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Cross-Cultural Baedeker: Mina Loy’s Cosmopolitan Modernism



Cet article porte sur l’émergence d’une poétique d’observation interculturelle dans l’œuvre de Mina Loy. Il examine comment cette poétique transnationale évolue à travers les poèmes, essais et manifestes de Loy, tout en la confrontant avec la question de l’identité « américaine » de l’écrivaine. Cette démonstration part de l’idée que les écrits de Loy se donnent à lire comme un guide Baedeker ironique visant à cartographier à la fois les différences interculturelles et les phénomènes artistiques transnationaux de son temps.

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  • 1 The word “Baedeker” in the title of Loy’s first poetic collection, published by Robert McAlmon’s Co (...)

1Perhaps more than any other female modernist, Loy embraced the idea of a deracinated, transnational subjectivity, as suggested by her ironic use of the Baedeker tour guides in the title of her poetic collections Lunar Baedecker [sic]1 (1923) and Lunar Baedeker and Time-Tables (1958). As Marjorie Perloff puts it, Loy can be seen as “the prototype of the deracinated cosmopolite, the sort of expatriate figure Eliot […] must have had in mind when he had the Waste Land’s Marie say, ‘Binn gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch’” (Perloff 132). Likewise, in his article “A Transnational Poetics,” Jahan Ramazani discusses Loy’s life and work as a particularly good example of “cross-national and cross-cultural interstitiality” (Ramazani 340). Indeed, Loy may be viewed as a quintessentially interstitial figure, an exemplary globe-trotter and cross-cultural wanderer resisting national affiliations, while the tireless crossing of generic boundaries in her protean work may be seen as intrinsically related to her crossing of national boundaries.

  • 2 The critical perception of Loy as an American modernist has been shaped both by Ezra Pound’s influe (...)

2While most examinations of Loy’s transnationalism tend to focus solely on her long semi-autobiographical poem “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose,” this article aims at exploring how her poetics of cross-cultural nomadism and international community inform her other poems, manifestoes and essays, and at confronting her transnationalism with the question of her “American” identity. Often considered by critics as an “American Modernist2”, Loy was in fact British-born and lived in Munich, Paris, Florence, New York, Berlin and Mexico before becoming a naturalized American citizen in 1946. In this essay, Loy’s work shall be examined within the framework of a cross-national paradigm and her adoption of an “American” identity shall be seen not as an example of national affiliation but, paradoxically, as an embrace of cosmopolitanism.

3I shall first focus on how Loy’s early poems written in France and Italy are already emblematic of her strategies of cross-cultural travel and transnational observation, since they are ironically positioned as guides both to the societies and traditional cultures of those countries and to the latest avant-garde artistic phenomena that she encountered. Then I shall examine how Loy’s call for a cosmopolitan artistic community, conceived in the 1918 manifesto “International Psycho-Democracy,” unravels in a series of poetic portraits of her expatriate modernist artistic contemporaries. Finally I shall analyze Loy’s rejection of a British national identity and her self-portrait as a “mongrel-girl / of Noman’s land” (LaLB 143) in “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” alongside her enthusiastic embrace of New York as emblematic of American multiculturalism in her essay “Modern Poetry.”

The poem as a travelogue: cross-cultural observation between Paris and Florence

  • 3 Café du Néant” is also Loy’s first published poem: it first appeared in International: Review of T (...)

4Loy lived and trained as a visual artist in London, Munich and Paris before writing her first poems while living as an expatriate in Florence, where she frequented both the circle of the Italian Futurists and a cosmopolitan circle of Anglo-American expatriate intelligentsia—Gertrude Stein and Gordon Craig among others—at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s Villa Curonia. As Tara Prescott observes, many of her early poems are “structured around geographical locations where Loy lived” (Prescott 5) and are already emblematic of her transnational stance by being positioned as perspicacious, humorous and often overtly critical travelogues to the places, cultures and artistic movements she encountered: “The descriptions and geographical references that flavor her poems demonstrate a traveler’s eye toward the details that give texture to the everyday lives in different cultures and also reveal critical differences” (Prescott 3). Although Loy would not allude to the Baedeker guidebook as a hermeneutic key to her poetry until 1923, these early poems already reflect her ironic idea of the poem as a shrewd and witty travel guide. For example, the poetic triptych “Three Moments in Paris,” written in Florence around 1914, revisits her experiences as an art student in the French capital in 1900-1907. “Café du Néant,” the second poem of the sequence3, immerses the reader in the decadent, Huysmanesque atmosphere of fin de siècle Paris:

Little tapers leaning lighted diagonally

Stuck in coffin tables of the Café du Néant

Leaning to the breath of baited bodies


While the brandy cherries

In winking glasses

Are decomposing


With the flesh of spectators

And at a given spot

There is one


Having the concentric lighting focussed precisely blossoms in perfect putrefaction […] (LoLB 16)

5Prescott has persuasively argued that despite its bizarre ambience the poem depicts a real place in Paris, the Cabaret du Néant in Montmartre, founded in 1892, where in the Salle d’Intoxication actual coffins served as tables and the chandeliers were made of human bones. Thus, Loy’s poem functions as an insider’s guide to one of the capital’s “secret spots” which was also described in the 1904 edition of Baedeker’s Paris and Its Environs. However, on another level, her dense, ornate, alliterative verse formally reflects and even parodies the decadent style it describes, making an ironic appraisal of the fin de siècle artistic phenomena and suggesting that Decadence, the dominant aesthetics of the time, could become a mere touristic attraction, as in the case of the Cabaret du Néant.

6Like “Café du Néant,” the third poem in the sequence, “Magasins du Louvre” takes the reader on a visit to one of the French capital’s landmark sites, this time a department store, the Grands Magasins du Louvre, built in 1855. The department store is at once a space of consumer commodity and a site of desire, as the poem suggests by foregrounding the role of women as commodities:

Long lines of boxes

Of dolls

Propped against banisters

Walls and pillars

Huddled on shelves

And composite babies with arms extended

Hang from the ceiling


Smiling (LoLB 17)

7The poem quickly establishes an ironic parallel between the “[b]eckoning” arms of the babies and the “solicitous mouth” of the passing cocottes, reinforcing the link between commodity capitalism and prostitution:

One cocotte wears a bowler hat and a sham camellia

And one an iridescent boa

For there are two of them


And the solicitous mouth of one is straight

The other curved to a static smile

They see the dolls

And for a moment their eyes relax

To a flicker of elements unconditionally primeval

And now averted

Seek each other’s surreptitiously

To see if the other has seen (LoLB 18)

8The speaker in the poem is a keen, astute observer, a figure of the Baudelairian flâneur, or more probably a flâneuse, although the poem gives no explicit indication of the identity of the speaking subject. The poem revolves around the mirror effect between the glass eyes of the dolls, the eyes of the two cocottes that are seen as their doubles, and the eyes of the speaker, an observer ashamed to have intruded upon an unexpected moment of genuine intimacy between two women: “While mine are inextricably entangled with the pattern of the carpet / As eyes are apt to be / Having surprised a gesture that is ultimately intimate” (18). The speaker in the poem thus creates a voice of ironic female subjectivity that remains aloof from the scene, revealing the artificiality of the social codes of femininity: the dolls, as counterfeit of virgin innocence, which are just as “sham” as the paraphernalia of seduction of the two prostitutes (“sham camellia”). The hypallage in the refrain of the poem “All the virgin eyes in the world are made of glass” (17-18) exposes virginity as a fraud and a social construction, wittily suggesting that in Paris only the dolls are virgins.

