Cravan disappeared at sea in 1918 (Burke, Becoming Mina Loy, 252-265).
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