Monday, October 8, 2012

Mina Loy: A Study of a Woman in a Boys Club


I am reading Marcel Duchamp’s biography by Calvin Tompkins and while doing this the sense of the time in which he lived is enlivened with stories, characters and moments, some historicized, others privately retold.  One of these characters briefly mentioned is Mina Loy.  I first came across Mina Loy as an undergrad in an intro to poetry class.  I remember being drawn to her since angst love scorned but feisty women have always been beacons for me.  Seeing her name again made me think about her more and to think about the time in which she inhabited and the men she encountered both as peers and as lovers.  The time of the aughts during the turn of the 20th century was fertile for the avant-garde, the avant-garde you think of when you think the word “avant-garde” of Paris, of salons, of Gertrude Stein, and of a budding New York bohemian class. 

This time was the time of men, many whom have impressed their mark into the artistic landscape that may feel dated today but still leave grappling tracks for any who wish to be considered equal to their measure.  In this time there were women like Mina Loy, women who were both muse and artist.   Mina was a beautiful women and she had marriages, romances, and children with men that were of note and influence in this scene.  What is interesting is that there seems to be, through her life, a trajectory that is similar to her male counterparts.  She left her children for new lives, new loves and for freedom of self and her art. She traveled to the places where things were happening and made her presence known.   Leaving her children during these quests is shocking, even today.  When men do it, it is seen as a shame but something that is somehow understandable because it is at the quest of something bigger, greater, more advanced then the necessity of nurture.  I don’t know much about the full reason or results of Loy’s own self-centric quest but I remark on it to contrast how females and males are judged in this act.  The fact that women have artistic and existential drives as strong as males should be recognized.  Sadly, it isn’t.  Even today, the liberations of artistic pursuits are impinged on the mark of your sex and the obligations that it brings. 

I’m not much of a fan of Loy’s poetry.  It is a bit too dramatic for my liking but still, there is force and there is sense of necessity to it, if even only for the writer.  What has affected me the most about Loy is that she is not just another women in the books who is either the passive beauty, bulldog patron, or the admiring fan.  Her merits were earned and they were acknowledged, even if to a lesser degree then her equal or lesser male peers.  In addition, she was a woman and there are no apologies or masking of this in her romantic pursuits or her oeuvre.  This is the source she draws from, which today may seem like an easy pool to tap from but then, as it is still is now, it is as honest as any source.  

Has it changed for women poets, artists, writers, musicians, and all else who have internal creative landscapes who desire to express this in the form of artistic output?  Yes and no. Things are different, as it should be with the efforts of Loy and many before and after, but still there is the reoccurrence of the female archetype in the arts even today.  There is the muse, the girlfriend, the supporter, the breadwinner, the hobbyist...  There is no answer, no set solutions; there is only the honesty in recognizing and acknowledging the things of the past and the situation of the current.  Did Mina Loy want to be in the Boys Club?  I don’t think so, that wasn’t the goal, that never should be the goal. 

Below is Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” from 1914.  Although not all parts are in alliance with my personal beliefs, it is interesting nonetheless to see a marker of that time and a specific articulation of such an immense thing.

Feminist Manifesto (1914)

Women if you want to realize yourselves-you are on the eve of a devastating psychological upheaval-all your pet illusions must be unmasked—the lies of centuries have got to go—are you prepared for the Wrench–? There is no half-measure—NO scratching on the surface of the rubbish heap of tradition, will bring about Reform, the only method is Absolute Demolition

Cease to place your confidence in economic legislation, vise-crusades & uniform education-you are glossing over Reality.

Professional & commercial careers are opening up for you—
Is that all you want?

And if you honestly desire to find your level without prejudice—be Brave & deny at the outset—that pathetic clap-trap war cry Woman is the equal of man-
She is NOT

The man who lives a life in which his activities conform to a social code which is protectorate of the feminine element—–is no longer masculine

The women who adapt themselves to a theoretical valuation of their sex as a relative impersonality, are not yet Feminine

Leave off looking to men to find out what you are not —–seek within yourselves to find out what you are

As conditions are at present constituted—you have the choice between Parasitism, & Prostitution —-or Negation

Men & women are enemies, with the enmity 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 the others sexual dependence—-. The only point at which the interests of the sexes merge—is the sexual embrace.

The first illusion it is to your interest to demolish of women into two classes the mistress, & the mother every well-balanced & developed woman knows that is not true. Nature has endowed the complete functions—-there are no restrictions on the woman who is so incompletely evolved as to be un-self-conscious in sex, will prove a restrictive influence on the temperamental expansion of the next generation; the woman who is a poor mistress will be an incompetent mother—an inferior mentality—& will enjoy an inadequate apprehension of Life.

To obtain results you must make sacrifices & the first and greatest sacrifice you have to make is of your ”virtue”

The fictitious value of a woman as identified with her physical purity—is too easy to stand-by—rendering her lethargic in the acquisition of intrinsic merits of character by which she could obtain a concrete value—-therefore, the fist self-enforced law for the female sex, as a protection of the man made bogey of virtue—which is the principal instrument of her subjection, would be the unconditional surgical destruction of virginity through-out the female population at puberty—-.

The value of man is assessed entirely according to his use or interest to the community, the value of woman depends entirely on chance, her success or in success in maneuvering a man into taking the life-long responsibility of her—

The advantages of marriage are too ridiculously ample—

Compared to all other trades—for under modern conditions a woman can accept preposterously luxurious support from a man (with-out the return of an sort—even offspring)—as a thank offering for her virginity.

The woman who has not succeeded in striking that advantageous bargin—-is prohibited from any but surreptitious re-action to Life-stimuli—-&entirely debarred maternity.
Every woman has a right to maternity—-

Every woman of superior intelligence should realize her race-responsibility, in producing children in adequate proportion to the unfit or degenerate members of her sex—-
Each child of a superior woman should be the result f a definite period of psychic development in her life—-& and not necessarily of a possible irksome & outworn continuance of an alliance—spontaneously adapted for vital creation n the beginning but not necessarily harmoniously balanced as evolution.

For the harmony of race, each individual should be the expression of an easy & ample interpenetration of the male & female temperaments—free of stress

Woman must become more responsible for the child than man—-

Woman must destroy in themselves, the desire to be loved—
The feeling that it is a personal insult when a man transfers his attention from her to another woman

The desire for comfortable protection instead of an intelligent curiosity & courage in meeting & resisting the pressure of life sex or so called love must be reduced to its initial element, honour, grief, sentimentality, pride and & consequently jealousy must be detached from it.

Woman for her happiness must retain her deceptive fragility of appearance, combined with indomitable will, irreducible courage, & abundant health the outcome of sound nerves—

Another great illusion is that woman must use all her introspective and clear-sightedness & unbiased bravery to destroy—for the sake of her self respect is the impurity of sex the realization in defiance of superstition that there is nothing impure in sex—except in the mental attitude to it—will constitute an incalculable & wider social regeneration than it is possible for our generation to imagine.