  • 4 The poem was first published in Rogue 2:1 (August 15, 1915), 10.

9Loy’s Florentine poems, particularly “Virgins Plus Curtains Minus Dots4” (1914), implicitly confront the considerably more libertine mores of the Parisian cocottes with the stiflingly patriarchal culture and strict gender roles of Italy. The poem is emblematic of Loy’s polyglot strategies of interlinguistic confusion, since “dots” here reads as the French word for “dowry.” This facetious pun establishes an oblique connection between Loy’s Parisian and Florentine observations, adopting an ironic feminist attitude towards the traditional gender roles of patriarchal Italian society where marriage is a purely financial transaction not unlike the prostitution of the cocottes. The poem’s reference to virgins—this time actual unmarried young Italian girls, trapped in their box-like houses and using their eyes to attract the passing men—establishes a connection with the virgin dolls of “Magasins du Louvre” beckoning from their boxes:

Latin Borghese

Houses hold virgins

The door’s on the chain


Virgins without dots

Stare beyond probability

See the men pass


Virgins for sale

Yet where are our coins

For buying a purchaser

Love is a god

Marriage expensive (LoLB 21-22)

  • 5 The house Loy occupied in Florence was situated in the street Costa San Giorgio in the Oltr’arno ar (...)
  • 6 This poem was first published in The Trend 8:2 (November 1914), 220-22. In The Last Lunar Baedeker (...)

10The use of alliteration in the two poems (“Long lines of boxes” / “Houses hold virgins”) reinforces these subtle cross-cultural connections. The poem ends on a note which denounces the stifling domesticity of Italian society where women are kept under lock and key: “the door locked / Against virgins who / Might scratch” (23). The sardonic tone of the poem may be partially explained by the fact that Loy herself had been the victim of a marriage transaction—she was rushed into marriage with painter Stephen Haweis due to being pregnant out of wedlock, a situation which mirrored her mother’s situation when she married her father to avoid scandal after finding herself pregnant with Mina. Since Loy explicitly makes the repressive gender roles of the late Victorian culture the object of her satire in “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose,” these observations on Italian culture can arguably be read as an oblique denunciation of the stifling domesticity of Victorian society and an example of Loy’s broader poetics of cross-cultural exploration. While in “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” Loy sarcastically refers to the “English Rose,” a figure based on her own mother but also an embodiment of a British ideal of sexual and national purity, as “the maidenhead” (“The maidenhead / drooping her lid / and pouting her breast,” LaLB 123), in “The Costa San Giorgio5,” the second section of the poem “Italian Pictures6,” a vivid vignette of Italian street life, also reads as an ironic reference to the loss of virginity: “Oranges half-rotten are sold at a reduction / Hoarsely advertised as broken heads / BROKEN HEADS” (LoLB 11). The poem deliberately blurs the boundaries between the speaking subject and the object of her observation, and the speaker is more than a detached observer although she remains sensitive to cultural differences and stereotypes:

We English make a tepid blot

On the messiness

Of the passionate Italian life-traffic

Throbbing up the street up steep

Up up to the porta


The hips of women sway

Among the crawling children they produce (LoLB 11)

11It is very likely that it was during her stay in Florence that Loy came up with the key allusion to the Baedeker guidebooks that would provide the title of her first poetic collection in 1923, since her “Italian Pictures” not only read as a poetic travelogue but also engage with the popular topos of the trip to Italy (often associated to Baedeker), conjuring up a multiplicity of intertextual associations. While the reference to the Baedeker guides signals the transnational positioning of her work, it does so in an oblique, ironic, and even somewhat paradoxical way, since Loy’s poems focus on the very sights that would be excluded in a guidebook’s prescriptive itineraries. Immensely popular in the late 19th and early 20th century, the Baedeker guidebook had become a reference for travelers because of its clear, reliable and reassuring presentation of unfamiliar destinations. By providing practical details as well as all the necessary information not only for geographical exploration but also for museological and cultural navigation, it enabled the first waves of independent mass tourism. While—unsurprisingly— modernist texts abound with allusions to the guides, transforming the guidebook into a veritable modernist literary topos, modernist authors often used the name of the guide as an ironic reference to the limited experience of tourism—in contrast to the truly cosmopolitan outlook of the expatriate artistic communities. To take a famous example, in his novel A Room with a View E. M. Forster satirized the confused experience of the Anglophone tourists “handed about like a parcel of goods from Venice to Florence, from Florence to Rome, [...] quite unconscious of anything that is outside Baedeker, their one anxiety to get ‘done’ or ‘through’ and go on somewhere else, [mixing] up towns, rivers, palaces in one inextricable whirl” (Forster 81). The novel sets up an important divide between the wide-eyed tourists unconscious of anything outside Baedeker, and the expatriates who have made Florence their home:

[…] the people who never talked about Baedekers, who had learnt to take a siesta after lunch, who took drives the pension tourists had never heard of, and saw by private influence galleries which were closed to them. Living in delicate seclusion, some in furbished flats, others in Renaissance villas on Fiesole’s slope, they read, wrote, studied, and exchanged ideas, thus attaining to that intimate knowledge, or rather perception, of Florence which is denied to all who carry in their pockets the coupons of Cook. (Forster 71)

12Forster suggests that there are two completely different modalities of experiencing the city and that Baedeker in fact denies access to the actual perception of Florence, concluding that “the true Italy is only to be found by patient observation.” Thereby he exposes the divide between the average traveler’s superficial contact with foreign culture that Baedeker enabled and the lives of the expatriate artistic communities truly immersed in foreign cultures.

  • 7 This poem was first published in Rogue 1:2 (April 1, 1915), 12.

