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Authors: Mina Loy

Insel

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PRAISE FOR MINA LOY

“[In
The Lost Lunar Baedeker
,] Mina Loy’s wry, confident inquiries into the nature of men, women and sexuality are a great undiscovered treasure of modernism.”


PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
(
STARRED REVIEW
)

“Her utter absence from all canonical lists is one of modern literary history’s most perplexing data.”


HUGH KENNER
,
THE NEW YORK TIMES

“Among the great modernist poets, Mina Loy was surely the greatest wit, the most sophisticated commentator on the vagaries of love.”


MARJORIE PERLOFF

“Is there anyone in America except you, Bill [William Carlos Williams,] and Mina Loy who can write anything of interest in verse?”


EZRA POUND, LETTER TO MARIANNE MOORE

“By divergent virtues these two women [Mina Loy and Marianne Moore] have achieved freshness of presentation, novelty, freedom, break with banality.”


WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS

“You’d know a Loy poem when you read one; you’d recognize her art work as distinctively hers. And maybe that’s the mark she would have most cared to leave on the world—literary and visual art made, unmistakably, by a true original.”


THE NERVOUS BREAKDOWN

INSEL

MINA LOY
(1882–1966) was born Mina Gertrude Lowy in London to a Hungarian father and an English mother. Originally trained as a painter, she was at the center of all the great artistic movements of the first half of the twentieth century: she wrote Futurist manifestos in Italy (including the “Feminist Manifesto,” which denounced the misogyny and incipient fascist tendencies of Futurism); her poem “Brancusi’s Golden Bird” appeared alongside T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” in
The Dial
; she starred in plays in Greenwich Village in the 1920s with William Carlos Williams; she was friends with Duchamp and Man Ray; she ran a lampshade business with Peggy Guggenheim; and in the 1940s, she lived on the Bowery, where she collected trash for found-art collages, as in the style of her friend Joseph Cornell, whose work she championed. During one of her earlier stints in New York, she met the love of her life, Arthur Cravan, the Dadaist poet and boxer who disappeared in mysterious circumstances shortly after their marriage. Only two collections of her work were published in her lifetime,
Lunar Baedecker
(1923) and
Lunar Baedecker and the Time Tables
(1958). She died in Aspen, Colorado, in 1966.

ELIZABETH ARNOLD
, a scholar and poet, is the author of
Effacement
and two other collections.

SARAH HAYDEN
is Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of English, University College Cork. Her monograph,
Curious Disciplines: Mina Loy and Avant-Garde Artisthood
, is forthcoming in the Recencies series at University of New Mexico Press.

THE NEVERSINK LIBRARY

I was by no means the only reader of books on board the
Neversink.
Several other sailors were diligent readers, though their studies did not lie in the way of belles-lettres. Their favourite authors were such as you may find at the book-stalls around Fulton Market; they were slightly physiological in their nature. My book experiences on board of the frigate proved an example of a fact which every book-lover must have experienced before me, namely, that though public libraries have an imposing air, and doubtless contain invaluable volumes, yet, somehow, the books that prove most agreeable, grateful, and companionable, are those we pick up by chance here and there; those which seem put into our hands by Providence; those which pretend to little, but abound in much
.


HERMAN MELVILLE,
WHITE JACKET

INSEL

Copyright © 1991, 2014 by Roger L. Conover for the Estate of Mina Loy
Introduction copyright © 2014 by Sarah Hayden
Afterword copyright © 1991 by Elizabeth Arnold

With thanks to the Beinecke Library at Yale University for their assistance with the “Visitation” materials.

