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I. Introduction and Overview (of my project as a whole)

“A woman’s eye might look with empathy upon the female figure of their studies, while male artists more often saw them as set pieces that might or might not arouse their desires. A man might see the model as his possession, while a woman was more likely to see her as someone like herself. Such issues…were ones to which she would return a decade later in both poetry and painting” (Burke “Becoming” 95).

II. You / We / She / It / I

[Introduction to this chapter] Mina Loy’s “ambivalence,” an often-cited feature of her work, can be usefully charted through a study of


Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto,” dated November 1914 by Roger L. Conover, was not published until after her death, and, indeed, it appears that during Loy’s lifetime the sole copy of this radical text was read only by Loy’s friend and ally Mabel Dodge, to whom Loy sent her manifesto that same year. Loy’s reluctance to circulate her manifesto is often considered in relation to her anxiety about the clash between her own feminist ideology and that of her culture. As Carolyn Burke notes of Loy’s own reaction to her writing of this time, particularly the scandal surrounding her sexually-explicit Love Songs, “Mina worried about her literary reputation, as if replaying the psychic tangle of her student days—when her teachers’ notice meant her parents’ disapproval. Although writing about the sex war was bound to be controversial, it was one thing to be provocative and another to learn that some considered her writing ‘pure pornography.’” (“Becoming” 191) Loy’s unrest concerning the relationship between her brand of feminism and that of the outside world is further revealed in a letter, to her agent Carl Van Vechten, dated soon after her drafting of the manifesto, “‘What I feel now are feminine politics,’ she told Carl, ‘but in a cosmic way that may not fit in anywhere.’” (qtd. in Burke “Becoming” 187).

This sense of estrangement and alienation from the social, which caused Loy to advocate instead for the development of personal and individual consciousness, is an obvious and dominant strand within both Loy’s manifesto and readings of the manifesto (see, for example, Dunn 448, DuPlessis “Seismic” 52, Gilmore 271, Kouidis 28). Loy’s desire to separate her own strands of “feminism”[1] from the reformist techniques of the suffragettes is forcefully stated early in this work. This sense of separation and enforced estrangement, however, has not been remarked upon in regards to the relationship between the manifesto’s narrator and the its intended audience. Just as I will demonstrate that the audience is not stably rendered, likewise, it will be shown that the relationship between this manifesto’s audience and the narrator does not work as in most avant-garde manifestos of the time to establish a binaristic and hierarchical definition reliant upon the delineation of an us/them. Rather, Loy creates a pluralistic “you” and a narrator who herself might be said to lack both definition and the sense of individual consciousness which Loy advocates for. In light of this new understanding of the manifesto, we shall see that while the claims of the manifesto remain radical, the narrator’s seeming severance from the social remains ambiguous and incomplete, thus providing the manifesto’s audience with no strong “we” or example to follow.

Before I continue with an analysis of Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto,” I would like to note that all citations from Loy’s manifesto will be drawn from the text of the 1996 The Lost Lunar Baedeker. Because Conover himself admits that the original publication of Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” in the 1982 The Last Lunar Baedeker was “inaccurately” printed due to “regrettable editorial errors and mistranscriptions” (qtd. in Lost 216-217), my citations of the manifesto will follow Conover’s corrected version as published in The Lost Lunar Baedeker, the text of which most closely resembles the holograph of this work housed in the Mabel Dodge Luhan Papers in the Yale Collection of American Literature at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. While my citations will reproduce Loy’s capitalization, italics, and underlining, I will not attempt to replicate her erratic use of font size.[2]

Mina Loy’s manifesto aligns itself with the avant-garde desire to overhaul “bourgeois universalism” (Lyon “Manifestoes” 124). Many of the opening statements in her manifesto explicitly react against bourgeois notions of progress, “Cease to place your confidence in economic legislation, vice-crusades & uniform education—you are glossing over Reality. Professional & commercial careers are opening up for you—Is that all you want?” (Lost 153). While the destruction of bourgeois universalism would seem to require a relationship of demarcation, of an us/them, in which these two groups remain, and indeed are even defined through this oppositional division, Mina Loy’s manifesto, while focusing on the development of individual consciousness, fails to work within the strict boundaries of us/them that have come to be associated with the manifesto form. In Manifestoes: Provocations of the Modern, Janet Lyon’s compelling study of the historical manifesto form and the manifesto in relationship to modernism, she examines avant-garde enactments of this form, including an analysis of manifestoes by Dora Marsden, Ezra Pound, and Mina Loy. Although this point remains unremarked upon by Lyon, each of these writers, with the exception of Loy, stages a similar us/them relationship of reflexivity and reference between the narrator and the audience.