13Since Loy herself belonged to the expatriate communities Forster refers to, her use of the term ostensibly hinges on the intertextual associations triggered by these familiar texts, taking the irony a step further. She confronts her reader with an ironic Baedeker to everything that is outside the real Baedekers’ bestarred routes, including not only sagacious and witty observations of everyday life or traditional Italian culture and its domestic, patriarchal society, but also of the avant-garde artistic phenomena she encountered, such as Italian Futurism and its ecstatic glorification of technological modernity and war. Characteristically, Loy’s poems imbibe and formally reflect the aesthetics that she writes about: just as “Café du Néant” recreates and critiques the Decadent topoi of fin de siècle Paris, Loy’s poems dwell on her encounter with Futurist leaders F. T. Marinetti and Giovanni Papini to pastiche Futurist aesthetics and make ironic reflections on the ideological and formal implications of the Futurist project. For example, “Sketch of a Man on a Platform7” (ca. 1914) is a sarcastic portrait of Marinetti infused with the Futurist ideology of ecstatic praise of modernity and speed. The very configuration of the scene, with the speeding train as a backdrop, is one of the topoi of Futurist painting, exemplified by works such as Luigi Russolo’s Dynamism of a Train (1912) or Gino Severini’s Suburban Train Arriving in Paris (1915):

Man of absolute physical equilibrium

You stand so straight on your legs

Every plank or clod you plant your feet on

Becomes roots for those limbs

Among the men you accrete to yourself

You are more heavy

And more light

Force being most equitably disposed

Is easier to lift from the ground (LoLB 19)

14The poem sarcastically refers to the Futurist coterie gravitating around Marinetti as “the men you accrete to yourself,” transforming the turbulent dynamics of artistic collectivity into a literal matter of physical magnetism, but the poem’s mock-aggrandizing tone quickly turns to overt ridicule:

Your movements


Savor of the airy-fairy of the ballet

The essence of a Mademoiselle Genée

Winks in the to-and-fro of your cuff-links (19)

15Comparing the movements of the Futurist leader to those of the famous ballerina Dame Adeline Genée undermines the glorification of virile masculinity typical of Marinetti’s bombastic rhetoric. Loy’s caustic satire targets not only the misogynistic rhetoric of the movement and its denunciation of romantic love and femininity, incompatible with Marinetti’s affair with Loy among others (“stretching the theoretic elastic of your conceptions,” 20) but also and more importantly Futurism’s ecstatic exaltation of technological modernity and war:

Your projectile nose

Has meddled in the more serious business

Of the battle-field

With the same incautious aloofness

Of intense occupation

That it snuffles the trail of the female

And the comfortable

Passing odors of love (19)

16The caricatural depiction of Marinetti’s “projectile” nose tackles the Futurist fantasy of the metallized human body as a speeding projectile, epitomized by Umberto Boccioni’s 1913 sculpture Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, while the belittling lines “meddled in the more serious business / Of the battle-field” point to the utter irresponsibility of Marinetti’s ecstatic glorification of war as “the only hygiene of the world” (Marinetti 51).

17Thus read alongside each other, Loy’s Parisian and Florentine poems function as an ironic cross-cultural Baedeker to everything that is left out in official guidebooks, foregrounding the cultural differences between France and Italy as seen through the eyes of an aloof observer, while also making an astute appraisal of the aesthetics and underlying ideologies of the artistic phenomena agitating those European countries. This dimension of cross-cultural observation is accentuated by the fact that most of Loy’s poems first appeared in Anglo-American little magazines such as Rogue, Camera Work, and Others which aimed at providing an Anglophone readership with a glimpse into the latest European avant-garde artistic phenomena.

“Make the World your Salon”: towards a transnational artistic community

  • 8 Apart from the poems discussed above, the texts that had a most notable reception in the United Sta (...)

18Her contribution to the modernist periodical press catapulted Loy on the other side of the Atlantic as one of the most innovative poets of her generation. When she left war-ridden Europe for New York in 1916, her Futurist reputation had already preceded her. Although the ambivalence of her reaction to the aesthetics and ideology of the Futurist movement is manifest, and today scholars agree that none of her early texts are purely “Futurist,” ironically it is precisely as someone associated with Italian Futurism and as a transatlantic mediator from European to American artistic groups that she first came to the attention of the American avant-garde8. For example, Alfred Kreymborg’s description of Loy casts her almost as a transatlantic ambassador of Futurism and of European avant-garde culture as a whole:

During the war, [a] curious woman, exotic and beautiful, came to New York from foreign shores: the English Jewess, Mina Loy. Visiting the shrines of modern art and literature in Paris and Florence, and being accepted as a coeval in the maddest circles, Miss Loy, who is an artist as well as a poet, imbibed the precepts of Apollinaire and Marinnetti [sic] and became a Futurist with all the earnestness and irony of a woman possessed and obsessed with the sum of human experience and disillusion. (Kreymborg 488)

19Kreymborg’s vision of Loy is emblematic of her American reception as a transnational figure: it foregrounds at once Loy’s Englishness, Jewishness and exoticism, as well as her cross-cultural pilgrimage to the “shrines of modern art and literature in Paris and Florence.” Loy is valued not only as a poet and artist in her own right but also as an avant-garde guide. She is praised for her ability to “imbibe” the most innovative aesthetics and reflect on them based on critical experience acquired through cross-cultural experience and observation. Ironically, however, Pound’s appraisal of Loy’s poetry as a “distinctly national [American] product” comes from the same period. In his review of the Others anthology for 1917, Pound writes:

Mina Loy and Marianne Moore […] have, without exaggerated ‘nationalism,’ without waving of banners and general phrases about Columbia gem of the ocean, succeeded in, or fallen into, producing something distinctly American in quality, not merely distinguishable as Americans by reason of current national faults. (Pound 56-57)

20It is ultimately unclear whether Pound was simply unaware that Loy was British-born or deliberately assigned to her a metaphorical American identity based on the qualities of her poetry. The second possibility is equally plausible, since he writes: “The point of my praise […] is that without any pretenses and without clamours about nationality, these girls have written a distinctly national product, they have written something which could not have come of any other country” (Pound 57, my emphasis). Read alongside each other, these two visions of Loy foreground the emerging idea of her as a paradox, both “distinctly national” and transnational, European and quintessentially American.

  • 9 The term “New York Dada” was not used until 1921 when the first and last issue of the eponymous mag (...)

21In New York Loy was once again strategically placed to pursue her poetics of transcultural observation of the ebullient artistic phenomena of her time: through her publications in Rogue and Others she became a member of the Arensberg circle, a cosmopolitan cluster of poets and artists who frequented the salon of wealthy art collectors Walter and Louise Arensberg. The Arensberg Circle brought together the American poets whose work appeared in Others, such as William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, or Wallace Stevens, and the group of artists that would later become known as New York Dada9 which featured many expatriate European artists, such as Marcel Duchamp, Francis Picabia, Arthur Cravan, or the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, alongside Americans like Man Ray, Alfred Stieglitz or Beatrice Wood. The subversive style of New York Dada was characterized by a shared contempt for bourgeois mentalities, capitalism, war, and all other systems of institutionalized value and control, including Art as an institution. The international nature of this artistic community also points to the fact that Loy’s relocation to New York was part of a wave of transatlantic artistic migrations and cultural dislocations triggered by the cataclysm of the ongoing war in Europe. The desire of male European artists to avoid conscription was indeed central to the anti-war aesthetics of New York Dada, as Amelia Jones has demonstrated in her book Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada.

