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Mina Loy's Moment of Feminism in 'One O'Clock at Night'

By Edited Jun 7, 2016 0 0

In the face of modernist poetry, Mina Loy stands as a multi-faceted icon of the avant-garde. Living through many great movements and renovations of the early twentieth century, she experiences life in all forms, from the constraints of women and conventional writing in Victorian England to the freedom of free verse and views brought about by feminism. Taking cue from a variety of artistic movements, such as Futurism and Dadaism, Loy's work fuses together different literary styles and societal ideals. Her poetry is both personal and political, exploiting, with irony and satire, the oppression of women in a patriarchal society. "One O'Clock at Night," the first in a set of three poems entitled "Three Moments in Paris," embodies Loy's use of satire and brings out her stance in the first wave of feminism, portraying her own search for female identity, as well as criticism of the dream-like life that many women lead in the male-dominated culture of her youth.

Mina Loy was born as Mina Gertrude Lowy on December 27th, 1882 in London, England ("Mina Loy's Life" 1). Her father, Sigmund Lowy, was a Jewish Hungarian tailor and her mother, Julia Bryan, was an English Protestant (Weiner 152; "Mina Loy's Life" 1). Though Loy's father recognized and supported her artistic abilities, her "mother remained her lifelong psychological adversary and the source of many of the tensions Mina tried to reject as she grew up and grew apart" (Weiner 152). Loy's mother encapsulated the views of the ideal woman as a household fixture during the British Victorian era (152). In this society based on patriarchal standards, proper females are virginal angels, always submissive to male superiority, and have no ambitions in the world of business, including that of art. Taking the first step at rebelling against this inferior view of women and against her mother, Loy moves to Munich at seventeen to study painting ("Mina Loy's Life" 1). After two studious years of freedom from her mother's criticism, she returns home and continues classes in art. While taking these art classes in London, Loy meets a painter named Stephen Haweis (1). In 1903, Loy and Haweis move to Paris and get married. It was at this time that she changed her name from Lowy to Loy, subverting the norm of taking her husband's name, in an attempt to find her own identity as a female in the male-dominated artistic world (1; Burke 138). After three years in Paris and the birth and death of their first child, Haweis and Loy relocate in Florence and conceive two more children, though Loy is continuously unhappy in her marriage ("Mina Loy's Life" 1; Weiner 153).

Spending ten years in Florence, both Haweis and Loy take various lovers and become further detached from one another, giving Loy the freedom to branch out as a woman in the artistic world ("Mina Loy's Life" 1). She "pursued 'the New' in everything: poetry, woman, politics, science, even thought itself," while she also became increasingly fascinated with the Italian Futurist movement, as well as with its' leader, Filippo Marinetti (Weiner 153). During her affair with Marinetti, Loy was captivated by the Futurists' use of "inflammatory language . . . and their deliberately outrageous behavior" (Burke 140). Being inspired by their theatrics in energetic pursuit of a revolution, though critical of their views concerning women, Loy expanded her artistic horizon outside of conventional forms and began writing free verse poetry and manifestos saturated with feminist views (140; Weiner 153-154). From 1914 to 1916, some of Loy's literary works were published, including "Aphorisms on Futurism," "Parturition," "Love Songs to Joannes" and "Three Moments in Paris" (Burke 142-148). Readers were shocked by Loy's explicit references to female sexuality in these works, as well as by the satire she uses to portray feminist views, which break both social and literary traditions (Weiner 155). Her works were extremely popular with the avant-gardes in New York, however, and in 1916 Loy left her children in Florence and moved to New York herself ("Mina Loy's Life" 1-2). Her move to America occurs in the midst of the first wave feminist movement and Loy is immediately embraced by the avant-gardes' literary circle. While in New York, Loy meets the Dadaist poet, Arthur Craven, but their time together is cut short after six months because Craven moves out of the country in order to avoid being drafted into the military for World War I (Weiner 155; "Mina Loy's Life" 2). After ending up in Mexico, Craven sends for Loy to join him. She readily goes after "the great love of her life" and they get married in Mexico City, followed shortly by her being impregnated by him (Weiner 155; "Mina Loy's Life" 2). During travels in his boxing career, however, Craven mysteriously disappears and she never sees him again (2). Stricken with grief, Loy briefly returns to her two children in Florence, then moves back to New York, and finally ends up in Paris in 1923, which is the year Lunar Baedecker, her first book, is published. While in Paris, she starts a lampshade business and, in the 1930s, begins to paint again (2). Moving back to New York in 1936, Loy begins making sculptures out of random junk that she finds on the streets, which get exhibited in 1951. Loy then moves, at 71, to join her daughters in Colorado, where she dies in 1966, at 84 years old (2).