According to Lyon, Dora Marsden’s manifestic editorials, which appeared in her journal, The Freewoman, which became The New Freewoman and then The Egoist in 1914, create a specialized and non-universal audience. Because of her previous involvement with the reformist suffragists, which she, like Loy, despised, Marsden avoids invoking a general “we” and instead interpolates a highly-selective audience of women whom are able to act and to live as individuals, “In her inaugural editorial for the Freewoman, she declares that there are probably no more than ten ‘freewomen’ in Britain” (Lyon “Manifestoes” 125). In Lyon’s argument, Marsden’s unusual recasting of “we” as both “we are individuals” and “we are common”[3] is not disabling. Rather, it allows her to maintain the emphasis on individuality that she shared with Loy. Ultimately though, although Marsden’s strategy seems to be radically recasting the notion of “we,” Marsden’s call continues to maintain the oppositional and hierarchical us/them format of the manifesto. Likewise, of Pound’s imagist manifestos, “Imagisme” and “A Few Don’ts by an Imagiste,” which Lyon argues are not actually manifestoes but rather reactions to, and exploitations of, the popularity of manifestoes[4], Lyon notes the way in which Pound also creates a highly-selective audience; he never uses the pronoun “we,” believing it too democratic, but, like Marsden, he still maintains a revised version of the us/them format. As a substitute for “we,” Pound uses “they,” invoking the few sanctioned imagists, and for what would ordinarily be “them” he uses “you,” the reader who is privileged to read about imagism, but who cannot penetrate or participate in the movement itself. Thus Pound, like Marsden, relies on a formulation of binaries in which the positions and power of each term/group remain distinct.

While Marsden and Pound’s manifestos point reflexively to the superiority of the “us,” in relationship to a “them,” Loy’s narrator directs her energy and gaze entirely outwards to the faults of her audience, “Professional & commercial careers are opening up for you—Is that all you want?” She mocks the goals of her audience, emphasizing their weak-sighted desires, and she condemns the methodology of suffragists. In condemning the goals of suffragists, Loy’s narrator even goes so far as to temporarily impersonate the suffragists’ desire for reform by offering a statement that at first appears as if she will offer a useful revision of the suffragists’ strategy for reform, “There is no half-measure—NO scratching on the rubbish heap of tradition, will bring about Reform,” but rather than offering a new strategy to achieve the suffragists’ aim, Loy then undercuts their desire, replacing the objectives of the suffragists, which, in her formation, are destined to fail, with an image of complete destruction, “the only method is Absolute Demolition.” She further exploits the weakness of an unspecified group of women by inciting an almost militaristic war cry, one which echoes Marinetti’s goal of progress, “the lies of centuries have got to go—are you prepared for the Wrench?—” Appealing to her audience to take up the wrench, Loy leaves us syntactically open to the possibility that the audience will not only hold the wrench but will be wrenched as well. This reading is further supported by her previous statement, “you are on the brink of a devastating psychological upheaval—” (Lost 153).