22The texts that Loy wrote during her stay in New York in 1916-1917 chronicle the inextricable entanglement of bohemian, épater le bourgeois lifestyles, iconoclastic aesthetics, collaborative artistic practices and anti-war politics in New York Dada. For example, the memoir “Colossus” reads as a chronicle of the boisterous soirées organized by the Arensbergs, providing a colorful snapshot featuring Marcel Duchamp as “King Dada” and the poet-boxer Arthur Cravan as “Colossus”: “King Dada and Colossus lolled about a divan in Walter’s parlor, engaged in the privileged male sport of the evening which consisted of drawing their forefingers along the green stockings of the blond Countess stretched among the cushions” (“Colossus” 107). Loy’s humorously suggestive portrait of Duchamp as “King Dada” points to his role as the major catalyst behind New York Dada’s iconoclastic practices. Apart from the mischievous suggestion of a self-proclaimed artistic aristocracy in democratic America, his status as “King Dada” underscores his playful, chess-like strategies which provided both a radically pacifist version of the military tactics then ravaging Europe and a contrast to the aggressive masculinity of avant-garde leaders like Marinetti. More than a simple colorful depiction of bohemian amusements, Loy’s text also obliquely refers to Duchamp and Cravan’s provocative anti-art acts which may be qualified as proto-happenings: for example, on April 19, 1917 Duchamp invited Cravan to deliver a lecture on “The Independent Artists of France and America” at Grand Central Gallery. The boisterous Cravan arrived drunk and, to everyone’s dismay, started to swear and undress. He was finally arrested and Arensberg had to bail him out of jail. Yet Duchamp was extremely satisfied with Cravan’s performance. He exclaimed: “What a wonderful lecture!” (qtd. in Naumann 89).

23Loy’s relocation from Florence to New York was followed by a shift from “Futurist” to a “Dada” aesthetics: her style underwent a radical transformation as, with the skill of a ventriloquist, she adopted the mischievous, tongue-in-cheek playfulness typical of New York Dada. For example, “O Marcel – – – otherwise I Also Have Been to Louise’s,” published in the second and last issue of the Dada journal The Blind Man, refers to the Arensbergs’ salon (“Louise’s”) as the headquarters of New York Dada, and to Duchamp as the mastermind of the movement. A collage of conversations at the soirées of the Arensbergs, this text may be rather puzzling at a first glance, since it oscillates between Dada nonsense and coded references to the turbulent whirlpool of subversive events in April and May 1917 orchestrated by Duchamp and the Arensberg circle, which came to be known as “The Richard Mutt Case”—the creation of the Society of Independent Artists with its democratic “no jury” policy, the staging of their inaugural exhibition in April 1917 (an artistic event comparable in impact to the Armory Show), Duchamp’s resignation from the society following the scandal caused by his submission of Fountain, the publication of the short-lived Dada journal The Blind Man, which deliberately magnified the scandal, and the Blind Man’s Ball, which was advertised in the journal as an “Ultra-bohemian” celebration of Richard Mutt’s succès de scandale. For example—a voice, probably Duchamp’s—says: “I will give you some paper Mina and keep silent to give you a rest” (LaLB 84). Further down, someone asks “Mina are you short-hand?” (84), which provides the key through which to understand the text as a telegraphic “short-hand” of the Arensberg circle, unintelligible to non-initiates. “He said to me, we will toss whether you resign or I resign” (84) reads as a coded reference to Duchamp’s and Arensberg’s resignation from the Independents’ board of directors, while “– – – Censorship!” (85) refers to the rejection of Fountain by the Society of Independent Artists. Loy’s authorial positioning in “O Marcel” is also interesting: the text is signed “Compiled by Mina Loy,” which parodically casts her as a secretary taking short-hand in the headquarters of New York Dada. The collage of conversations seeks to create a kind of collective voice of the group, thus foregrounding their collaborative practices.

  • 10 This change of tone may be explained by the fact that the text was written not in New York but in M (...)

24The model of transnational artistic collectivity, iconoclastic aesthetics, and anti-war politics Loy found in New York Dada is also reflected in her 1918 manifesto “International Psycho-Democracy” which delineates a utopian vision of community. A shortened version of this manifesto was published in the “Brancusi Number” of The Little Review in 1921 under the title “Psycho-Democracy.” A curious hybrid between a political treatise and an artistic manifesto, it sheds the tongue-in-cheek Dada tone, adopting instead a tone of unexpected seriousness and urgency10. It puts forth a radical, quasi-utopian agenda (an “absolute, constructive, and liberating ideal put to the will of mankind for acceptance or rejection,” LaLB 277), and delineates the project of a transnational community, urging artists to “Make the world [their] Salon” (276). “International Psycho-Democracy” calls for an artistic collectivity founded on a “new system of Experimental Ideative Exchange” (276), which seeks to revolutionize what she calls “THE IDEA-FABRIC OF HUMAN SOCIETY” (278, Loy’s emphasis):

Our Party is an Invitation, not a Control. We fight with Brains for the […] obviation of social crises by the Excavation of individual and group psychology.

We make the experiment of a “collectivity” moved by the same intellectual logic as are the tactics of the successful individual reckoning with “actual” values and following the rules of the game of life, influencing our era by right of the merits of our (collective) personality.

Most movements have a fixed concept towards which they advance, we move away from all fixed concepts in order to advance. (LaLB 276-278, Loy’s emphasis)

25The utopian project of “International Psycho-Democracy” is a reaction against social and artistic institutions in capitalist society, denounced as outdated and dehumanizing, encouraging mass uniformity and transforming man into a “travesty” (278) of an individual, as well as the acceleration of technological modernity, which has led to the carnage caused by “the cataclysmic factor in social evolution WAR” (277).

