BECOMING MODERN by Carolyn Burke


The Life of Mina Loy
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 An impressively detailed but cold and disagreeable biography of the neglected modernist poet and visual artist Mina Loy. Born Mina Lowy into a half-Jewish, half-neurotic London household in 1882, the renamed Loy embarked on her artistically and geographically wide-ranging experience of life, which she chronicled in writings that Burke (Literature/Univ. of California, Santa Cruz) has used as the basis for this biography. Loy's story is that of a woman deviating from confining social norms to seek out lovers and husbands and mingle with like-minded artistes in the big-name movements that fermented early in this century: Jugendstil in Munich, Futurism in Florence (Loy had an affair with the movement's leader, Marinetti), Dadaism in Paris and New York. Beginning as a painter, Loy moved on to vers libre and artistic- political manifesto, producing works with names like ``Psycho- Democracy'' and Lunar Baedecker. The weird love of her life was ``poet-boxer'' Arthur Cravan, who fathered her youngest child and then disappeared in a boat off the coast of Mexico. Burke, for all her obviously painstaking research, fails to convey the feel of her subject's personality. Loy comes off as a creature who might just as easily have been invented, pieced together from scraps of her contemporaries for whom we do have a feel: Gertrude Stein, Mabel Dodge, Marcel Duchamp, et al. While we might hail Loy as an early, arty feminist, this image is manipulated so tendentiously by Burke that it is tempting to view her instead as a self-mythologizing groupie-dilettante. It is only late in the book, through descriptions of Loy's attempts to relieve her grinding poverty, that she comes alive in her evoked ingenuity. Readers fascinated by the period of artistic hoppingness in Europe and New York between the wars will be glad of this book; otherwise, better to wait for Farrar Straus's promised (but still unscheduled) reissue of Loy's poetry before committing to read about her. (b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-374-10964-8
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1995


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