This cynical tightening of the wrench marks a departure from the optimism, albeit a violent optimism, of Marinetti’s futurist manifestoes. The intention of Loy’s manifesto is debatable, but its claims are clearly meant to incite action through shock. But what action? Although Loy scholars avoid debating the purpose of the manifesto, or the literality of intention behind many of its claims, several critics have revealed that they take Loy exactly for her word. Surprisingly, the debates around just how literally we should read this manifesto arise not in reference to one of Loy’s most memorable claims, which comes after a statement of the dangers of “virtue,” “therefore, the first self-enforced law for the female sex, as a protection against the man made bogey of virtue—which is the principal instrument of her subjection, would be the unconditional surgical destruction of virginity throughout the female population at puberty—” (Lost 154-155), but, rather, in relationship to the manifesto’s statements about maternity, which Susan Gilmore claims extol “a fairly sinister new worldview” (307) and “more than a passing flirt with eugenics” (308). Lyon concurs, and like Gilmore, she points out Loy’s eugenic tendencies (“Mina” 387) while also arguing that although Loy “chafes against the separate-spheres gender complementarity advocated by Futurists,” she also “casts women squarely within reproductive ideology” (“Mina” 386)[5]. Lyon and Gilmore’s critiques of Loy are centered, however, around two statements which can be read exclusively, and are not necessarily in conflict. While Loy commands 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—” she ultimately protects the reproductive rights of all women, “Every woman has a right to maternity—” (Lost 155). The critical response of contemporary Loyalists, such as Gilmore and Lyon, who themselves experience a sense of scandal while reading Loy’s militant call for maternity, reflects that the manifesto achieves its goal of exciting its unspecified “you” through a ritual of shaming, pointing, and selection. But whom is the “Feminist Manifesto” targeting exactly? While both Marsden and Pound rely upon inciting difference in order to aid a binaristic, hierarchical, and, ultimately, a reflexive or oppositional form of (self-)definition, Mina Loy’s “Feminist Manifesto” incites a shifting “you.”
This manifesto opens with an invocation of the suffragist movement, “The feminist movement as at present instituted is Inadequate” (Lost 153). Thus Loy begins with an implicit appeal to suffragettes, to those specific women involved in the feminist movement, whom appear at first glance to form the manifesto’s intended audience. Indeed many of the claims, such as her calls for demolition rather than reform, and her emphasis on the faults of gaining economic security through marriage, reflect the reform-centered “weakness” that Loy identifies in relation to this movement. But the majority of the claims made in the manifesto, such as the destruction of virginity, and her call for the protection of maternity, can be read in relation to a general female audience and are unrelated to the general platform of the suffrage movement. Further, the addressee quickly shifts to a pluralistic and unspecified “Women” in the subsequent lines, “Women if you want to realise yourselves—you are on the eve of a devastating psychological upheaval—all your pet illusions must be unmasked—the lies of the century have got to go—are you prepared for the Wrench—?” (Lost 153). This invocation of “Women” seems to be most aptly read in relationship to a non-specific or universal group of women, a clear distinction between both Marsden and Pound’s desire to limit the field of those whom they address and an indication that the purpose of Loy’s shifting address is not to define herself relationally, as Pound and Marsden do. This observation is important in light of the narrator’s own lack of self-definition, which will be further discussed below. Further complicating this issue of audience is the observation that, at times, Loy’s audience extends beyond both the suffragists and the female sex in order to interpolate both men/masculinity and culture. Susan Gilmore notes that Loy’s manifesto “condemns the domestication of women” (283), and while the argument has been made that Loy holds women responsible for their own subjugation, culture (and men) are certainly faulted here as well. In several instances in the manifesto, Loy directly addresses men and women in turn, “The man who lives a life in which his activities conform to a social code which is a 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” (Lost 153-154).

Loy’s decision to mark the division between herself and her audience by framing her audience in reference to several referents, including the ambiguous “you” and “Women,” as well as “the feminist movement,” is a deviation from both Janet Lyon’s historical definitions of the typical us/them manifesto form as described in the introduction of Manifestoes: Provocations of the Modern and of avant-garde reinventions of the manifesto form such as those invoked by Marsden and Pound. Lyon cites the tension between invocations of the manifesto as a “liberatory genre that narrates in no uncertain terms the incongruous experiences of modernity of those whose needs have been ignored or excluded in a putatively democratic political culture” and the manifesto as "the genre not of universal liberation but of rigid hierarchical binaries: on this reading, the manifesto participates in a reduced understanding of heterogeneous social fields, creating audiences through a rhetoric of exclusivity, parceling out political identities across a polarized discursive field, claiming for ‘us’ the moral high ground of revolutionary idealism, and constructing ‘them’ as ideological tyrants, bankrupt usurpers, or corrupt fools." (Lyon “Manifestoes” 2-3) While Loy’s manifesto is clearly more closely aligned to the second of these readings, its choice of referents for marking the audience fail to designate a stable identification of whom Loy is addressing. Further, these markers which Loy employs do create “a polarized discursive field,” in which reform is clearly subordinated to Loy’s discourse of destruction, but this field itself cannot be said to be level. Loy directs her address to “you,” “women” and “the feminist movement,” through a series of claims and arguments that estrange these parties and force them into an implicit position of “them,” but she does so without establishing a binary relationship which would be completed by a narratorial perspective speaking as I/us.