26While Loy does not make it explicit whom the “we” in her manifesto refers to, it clearly designates the avant-garde artistic community. As Stephen Voyce suggests in his article “‘Make the World Your Salon’: Poetry and Community at the Arensberg Apartment,” this treatise condenses her experience with the Arensberg circle, and particularly its non-dogmatic mode of artistic collectivity, anti-war politics and unpredictable blurring of individual and collective agency. On another level, in this declaration Loy seems to denounce the dogmatic, bellicose masculinity of Italian Futurism and its obsessive praise of technological modernity and war, which have led to the unprecedented catastrophe of the Great War. Loy’s utopian treatise also deliberately leaves the boundaries of this community open, thus delineating the horizon for a broader modernist project of transnational artistic community, and marking the beginning of a thorough-going reflection which became pivotal in her poetry of the 1920s. It crystallized in the idea of an ironic Baedeker to the phenomena of transnational modernism, which fully unravels in a series of poems written in Paris, among which “Joyce’s Ulysses,” “Brancusi’s Golden Bird,” “Gertrude Stein” and “Jules Pascin.” This series of poems which celebrate a community of deracinated, cosmopolitan artists ostensibly pastiches the Baedeker guidebooks’ strategy of charting recommended itineraries through cultural and artistic landmarks, but by doing so it also foregrounds the divide between the officially accepted canon of artistic tradition and the aesthetics of experimental modernism in the making. Arguably, just as Loy’s early texts chronicle the activities and appraise the aesthetics of avant-garde movements like Futurism and New York Dada, these poetic portraits of her cosmopolitan artistic contemporaries chronicle the idea of literary and artistic modernism as a transnational phenomenon, and reflect on the aesthetics of each respective artist.

27Although the main focus in each of these poems is an aesthetic appraisal of each artist’s work, often in the form of a poetic “portrait of an artist” or an ekphrasis, all of them feature oblique references to intercultural hybridity, deracination, and exile. For example, in “Brancusi’s Golden Bird,” she refers to the Romanian-born sculptor as a “patient peasant God” (LoLB 79), which alludes not only to his peasant origins but to the rustic style of his clothing and of his studio, which became part of his signature style and sought to recreate an archaic world in modern Paris. “Joyce’s Ulysses” implicitly refers not only to Joyce’s own cosmopolitanism but also to the transnational trajectory of his work. The poem was written shortly after Loy’s first encounter with Joyce in Paris and celebrates the publication of the novel by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Co. Bookshop in Paris. Loy closely followed the obscenity trial after the novel’s publication as installments in The Little Review. This act of censorship is also referred to in the last stanza of “Apology of Genius” which ends with the lines: “A delicate crop / of criminal mystic immortelles / stands to the censor’s scythe” (78). In “Joyce’s Ulysses,” Loy refers to Joyce’s superimposition of the wandering trajectory of Ulysses with the topography of twentieth-century Dublin, also pointing to Joyce’s own wanderings around Europe:


of Irish fires

lighten the Occident

with Ireland’s wings

flap pandemoniums

of Olympian prose (LoLB 88)

  • 11 The two texts were published together in transatlantic review in 1924.

28While the poem “Gertrude Stein” does not explicitly allude to Stein’s transnationalism, focusing instead on Stein’s revolutionary work with language, casting her as “Curie / of the laboratory / of vocabulary” (94), the accompanying prose essay11 opens with a reminder that Loy had first encountered Stein and her challenging writing in Italy, as a way to emphasize the importance of expatriate transnational connections and crisscrossing trajectories: “Some years ago I left Gertrude Stein’s Villino in Fiesole with a manuscript she had given me. ‘Each one is one. Each one is being the one each one is being. Each one is one is being one. […] Each one is one. (Galeries Lafayette)’” (289). Likewise, the poem “Jules Pascin” also addresses the question of the artist’s cosmopolitan trajectory: like Loy, the less well-known artist Pascin was the perfect emanation of the deracinated Jewish cosmopolite. He was often mistakenly referred to as a “German,” “French” or “American” painter, since he lived in Vienna and Munich, Paris, and New York, but was in fact born in the small town of Vidin, Bulgaria, on the Danube River, a fact which Loy refers to in her poem, condensing his whole trajectory of intercultural wandering:

The side-long derby-slanted Bulgar

cocked his jet eye

in its immaculate leer,

and as a coin,

tossed his destiny (LoLB 104)

29In Paris in the 1920s, Pascin was dubbed “the American from the Danube” and “the Prince of Montparnasse,” and through the last word of the poem, “awander” (105), Loy emphasizes this idea of intercultural nomadism and dislocation. She also obliquely alludes to the Wandering Jew, a figure which she also used in “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” in her praise of transnational identity.

From “Anglo-Mongrel” to cosmopolitan “American”

  • 12 The term “auto-mythology” was first used by Roger Conover, Loy’s editor and literary executor, but (...)

30In her long semi-autobiographical poem “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose,” composed between 1923 and 1925, Loy made explicit her rejection of nationalisms and her embrace of intercultural nomadism and exile. The first two sections of “Anglo-Mongrels” came out in the “Exile” issue of the Little Review in 1923, and the complete poem appeared in Paris in 1925 in Robert McAlmon’s Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers, another important collection of expatriate Anglophone writings. In this satiric self-portrait of the artist as a young woman, Loy rewrote her own origins around the idea of hybridity and exile in order to construct an “auto-mythology” (LaLB 326)12 of cosmopolitan identity.

31In “Anglo-Mongrels,” Loy delves into her own mixed origins to create a satiric genealogy of selfhood which hinges on an ambivalent appropriation of the derogatory term “mongrel,” widely used in contemporaneous eugenicist and anti-Semitic discourses. Loy’s text deliberately casts her mixed heritage in a deterministic mold in order to revisit and satirically explore the “cross-breeding” of her English and Hungarian-Jewish lineage. She was born in Victorian London, to Sigmund Lowy, a Hungarian Jew who had immigrated to England from Budapest as a young man, and an English mother, Julia Bryan. According to her biographer Carolyn Burke, Loy’s mother was profoundly anti-Semitic and considerably embittered by what she perceived as a socially debasing marriage which had been made inevitable by an unwanted pregnancy. Even though Sigmund Lowy eventually acquired a good social standing, becoming the highest paid tailor’s cutter in London, for her mother this “mixed” marriage remained a perpetual source of shame and anxiety. Aspiring to genteel middle-class respectability, she sought to erase all trace of foreignness in her family, and especially in her two children. Loy was estranged from both of her parents, but was especially hostile towards her cold and domineering mother. After leaving her home to study art in Munich at age 17, she barely spent a full year of her adult life in England, choosing to live instead as an expatriate artist and later poet among cosmopolitan avant-garde communities in Munich, Paris, Florence, and New York. Her self-construction as a deracinated cosmopolitan avant-garde artist and her immersion in the most innovative literary and art circles of the time went hand in hand with an emancipation from the Victorian anxiety of miscegenation which had dominated her childhood.

