Thursday, February 10, 2011

XXXIV: Love -- -- -- the preeminent litterateur

I know this entry looks long, but don't worry; it just quoted poetry, which takes up a lot of space. This week, we're moving from theoretical texts to poetry: the poetry of Mina Loy. Another contemporary of Gertrude Stein, Loy is practically impossible to place within any of the literary and artistic movements of the early 20th century. She just skips among them all intermittently. She is most obviously a feminist, but even that title is questionable based on her reverence for virgins and mothers, both states of being typically rejected by the feminists of the age.

For this entry, I'm going to focus on a set of short poems collectively entitled "Songs to Joannes" or "Love Songs," generally understood to be the disjointed narrative of Loy's relationship(s), especially with a man named Giovanni Papini. A number of the fragments/stanzas are reproduced here, though without Loy's spacing and mostly mis-numbered; I also read this essay, which is a very interesting close reading of the poem.

Thematically, it's sort of difficult to understand "Songs" because Loy uses extremely ambiguous language. Interpretations may be plausible but rarely concrete. Yet, in anticipation of the young adult literature I'll read at the end of the semester, I will venture to consider the adolescence of the poem's speaker and subject. Mina Loy was 33 when she began writing "Songs," but there is throughout the fragments the feeling of hesitance and disillusion that comes with young love and young sex.

The first fragment (I, found at the "Primitive Modern" link) sets this up, citing such typical romance stand-bys as Cupid and "Once upon a time":
"Spawn of Fantasies
Silting the appraisable
Pig Cupid his rosy snout
Rooting erotic garbage
"Once upon a time"
Pulls a weed white star-topped
Among wild oats sown in mucous-membrane"
The speaker is the weed, a virgin "white star-topped" which Pig Cupid pulls "Among wild oats": men. She is lured by the fantasies, the once-upon-a-time, into the sexual world. The next stanza shows the cosmic attraction of this world, open, expansive, starry; but Loy says "These are suspect places/I must live in my lantern/Trimming subliminal flicker/Virginal to the bellows/Of Experience". So the speaker determines to remain virginal.

But not for long. See fragment IX:
"When we lifted
Our eye-lids on Love
A cosmos
Of coloured voices
And laughing honey

And spermatozoa
At the core of Nothing
in the milk of the Moon"
Again, there's the cosmic imagery of a Love fantasy which then shifts in the second stanza to become the sarcastic reality of insemination: "And spermatozoa/at the core of Nothing/in the milk of the Moon". The fantasy has ended in pregnancy, and the speaker is disillusioned. Interestingly, this comes after fragment VIII, which seems to show the speaker's state of mind post-impregnation:
"I am the jealous store-house of the candle-ends
That lit your adolescent learning
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
Behind God's eyes
There might
Be other lights"
This fragment features some bitterness on the part of the speaker for her involvement in the young man's "adolescent learning", for which she pays the price and for which she is the "store-house," the pregnant uterus. The last three lines also speak to the disillusionment in the cosmic love fantasy: "Behind God's eyes/There might/Be other lights".

This theme continues in XI: "Dear one at your mercy/Our Universe/Is only/ A colorless onion/You derobe/Sheath by sheath/ Remaining/A disheartening odour/About your nervy hands". The cosmic love universe is an onion, the boy smells funny, and his hands shake. The last stanzas of fragment XIII show a conflict between the cosmic love fantasy and the patriarchal realities as the two young lovers struggle to understand what they're doing:
"Where two or three are welded together
They shall become god
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- ---
Oh that's right
Keep away from me Please give me a push
Don't let me understand you Don't realise me
Or we might tumble together
Into the terrific Nirvana
Me you -- you -- me"
The third possible person for welding refers to the fetus, the child. In the last stanza there's this fear of depersonalization, of losing identity. Pietroiusti argues that this fear is the man's fear rather than the female speaker's, based on the conversational rhetoric: "Oh that's right" (34). This is supported by the "Please give me a push," which seems to indicate that the female speaker is unwilling to keep this barrier between them. Like Dworkin, the speaker sees sex in which two bodies become one as ideal: "Where two or three are welded together/They shall become god".

I had trouble identifying themes in the beginning, but the more I read "Songs" the more there is. There is so much more to discuss, and if I were writing a paper on this set of poems (which I very well might) I could go on forever; but for the sake of this post I'll start to wrap things up. There are multiple references to the abortion of the unplanned pregnancy, which features in the linear story but which really deserves its own examination. One of the last fragments, XXIX, appears to look back remorsefully and plea for the prevention of young love.
"Let them clash together
From their incognitoes
In seismic orgasm

For far further
Rather than watch
Own-self distortion
Wince in the alien ego"
The fragment pleas against the merging, welding love earlier favored--probably because in this instance, it failed, and the speaker's disillusionment with the cosmic love fantasy is complete. The last fragment is the title of this entry: "Love -- -- -- the preeminent litterateur". The speaker is resigned to the idea that all of this has resulted in a good story.

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