This lack of an “I” is an important feature of the “Feminist Manifesto.” Current scholarship surrounding the manifesto takes the presence of the manifesto’s narrator for granted, without discussing the absence of an “I” (or a “we”) or without attempting to discuss the position of the narrator herself. This is perhaps understandable in light of the narrator’s forceful tone, which itself seems to mark the speaker as a figure of authority, but, it remains important to note that the authority of this speaker comes into being simultaneously with the utterance of her many demands. This factor might be rooted in part in the fact that Loy’s narrator does not appear to be creating a social movement and thereby has no scaffolding or context, or other persons, backing her. But even this point is debatable, as the last lines of the manifesto reference the possibility of “an incalculable & wider social regeneration,” thus marking the manifesto as a revolutionary discourse meant to bring about social change through the reformation of consciousness. But just as this notion of regeneration marks the potential of reformulating consciousness as the narrator outlines, the limits of the narrator’s claims, which can also be read in relation to their seeming visionary status, are reflected by the last lines of the manifesto, in which Loy orders women to detach themselves from the assumed impurity of sex, “Another great illusion that woman must use all her introspective clear-sightedness & unbiassed bravery to destroy—for the sake of her self respect is the impurity of sex[.]” But after making this command, Loy’s narrator once again rejects her audience, “the realization in defiance of superstition that there is nothing impure in sex—except the mental attitude to it—will constitute an incalculable & wider social regeneration than it is possible for our generation to acquire” (Lost 156). While presumably Loy’s narrator turns her back on the audience once again because has managed to grasp the notion that “there is nothing impure in sex,” this sense of hierarchy is not able to maintain a stable presence throughout the manifesto.

Rachel Blau DuPlessis, as will be further discussed, examines the “Feminist Manifesto,” in relation to Loy’s Love Songs, in order to argue that “feminine consciousness is a specter haunting the poem” (“Seismic” 52). In light of this observation, I would like to extend DuPlessis’ metaphor in order to argue that the “feminine consciousness” also haunts the “Feminist Manifesto,” and, further, that the narrator of this work also operates a specter. Loy’s most forceful narrator actually floats behind the surface of the manifesto, not completely individuated or distinct from the women whom she isolates and shames, so that her consciousness becomes a constructed presence, a specter that the reader must identify by amalgamating the claims of the manifesto then mapping them back onto this speaker. While Janet Lyon cites the irony of Pound’s control and reversal of the manifestic “we” in relationship to the way in which he displays univocality, “Pound’s reversal of the manifestic ‘we’ issues in control of heterogeneity. He produces a new kind of literary ‘manifesto’ in which the univocality of the speaking position is explicit rather than hidden (as it had been in the pseudo-populist ‘we’ of Marinetti’s futurists)” (Lyon “Manifestoes” 134), it seems that Loy’s narrator, a singular individual advocating for the invocation of personal consciousness fails to incite the univocality we might expect from such an address; Loy’s narrator and her position remain somewhat unclear. Addressing the “Feminist Manifesto,” Rachel Blau DuPlessis notes that Loy’s invocation of feminine/feminist consciousness is both uneven and perhaps overdone, especially when read relationally to other works of this period, “Loy’s manifesto is situated at a crisis of historical change, indeed, at an apocalypse of apoplectic change. Yet her absolute rejection of prior female strategies and her repeated tropes of destruction protest too much; feminine consciousness is a specter haunting the poem” (“Seismic” 52). DuPlessis hints at the notion that perhaps Loy’s narrator is not so individuated as her forceful demands of other women might suggest. Loy’s narrator’s desire to point fingers outwards, and to place blame and fault in the subjectivity of other women at times could be read as a mark of her own superiority, but, as we shall see in subsequent sections of this chapter, Loy’s narrators are often unable to separate themselves from their objects of study. In the case of the manifesto, the narrator appears to be unable to look inward or to create a clear boundary between herself and the women whom she addresses. The narrator’s failure to invoke her own presence, to separate herself from her audience also contradicts the statement, “Leave off looking to men to find out what you are not—seek within yourselves to find out what you are” (Lost 154) in that the manifesto’s narrator’s fails to distinguish herself from the broad mass of women whom she addresses. Further, we cannot ignore DuPlessis’ comments on the narrator’s lack of stability. The narrator’s failure to incite a stable “us”/“them,” as Pound and Marsden do, only further complicates the difficulty of understanding the narrator’s position. It remains impossible to separate the manifesto’s narrator from the amorphous mass of women whom she addresses, and while we can derive a partial portrait of the narrator by examining her own claims, some of these mandates do contradict each other.