32The satiric family saga of “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” features the figures of “Exodus,” a persona for her father and a cartoonish figure of an “alien” immigrant trying to find his way in society yet ostracized by the rhetoric of racial, cultural, and national purity, “English Rose,” a persona based on her mother, who is alternatingly called Albion, Ada, and Alice, merging an image of pure-bred Britishness with a sarcastic portrait of the prudish Victorian matron, and their child Ova, an alter ego of Loy herself, who is described as a “Mongrel Rose.” Exodus eventually comes to allegorically represent not only Jewish identity and immigration but any form of cultural difference rejected by the rhetoric of national purity. The poem presents a disjointed and at times blatantly parodic narrative of the incongruous union of “Exodus” and “English Rose,” casting the “cross-breeding” of a pure-bred Britishness with its cultural Other in terms which are simultaneously parodic and disturbingly radical, especially within the context of the anti-miscegenation rhetoric of the time:


in female form

salutes the alien Exodus


Alice the gentile

Exodus the Jew


unite their variance

in marriage



mad to melt

with something softer than himself (LaLB 123, 126)

33Clearly deprived of psychological depth, Loy’s characters function as allegories of cultural identity, but also as flat caricatures aggressively appropriating the racial and cultural stereotypes of her times. The first section of the poem opens with an analepsis focusing on Exodus’ youth in Hungary before he decides to immigrate to London:

Exodus lay under an oak tree

bordering on Buda Pest he had lain

him down to overnight under the lofty rain

of starlight

having leapt from the womb

eighteen years ago and grown

neglected along the shores of the Danube

on the Danube in the Danube


Imperial Austria taught the child

the German secret patriotism

the Magyar tongue the father

stuffed him with biblical Hebrew and the

seeds of science exhorting him

to vindicate

his forefathers’ ambitions (111-112)

34From the very beginning, as the omnipresent imagery of fragmentation, dislocation and liminality indicates, it is clear that the question of Exodus’ fractured cultural and especially linguistic identity is at the heart of Loy’s portrait. The use of impersonal third-person narration, the indeterminacy of the narrative voice and the deliberately ungainly gap-strewn poetic form immediately create a sense of alienation. Throughout the poem, there is an ironic discrepancy between the line breaks and the caesuras which rewrite the logic of the narrative and create tensions, as in “Imperial Austria taught the child / the German secret patriotism / the Magyar tongue.” Elsewhere, Exodus is mockingly described as a “wondering Jew” (117), an incarnation of the perpetual migrant, voyaging from “Imperial Austria” to the British Empire:

The arid gravid

intellect of Jewish ancestors

the senile juvenile

calculating prodigies of Jehovah

crushed by the Occident ox


moves Exodus to emigrate

coveting the alien

asylum of voluntary military

service paradise of the pound-sterling

where the domestic Jew in lieu

of knouts is lashed with tongues (112-113)

35Apart from the aggressive appropriation of anti-Semitic stereotypes, what is striking in this passage is the parodic pun that Loy makes: it is her “mother tongue,” the language of the “English Rose,” that becomes the scourge of verbal aggression with which the Jew is flogged (“lashed with tongues”). Thus, it becomes clear that the poem’s mordant satire is targeted above all against language as a vehicle of ideology and cultural stereotypes, and especially those one absorbs from early childhood together with the acquisition of one’s “mother tongue.” On the other hand, Loy’s linguistic choices, such as the curt Anglo-Saxon term “ox” and the pompous French term “in lieu,” foreground the hybridity of the English language itself, and this interlingual mixture also undermines the rhetoric of national and linguistic purity.

36Just as Exodus becomes an allegory of Jewish identity, the mother figure, a corset-clad, cold and prudish Victorian matron based on Loy’s own biological mother, is deliberately depersonalized and transformed into an allegory of British national identity. “English Rose,” the second section of “Anglo-Mongrels,” includes some of Loy’s most acerbic satire. It also represents the stifling Victorian ideal of femininity, rooted in marital stability, domesticity, middle-class respectability and motherhood, which prudishly shuns away from sexuality and the body but also transforms virginity into an economic asset. Through these two interconnected allegorical clusters, which are united by the idea of national and sexual purity, “English Rose” becomes a representation of late Victorian Imperialist England:

Early English everlasting

quadrate Rose


trimmed with some travestied flesh

tinted with bloodless duties dewed

with Lipton’s teas


Conservative Rose


of British Empire-made pot-pourri

of dry dead men making a sweetened smell

among a shrivelled collectivity (121-122)

37While the allusion to “Lipton’s teas” is an obvious reference to British colonialism, the imagery of tea and flower petals grows into an extended metaphor which provides a striking image of hybridity of the British Empire itself. The “pot-pourri,” a French term which denotes a perfumed jar with a combination of dried petals, becomes symbolic of the refinement of the aristocracy and its passion for everything exotic and Oriental, and exposes its hypocrisy and ruthlessness, through the etymology which implies rottenness, putrefaction, and decay. As the intrusive feminine rhyme between “pot-pourri” and “collectivity” underscores, the “shrivelled collectivity” of the British Empire is merely a form of economic hegemony and exploitation. The “paradox-Imperial” (121) is that the cultural Other is simultaneously necessary as a means of ensuring the economic prosperity of the Empire, and profoundly despised, since its very difference is perceived as a threat to the national purity of the colonizer. As Alex Goody writes in “Empire, Motherhood, and the Poetics of the Self in Mina Loy’s Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose,” Loy’s satire is directed against “The [...] ‘ideological pink’ [...] of the English Rose, [which] denies and rejects the racial and cultural differences that are elided in the supposed unity of Empire” (Goody 65). Loy’s poem operates a powerful postcolonial deconstruction of the imperialist ideology which dominated in her childhood.

38The double-edged estrangement of Loy’s satire, which spares neither Exodus nor English Rose and transforms them into flat caricatures, eventually transcends the dimensions of satire and grows into a dilemma: the two figures epitomize two polarities of collective identity, neither of which is an adequate solution to the complex questions of individual identity in modernity. The third section, called “Mongrel Rose,” which explores the young Ova’s developing consciousness, is the longest of the three sections. It explores the ways in which the domineering cultural stereotypes and prejudices are imprinted or “stamped” on the young child’s developing intellect, which is helpless since it “lack[s] dictionaries / of inner consciousness”:

Lacking dictionaries

of inner consciousness

unmentionable stigmata

is stamped

by the parent’s solar plexus

in disequilibrium

on the offspring’s

intuition (148)

39This section reads as a poetic Bildungsroman, which explores how a young consciousness dissociates itself from the domineering cultural stereotypes and ideological constructs of national identity which are inherent in language. Therefore, even though Anglo-Mongrels ends while Ova is still a child, the trope of the “mongrel” selfhood projects itself beyond childhood and reads as an allegorical figure of the artist as an uprooted cosmopolite. “Mongrel Rose” is the most ambivalent of the three sections, since it both debunks and works through cultural stereotypes such as those of the Wandering Jew. Exodus embodies a nomadic “wandering” and an intellectual-artistic heritage which he passes on to his daughter: “Behold my gift / the Jewish brain!” (132). Even though Loy’s depiction of “the alien Exodus” is not less parodic than her portrait of the “English Rose,” there gradually emerges a complex affiliation with the paternal figure, which points to an identification with the Other and articulates an acute sense of alienation from British national identity.

