Monday, February 14, 2011


Despite saying that "Every woman has the right to maternity," (Loy's "Feminist Manifesto"), Mina Loy does not seem to have a favorable experience with it herself. Most of her poems relating to motherhood seem to be about childbirth and abortion, while there seems to be distance between her and her real children. Loy describes her nine-year-old daughter Joella as a beautiful Italian statue, a youthful Madonna: "But this small image of maternal plentitude was a temptation. "I must run away from it," Mina remembered thinking. Ambivalent feelings about mothering and being mothered--who was the parent and who was the child?--rose to the surface in a moment of panic [...] Parting may have resurrected the anguish of her first memory--of exile from home and the enchantment of beauty" (Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy, 193-194).

For Loy, motherhood seems to be both a thing of beauty and a thing of pain. Her "Feminist Manifesto" reads favorably towards maternity, saying that the "complete woman" is both the mistress and the mother, and that "it is to your interest to demolish ... the division of women into [these] two classes" (154). According to Loy, "the woman who is a poor mistress will be an incompetent mother" because "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" (154). Un-self-conscious may be read two ways: i.e., confident and the opposite of modern self-consciousness, or conscious of self. In Loy's case I think it's the latter.

She goes on to say that "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--" (155). In other words, if you are a complete woman, you should produce as many children as the incomplete women of your generation, to balance out the bad with the good. So she appears to be a staunch believer in maternity.

Her poems reflect the darker side of her ideology, and show the pain of pregnancy and childbirth. Parturition (found all the way at the bottom of that page) is an intense depiction of not just childbirth, but creation in general:
"Locate an irritation without
It is within
Within" (4)
Two things. First, yes, she did just refer to the coming infant as an irritation. Second, this sounds to me like the itch you get when you need to write and can't find the words, and nothing inspires you because whatever you're trying to say is completely internal. So this poem is not just the parturition (which means the process of giving birth) of a child, but the parturition of itself. It follows the progress of the birth, the stanzas are ideas strung together as Loy works out what she is trying to say. They are only loosely connected, jumping around with each emotion that she feels. The connecting idea is pain and her struggle to overcome it. Some examples:
"I am the centre
Of a circle of pain
Exceeding its boundaries in every direction
Pain is no stronger than the resisting force
Pain calls up in me
The struggle is equal
I am climbing a distorted mountain of agony
Incidentally with the exhaustion of control
I reach the summit
And gradually subside into anticipation of
Which never comes" (4-5)
"Songs to Joannes" is rife with allusions and sometimes outright mentions of abortion. See these two lines from the second stanza of number XVII:
"Red a warm colour on the battle-field
Heavy on my knees as a counterpane" (60)
Or the second stanza of III:
"We might have given birth to a butterfly
With the daily news
Printed in blood on its wings" (54)
"The procreative truth of Me
Petered out
In pestilent
Tear drops" (62)
So what we have in Loy's prose versus her poetry is a dichotomy between ideology and reality. Theoretically, maternity is just as full an expression of a woman's self as sexuality, and vice versa; but the theorizing forgets the pain of pregnancy, abortion and childbirth. Loy is still favorable of maternity:
"Mother I am
With infinite Maternity
I am absorbed
The was--is--ever--shall--be
Of cosmic reproductivity" ("Parturition" 7)
But in the real world, it comes with an edge. So maternity, childbirth, is both beautiful and painful. It is infinite, but comes with a price.

And speaking of that price, interestingly, at the end of the "Manifesto," Loy says this: "Women must destroy in themselves, the desire to be loved--" by men. In other words, they must focus more on their children than their husbands. While a complete woman must be both a mistress and a mother, as discussed earlier, these two states are apparently not concurrent for Loy.

No comments:

Post a Comment