It could be argued that a new formation of us/them is ultimately formed by Loy’s refusal to invoke a particular audience. The “us” disappears in service to the “them,” and Loy’s narrator, like the women she addresses, falls victim to her own failure to manifest her vision. Presumably, the narrator is also implicated by the failure of this “incalculable & wider social regeneration than it is possible for our generation to acquire” (Lost 156) which she had hoped for. The “them” is radically disseminated so that the “them” is everyone, including the narrator. The narrator posits solutions to the culturally-determined cult of femininity, such as “the unconditional surgical destruction of virginity” and her command that, “Women must destroy in themselves, the desire to be loved—“ (Lost 155), but the narrator herself never demonstrates that she is able to follow through on her own dictums. Beneath the surface of such bold statements, various scholars, such as DuPlessis, have noted that the impulses of the narrator of Loy’s manifesto are often contradictory, “And while the manifesto declares ‘Woman must destroy in herself the desire to be loved,’ it continues in a pensive fragment ‘The feeling that it is a personal insult when a man transfers his attention from her to another woman’” (“Seismic” 52). Eric Murphy Selinger also makes this argument. Drawing upon a pairing of passages from the manifesto similar to the ones that DuPlessis elaborates on, he notes that the “Feminist Manifesto” bears an “uneasy, self-divided tone” (23). According to Selinger’s analysis, the radical authority of the manifesto is called into question when one looks closely at individual statements, “On the one hand there are proclamations that recall the liberatory pronouncements of a Sanger or a Goldman” (23), but, conversely, the manifesto also contains “quick, corrosive gestures that echo the erotic faith of Goldman far less than they do the corrosive disbelief of earlier philosophers like Schopenhauer and of contemporary avant-gardists like the Italian Futurists” (24). Such contradictions reveal the narrator’s dual impulses and her own struggle to embody the claims that she makes. Her manifesto, as DuPlessis further notes, is reliant on “musts” (“Seismic” 52), and, I would argue, is attempting to gain authority precisely through its method of command. The authority of Loy’s narrator thus comes into being simultaneously with the claims she makes. The radical nature of her claims constitutes her control; the narrator’s authority and power are neither assured nor preexistent.

Ultimately, it seems that in the “Feminist Manifesto,” Loy’s narrator attempts to control the gaze so that she is not controlled by it. In pointing so forcefully outwards, she reveals her own inability to look inwards. Her attempt to draw such stringent boundaries, and the narrator’s disappearance behind the curtain of the manifesto’s radical invocations of a sterile (and sterilizing) femininity, reveals how easily consciousness is implicated by the social. As we shall see in the subsequent section, Loy’s fear of feminism’s reformist techniques is not a simple rejection of the social but an elaboration of her understanding of the social’s dominance, power, and control.

[1] I’ve bracketed this term in parentheses because Loy never identified herself as a “feminist,” using the term “feminine” instead to mark gender inequality and sexual difference, as “feminist” would imply alignment with a system of reform.
[2] The only existent copy of “The Feminist Manifesto” is handwritten, thus making it impossible to reproduce with certainty the sizing of the letters. Conover does do an admirable job of attempting to reproduce Loy’s sizing of particular letters and words, but I will not attempt to reproduce his reproductions of Loy’s use of font size. Please refer to the text as it appears in The Lost Lunar Baedeker for differences in sizing.
[3] Lyon provides an analysis of the way in which Marsden stretches the limits of rhetoric by arguing “‘We are common…[but] this does not mean, either on our lips, or on others’, that we are like everybody else. Tout au contraire! It means that we are egoistic, individual, selfish. To be ‘common’ with the ‘fine’ [i.e., from the perspective of ‘refined’ people] means to be in the bounds of self-ish motives and to see others in the same; not to be under the sway of the fine concepts; the ‘noble’ emotions; to be running amok of the whole cultural structure. And so we are’ (July 1, 1913, 25)” (italics and brackets in the original, qtd. in Lyon 127). Marsden’s rhetorical strategy of associating “the common” with “the fine” “allow[s] her to recast ‘the common’ as an anti-bourgeois identity and to separate it from the homogeneity of the masses” (Lyon 127) and thus to maintain a demarcation between us and them that allows for a radical, although seemingly crossed, definition of the identity of an individualist “we” in relationship to a bourgeois “them.”
[4] Lyon’s reluctance to label Pound’s texts as manifestoes seems to stem from the fact that Imagism “is not a revolutionary group; it does not take up the revolutionary discourse of the manifesto; and it aligns itself with, rather than opposing itself to, some notion of a traditional literary past” (“Manifestoes” 130-131, emphasis in the original).
[5] Lyon is right to point out Loy’s essentialism and her emphasis on sexual difference, but as we shall see in the fifth section of this chapter, Loy’s reconfiguration of femininity and reproduction actually allows her to argue that women hold advantages over men.


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