Having been born in Victorian England and then living through experiences of artistic and literary movements like Futurism, as well as social movements such as feminism, Mina Loy's written work is her own unique art form with bits and pieces of other forms thrown into the mix. Although she uses certain aspects from many different literary movements in her writing, she does not completely fit under any of the labels provided by them. Perhaps the only label that can certainly be given to Loy is the label of a woman, as Loy finds her own identity as a female in a male's world through her art and her poetry. This search for her feministic identity in her works can be seen in "One O'Clock at Night," the first poem in "Three Moments in Paris," which were published in 1915 (Rothenberg & Joris 138-140). In the art of breaking conventions, Loy composes this free-verse poem with emphatic spacing and an extreme lack of punctuation. Along with the unconventional writing style, these poems are saturated with satire in their portrayal of "a world in which women are defined by their dependence upon men, even though they have begun to question this definition" (Burke 144). Loy's "Three Moments in Paris" corresponds to the three years she spent in Paris with Haweis and discovered that she was unhappy in her marriage. Searching for herself in her marital imprisonment, she is testing the waters of feminist views and female independence with these poems, as she paints a picture of a woman whom is uncertain of, yet searching for, her own identity.

The first poem in the tripartite set, "One O'Clock at Night," exemplifies Loy's use of satire in her representation of a female who is living within the norms of society, yet is critical of that society at the same time. This poem is written in the first person with Loy committing herself to ownership of her words, her ideas, and herself. This idea of ownership is immediately questioned, however, with the beginning lines of "Though you have never possessed me/ I have belonged to you since the beginning of time" (Rothenberg & Joris 138). Loy's use of the word "possessed" implies the male's inability to penetrate into the female mind, suggesting that it is impossible for a man to own or fully understand the thoughts and ideas of women (138). The man in the poem believes that he does understand the female mind, however, because he, as a representative of the traditional patriarchal male, believes that he knows what the speaker is thinking, which is seen in the last lines of the poem when he says "Let us go home she is tired and/ wants to go to bed" (138). Loy is criticizing the male's observation of the female's physical state of "Leaning against your shoulder" as a depiction of the thoughts in her head, pointing satirically to males' focus on the female body as opposed to the mind, which is expected to be just as blank, pure, and virginal as her body (138). The idea that women are projected as ignorant and unaware is also repeated throughout this poem, as the narrator states that the male is "Arguing 'Dynamic Decomposition'/ Of which I understand nothing/ Sleepily" and even questions herself for questioning him, asking "Anyhow who am I that I should criticize/ your theories of 'Plastic Velocity'" (138). The woman is not supposed to have unique thoughts of her own, she is only supposed to have knowledge of what the male decides to tell her and is expected to accept what he says as undeniable truth. Although the repetitive use of "sleepily" and "sleepy" imply the narrator is in a semi-dream state throughout the poem, she is also brought back to reality, being awakened by "you who make more noise than any man/ in the world when you clear your throat" (138). With the man being exceedingly loud in his act that begs for attention, the woman is pushed to comply with his request for her to listen to what he has to say. She is also expected to comply without any thoughts to contribute herself because women in this society are not supposed to have their own ideas. Once the man has brought the woman back to reality, she starts paying attention to him "Immediately assuming my personal mental/ attitude/ And cease to be a woman" (138). Loy's irony in this line depicts how ridiculous she believes it is for a female to not be considered a woman just because she employs the use of her mental abilities, complete with feelings, attitudes and ideas. With the narrator reveling in her "Beautiful halfhour of being a mere woman/ The animal woman/ Understanding nothing of man/ But mastery and the security of imparted physical heat," Loy is satirizing the seeming bliss found in ignorance (138). The female is "a mere woman" being driven by animalistic instincts in the eyes of the male, suggesting that the only importance a woman has to a man lies in her instinctual abilities as an "animal" to have sexual intercourse and produce offspring (138). As the man "masters" the narrator, she is controlled by him and has a false sense of "security" in the warmth of his physical touch (138). Loy's poem also implies, however, that, though the man may physically control the woman and her body, he cannot control her mind. Loy emphasizes the distinctions between the female mind and body, which males in the patriarchal culture either fail to recognize or simply ignore.

Rebelling against the expectations of being female in Victorian England, Mina Loy spends her life trying to figure out who she really is as a person, as a woman, and as an artist. The search for her individuality is seen in her life's travels across cities, countries and continents. Loy searches for identity by trying on different lovers, as well as different forms of literary styles that she encounters, such as Dadaism and Futurism. Through the use of language in her poetic style, Loy's quest for identity is seen in her writing, particularly in that of "One O'Clock at Night," as she questions and contemplates the ironies of female complicity to patriarchal norms. Living through the first wave of feminism, her freedom in writing corresponds to her freedom as a woman in search of herself. Satirizing the view of "a mere woman/... Understanding nothing of man," Loy turns the tables on her male counterparts and suggests that it is the man who knows nothing about the woman's mind due to the incessant focus on the female body (Rothenberg & Joris 138).

Works Cited

Burke, Carolyn. "Becoming Mina Loy." Women's Studies. Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, Inc., 1980. Vol. 7: 137-150.

"Mina Loy's Life." Modern American Poetry. Ed. Cary Nelson. 2000. 23 Feb 2010. U of Illinois: Champaign .

Rothenberg, Jerome and Joris, Pierre. Poems for the Millennium. Vol. 1. University of California Press, 1995.

Weiner, Joshua. "Rediscovering Mina Loy." The American Scholar. Diss. U of California, Berkeley, 2001. 151-158.



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