First Melville House printing: May 2014

Melville House Publishing
145 Plymouth Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201

and

8 Blackstock Mews
Islington
London N4 2BT

mhpbooks.com
       
facebook.com/mhpbooks
       
@melvillehouse

ISBN: 978-1-61219-354-0
eBook ISBN: 978-1-61219-354-0

Cover photograph: Mina Loy, ca. 1905.
Photo by Stephen Haweis, courtesy of Roger L. Conover

A catalog record for this title is available from the Library of Congress.

v3.1

CONTENTS
INTRODUCTION BY SARAH HAYDEN

“It is the nature of individuality to look upon the rest of the world in the light of an audience. I got the idea that ‘an impression is to be made.’ ”

—“Islands in the Air”

Born Mina Gertrude Lowy, a self-nominated “Anglo-mongrel,” in London in 1882, Mina Loy died an American citizen in 1966. Between those dates, she was resident of
Jugendstil
Munich (1900), Futurist Florence (1907–1916), Dada-enfevered New York (1916–1917) and Surrealist Paris (1923–1936), making interstitial appearances in Paris (1903–1906), Mexico (1918), Weimar Berlin (1922) and Freud’s Vienna (1922), among other places. Relocating finally from Europe to New York in 1936, she was the unofficial artist-in-residence on the Bowery when New York was inaugurated as capital city of the postwar art world. Though the stamps in her passport furnish the coordinates to map the development of twentieth-century art, Loy was not just fortuitously “present” in these locations at the zero hour of their modernist fluorescence. She engaged with these art scenes neither as onlooker nor acolyte but as an acutely critical cross-media artist. Leaving New York in 1953, she
made her last works in the barely nascent art town of Aspen; Loy’s burial there in 1966 left her body at the site of yet another significant episode in the history of the transatlantic avant-gardes.

It has become something of a commonplace to populate the opening of any portrait of Loy with globe-wrapping litanies. Though the inventory device might be hackneyed, the listing of multiple cities, movements, artistic colocutors and art practices remains the only way to convey the multiplicities that characterize her formation and her work. There have been many Loys; more are emerging. On the event of their marriage in 1918, the Dada poet-pugilist Arthur Cravan declared: “Now I have caught you. I am at ease” (“Excerpts from ‘Colossus’ ”). Cut short by his mysterious disappearance that same year, their romance was absolute. For the rest of us, capturing Loy is neither possible nor even advisable. Slipping between textual avatars, she remakes herself as Imna Loy, Goy, Ova, Sophia and, in
Insel
, Mrs. Jones. Though much of her writing rehearses the contours of her biography, her predilection for imposture, anagram and factual distortion make slippery the lines between autobiography and fiction. Nowhere else are these distinctions so bewitchingly blurred as they are in this novel.

In life, the trajectory of Loy’s career saw her play overlapping roles as painter, poet, model, actor, archetypal Modern Woman, playwright, novelist, autobiographer, inventor, polemicist, designer, gallery agent and assemblagist. Galvanized by inconstant affinities with myriad systems of thought (including Christian Science, Hindu mysticism, Theosophy, Bergsonism, sexology, psychoanalysis) and innumerable species of avant-garde art-making, Loy was variously feted and forgotten. Through poverty,
alienation and heartbreak, she remained a practicing artist, ever in evolution, to the end. Striving to impress the intensely modern emanations of her “isolate consciousness” (“Anglo-Mongrels”) upon the world, she proves herself, in
Insel
and beyond, a sophisticated commentator on creativity—an expert theorist of modern artisthood.

Loy first came to public attention as a painter at the 1904 Paris Salon d’Automne; in 1906 she was elected
salonnier
. This early recognition of her prowess as a painter was superseded, however, by her reputation as a poet. The recovery of Loy’s plastic arts production—which comprises drawings, paintings, sculptures and a remarkable body of assemblages—is at last underway. Perhaps our tardiness in coming to evaluate Loy’s visual art can be attributed to her pursuit, alongside it, of such a variegate span of other creative pursuits—for she also designed lampshades, and patented inventions both prosaic (a device for cleaning windows “from the inside out”) and fanciful (a corselet intended for the “alleviation of dowager’s hump”).

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