40Loy deliberately casts herself as the mongrel offspring of an incongruous marriage; Ova is described as a “composite Anglo-Israelite” (132), but she is above all a “child of Exodus”:

So this child of Exodus

with her heritage of emigration


“sets out to seek her fortune”

in her turn

trusting to terms of literature

dodging the breeders’ determination (170-171)

41Thus, the derogatory charge of the term “mongrel” is ironically subverted, and comes to denote an alienation from the ideological constructs of national identity and an acute sense of difference, which allows Ova to “[dodge] the breeders’ determination” and to develop “dictionaries / of inner consciousness.” In other words, with its bold, cartoonish strokes, the mock family saga of Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose satirizes the crystallization of an acute artistic and linguistic awareness out of mixed family, ethnic and national heritage. As Rachel Blau DuPlessis argues in her article “‘Wondering Jews’: Melting-pots and Mongrel Thoughts,” “given the bad press [the term mongrel] had in this period, Loy’s use makes a bold statement of adhesion to a subject place of hybridity” (DuPlessis 101). In spite of the fact that it works through the very clichés that it seeks to debunk, Loy satiric exploration of her Jewish ancestry allows her to articulate a position of deracinated nomadism that subverts the rhetoric of patriotism and nationhood. Thus, on the whole, “mongrelism” becomes a key trope of writing selfhood in Loy’s poetic, since it allows her to adopt the strategic position of a “mongrel-girl / of Noman’s Land”: the “Noman’s land” in question is arguably the deracinated transatlantic avant-garde liberated from the rhetoric of nationhood, the writers and artists who have chosen to “Make the World [their] Salon,” and for whom, as Michael North puts it, “formalist experimentation becomes its own international language and the medium, of paint and letters, an alternate homeland quite separate from any real country or community” (North 15).

42Yet in her articles “Tongues ‘loosened in the melting pot’: The Poets of Others and the Lower East Side” and “Feminist Location and Mina Loy’s ‘Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose,’” Cristanne Miller persuasively argues that Loy, who had by the 1920s lost all contact with her family, was in fact prompted to revisit her mixed background in “Anglo-Mongrels” after the time she spent in New York in 1916-17 and 1921-22. She lived in Greenwich Village, in close proximity to New York’s Lower East Side, which was at the time known as “the Ghetto” due to the immigrant, predominantly Jewish, population living in its tenements. In other words, even though Loy’s satiric narrative of “cross-breeding” is apparently set in a British context, Miller suggests that in fact it stems from Loy’s encounter with American culture, and particularly the multicultural environment of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Indeed, in 1925, the same year that she published the last section of “Anglo-Mongrels,” Loy also published an essay called “Modern Poetry” which provides some important insight in this respect. As several critics have noted, there are important parallels between the two texts, especially as concerns notions of cultural and linguistic hybridity. “Modern Poetry” is one of the very few texts where Loy outlines theoretically the principles of her poetics, and it is therefore all the more striking that in this essay, just after her praise of the genius of Pound’s Cantos, of Joyce’s Ulysses and of the modernist constellation as a whole, she attributes the composite nature of modern poetry to the hybrid nature of American English, enriched with the staggering linguistic and phonetic variety brought about by the waves of immigrants:

It was inevitable that the renaissance of poetry should proceed out of America, where latterly a thousand languages have been born, and each one, for purposes of communication at least, English—English enriched and variegated with the grammatical structure and voice-inflection of many races, in novel alloy with the fundamental time-is-money idiom of the United States. [...]

This composite language is a very living language, it grows as you speak. [...] And on the baser avenues of Manhattan every voice swings to the triple rhythm of its race, its citizenship and its personality.

Out of the welter of this unclassifiable speech, while professors of Harvard and Oxford labored to preserve “God’s English,” the muse of modern literature arose, and her tongue had been loosened in the melting-pot. (LoLB 158-159)

43Loy’s rhetoric hinges on an appropriation of the topos of the melting pot, a metaphor for ethnic and cultural assimilation, popularized by Israel Zangwill’s 1908 play The Melting Pot, which imagined America asGod’s Crucible, the great Melting-Pot where all the races of Europe are melting and reforming... Germans and Frenchmen, Irishmen and Englishmen, Jews and Russians — into the Crucible with you all! God is making the American” (Zangwill 31). Yet, as in her use of the term “mongrel,” her praise of this cultural and linguistic amalgamation is a very bold and striking position for the time. As Lara Vetter explains, “in the first half of the twentieth century, America’s ‘melting pot’—and particularly its center of immigration, New York, ‘the muck of crossroads’—was the obsessive focus of most eugenicists, for they feared that ‘American blood’ was being ‘diluted and discolored by indiscriminate mingling with poorer blood’” (Vetter 47). Modernist writers were often not immune to the prejudice typical of the times: to give but one example, Loy’s laudatory terms are even more striking when compared to those of Henry James who also wrote about the “denizens of the New York ghetto” in The American Scene but perceived them as a “swarming” menace: “There is no swarming like that of Israel when once Israel has got a start, and the scene here bristled, at every step, with the signs and sounds, immitigable, unmistakable, of a Jewry that had burst all bounds” (James 131).

44While it is possible to argue that it was simply easier for Loy to experience cultural difference in more positive terms as an onlooker in New York than it was for her to see her own background and the internalized prejudice of her upbringing in such a positive way, there is a notable shift between the acerbic cross-breeding satire of Anglo-Mongrels and the praise of cultural pluralism and linguistic cross-fertilization in “Modern Poetry.” Loy’s essay creates an ostensible opposition between British English, with its emphasis on linguistic purity and preservation embodied by the figure of the Conservative Rose, and American English, with its emphasis on cultural heterogeneity and immigration. Further down in her praise of cross-cultural linguistic fertilization as a source of artistic creativity, Loy argues that there is a “relationship of expression between the high browest modern poets and an adolescent Slav who has speculated in a wholesale job-lot of mandarines and is trying to sell them in a retail market on First Avenue” (LoLB 159). Significantly, she aligns “the high browest modern poets” not with the “professors of Harvard and Oxford,” but rather with the polyphonic environment of the “baser avenues of Manhattan.” She explicitly suggests that an American modernist idiom has developed directly out of the “welter” of ethnic, cultural, and linguistic hybridity. American multiculturalism and the heteroglossia and phonetic variety associated with immigration emerge as “the muse of modern literature” whose “tongue [is] loosened in the melting-pot.”

