Andrew Pilsch Blog

Mina Loy Online: We Turn Into Machines

One of the singular (and few) pleasures of revising my book has been getting to learn about the poetry and manifesto writing of Mina Loy.

Mina Loy

I was incorporating her (that’s Mina Loy on the left) work into book edits because she’s an early critic of Italian futurism, based on the fact that she had affairs with F.T. Marinetti and Giovanni Papini and realized that the whole group were a bunch of idiot teenagers more interested in fast cars than changing the world. Moreover, in poems and manifestoes that Janet Lyon identifies as Loy’s futurist canon (“Parturition,” Songs to Joannes, “Aphorisms on Futurism,” “Feminist Manifesto,” The Sacred Prostitute, and The Pamperers), Loy offers a devastating critique of the futurists that not only fractures their worldview, but also fractures poetic language itself and manages to propose a counter-vision of technologically mediated evolution.

Her heavily experimental work, lost in the (masculine) codification of modernism prior to the 1980s, there has been a move to restore her place in the modernist canon. The publication of The Lost Lunar Baedeker in 1997 helped, as did the more recent publication of Stories and Essays of Mina Loy in 2011.

However, despite being in the public domain, her poems are not available in useable editions online. I say “useable” because Mina Loy was experimenting with the use of typography (especially dashes and spaces) to create meaning in her texts. The way in which she fragments lines, often within a single line. For instance, Songs to Joannes opens with:

Spawn   of    Fantasies
Silting the appraisable
Pig Cupid     his rosy snout

These gaps are intended and often change the meaning of the poem, which Janet Lyon argues are meant to help realize that “what the reader sees is subject to parallax shifting” as the poems in Songs shifts from what happened in a disastrous sexual relationship (based on Papini) to alternate timelines in which we are show the beauty that could have been.

I’m connecting all of this to an argument about the trope of cosmic consciousness in transhuman rhetoric, so it was incredibly frustrating that none of these texts are online with the spacing and formatting intact.

Until Now

What started out as something I was doing in my spare time, turned into an online resource and maybe even a digital humanities project in the course of a few weeks. I finally finished Songs to Joannes today, and the result is the launch of Mina Loy Online, a collection of the futurist canon texts written in Markdown and available for anyone who wants to read them in as close to their intended format as I can get them.

It turns out that doing this was very challenging. In addition to there not being any extant manuscripts of these texts to verify what Mina Loy intended for their appearance and spelling (many of the works were originally typeset and proofread by printers who neither spoke nor read English), the manner in which she messed with space is still difficult to accomplish in HTML and CSS. It ended up involving a lot of additional HTML spacing to get the texts formatted for online reading, but they are, I feel, very accurate and what Mina Loy might have wanted.

In addition to the online site, you can browse the source code on GitHub.

The difficulty of digitizing Loy’s poetry was an interesting experience given the lines in Mina Loy about “unnatural evolution” or this stanza from Songs to Joannes:

Licking the Arno
The little rosy
Tongue of Dawn
Interferes with our eyelashes
— — — — — — — —
We twiddle to it
Round and round
And turn into machines

— Mina Loy, Songs to Joannes

For all of her rhetoric of evolutionary futurism, her belief that globalization and mechanization put us on the cusp of a massive explosion in evolutionary consciousness and machinic embodiment, Mina Loy’s poetic texts still resist computerized patterns of reading and writing. Her work still resists becoming-data. In many ways, her’s is a revolution that has yet to come, a poetics of a shimmering futurity, just out of reach in the light of an alien moon.

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