45Read alongside each other, Loy’s two texts provide a notable shift from a British imperial model (the “British empire-made pot-pourri” in “Anglo-Mongrels”) to an embrace of a more multicultural and democratic American model associated with the Lower East Side in “Modern Poetry” and described as a “novel alloy.” While both “pot-pourri” and “alloy” denote a mixture or combination of elements and engage with the topos of the melting pot, one notes that “pot-pourri” carries an inherent suggestion of decay while “alloy” punningly inscribes Loy’s name, which is also an Anglicized alloy of her Jewish last name Lowy. Both of these texts point to Loy’s particular kind of cultural, linguistic and aesthetic positioning as a hybrid cosmopolitan subject, which challenges notions of both national identity and linguistic purity. Loy’s embrace of “Americanness” can be seen as an example of what Ramazani calls a “translocal claim of identity” (Ramazani 332) somewhat akin to the one which appears in Gertrude Stein’s famous statement “America is my country and Paris is my home town” (Stein 61). In her article “English as a ‘Second’ Language: Mina Loy’s Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose,” Perloff argues that even though Loy in fact spent little time in the US before her mid-fifities, “what does make [her], like her friend Gertrude Stein, so curiously ‘American’ […] is her invention of an intricately polyglot language—a language that challenges the conventional national idiom of her British (as well as her French or Italian, or, paradoxically, even her American) contemporaries” (Perloff 133). Perloff’s article revolves around the idea that Loy uses English as a “second language,” challenging the constructs of national identity one absorbs with one’s mother tongue. It is not accidental that the eloquent imagery of the tongues recurs in both texts: there is a stark contrast between the image of the Jew who is metaphorically “lashed with tongues” in the “Exodus” section of “Anglo-Mongrels” and the image of the “tongues loosened in the melting pot” in “Modern Poetry.” Above all what is at stake is Loy’s complicated relation to her mother tongue which is both literally and metaphorically understood through the figure of the mother, the Conservative English Rose. American English, and “Americanness” as a whole, provides a different key to identity, while the polyglot discordances of a multicultural and multilingual environment become a liberating source of creativity. Loy’s articulation of a mongrelized subjectivity develops, as DuPlessis suggests, “in a double contact zone, between British and American languages, and between new immigrants and older Americans” (DuPlessis 165). As Lara Vetter puts it: “Loy’s America, with its seeming exploding population of Jews and other immigrants, becomes idealized precisely because it resists national and racial identification, its cosmopolitanism; America’s nationhood, then, is constituted not by its unique and binding characteristics but precisely by its lack of such ethnic uniformity” (Vetter 58). “America,” far from embodying any kind of national unity or “purity,” is precisely the locus of productive cross-fertilization which brings about a liberating proliferation of different varieties of English: “America, where latterly a thousand languages have been born, and each one [...] English—English enriched and variegated with the grammatical structure and voice-inflection of many races.” In other words, “Americanness” does not designate a fixed national identity but becomes a trope for this linguistic alloy, a point of contact or friction in which linguistic “impurity” becomes artistically productive.


46Loy’s work underscores the importance of both location and dislocation. With their emphasis on cross-cultural travel and observation, her writings serve as a chronicle not only of cultural differences but also of the turbulent artistic phenomena of the early 20th-century international avant-garde. Her work is ironically positioned as a Baedeker to both, and in her poems, essays and manifestoes gradually unravels the idea of a transnational modernist artistic community. While Loy was not the only modernist to embrace deracination and exile, her work is perhaps unique in the way it reflects on modernism as a transnational phenomenon. A genealogy of Loy’s cosmopolitan poetic and polyglot style, “Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose” makes explicit Loy’s rejection of nationalism, and her affiliation with a hybrid, cosmopolitan subjectivity. Her embrace of New York, and her acquisition of an American identity are metaphoric above all, and predicated on the idea of a dynamic cross-cultural exchange and hybridization, which emerges as the only solution of the complex questions of identity in modernity.

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1 The word “Baedeker” in the title of Loy’s first poetic collection, published by Robert McAlmon’s Contact Press, was misspelled.

2 The critical perception of Loy as an American modernist has been shaped both by Ezra Pound’s influential 1918 praise of her poetry as having “[t]he arid clarity […] of le tempérament de l’Américaine” (Pound 56-57), and by the first book-length critical study of Loy’s work, Virginia Kouidis’s 1980 Mina Loy: American Modernist Poet. Yet, many other critics, like Perloff, have since qualified this vision, putting the emphasis on Loy’s transnationalism.

3 Café du Néant” is also Loy’s first published poem: it first appeared in International: Review of Two Worlds 8:8 (August 1914) 255, and was then published as part 2 of the triptych “Three Moments in Paris” in Rogue 1:4 (May 1, 1915), 10-11.

4 The poem was first published in Rogue 2:1 (August 15, 1915), 10.

5 The house Loy occupied in Florence was situated in the street Costa San Giorgio in the Oltr’arno area.

6 This poem was first published in The Trend 8:2 (November 1914), 220-22. In The Last Lunar Baedeker it is printed as “Three Italian Pictures,” foregrounding the structural similarity and cross-cultural parallels with “Three Moments in Paris.”

7 This poem was first published in Rogue 1:2 (April 1, 1915), 12.

8 Apart from the poems discussed above, the texts that had a most notable reception in the United States were the manifesto “Aphorisms on Futurism,” first published in Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work in January 1914, and especially the poem Songs to Joannes, which appeared in Others first in July 1915 under the title “Love Songs” and then in April 1917. Loy’s notoriety was also prompted by her love affairs with F. T. Marinetti and Giovanni Papini, as well as more broadly speaking by her ambivalent reaction to the Futurist aesthetics and ideology.

9 The term “New York Dada” was not used until 1921 when the first and last issue of the eponymous magazine edited by Duchamp and Man Ray was published.

10 This change of tone may be explained by the fact that the text was written not in New York but in Mexico where Loy followed Cravan in 1918, another forced exile prompted by his attempt to avoid conscription, which resulted in a life of dire poverty and eventually led to Cravan’s tragic disappearance (he most likely drowned) in a sailboat in which they planned to make their escape from Mexico to Argentina.

11 The two texts were published together in transatlantic review in 1924.

12 The term “auto-mythology” was first used by Roger Conover, Loy’s editor and literary executor, but this notion has also been explored by Alex Goody in her article “Autobiography / Auto-mythology: Mina Loy’s Anglo-Mongrels and the Rose.”

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Yasna BOZHKOVA, « Cross-Cultural Baedeker: Mina Loy’s Cosmopolitan Modernism », E-rea [En ligne], 16.2 | 2019, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2019, consulté le 24 novembre 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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PRAG, PRISMES, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3
Yasna Bozhkova est actuellement Professeure agrégée d’anglais à l’Université Sorbonne Nouvelle – Paris 3. Ses recherchent portent sur le modernisme transatlantique et les avant-gardes littéraires et artistiques, ainsi que sur les relations entre la littérature et les autres arts. Elle est l’auteure d’une thèse sur Mina Loy intitulée Les itinéraires esthétiques de Mina Loy : vers un « idiome météorique ». Elle a publié des articles dans la Revue française d’études américaines, Angles: French Perspectives on the Anglophone World et L’Atelier, entre autres.

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