Essay on Poetic Theory

Aphorisms on Futurism (1914)

by Mina Loy

Introduction

Painter and poet Mina Loy has been associated with most of the literary and artistic movements of the early 20th century: dadaism, surrealism, futurism, feminism, modernism and post-modernism. While she aligned herself more closely with the visual arts, her reputation was primarily built on her writing.

She grew up in Munich, London, and Paris, and in 1907 moved to Florence, where she grew close to Filippo Marinetti, leader of the futurist movement there. The futurists, fueled by an impatience with a society they perceived as overly loyal to history, and as a result insufficiently active and innovative, hoped to apply recent advances in industry, machinery, and war to the literary and artistic communities. Impatient for the future, they advocated speed, aggression, industry, and struggle. The movement, which ran from 1909-1944, was marked by a series of manifestos published by its members.

Loy, a writer known for her frank embrace of female sexuality and feminist politics, joined the futurist movement in 1913, but she quickly encountered conflict regarding the movement’s perception of women. Her manifesto addresses those conflicts within a context of support for the movement’s forward-looking vision. Loy sees the female body as a site of resistance, and advocates affirmation and growth rather than destruction.

By 1915 Loy had left the movement, due to the misogyny and fascism she encountered there. Loy’s brief time with the futurists marks the greatest creative output of her career.  “Aphorisms on Futurism” was first published in photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s magazine Camera Work in January of 1914.

DIE in the Past
Live in the Future.

THE velocity of velocities arrives in starting.

IN pressing the material to derive its essence, matter becomes deformed.

AND form hurtling against itself is thrown beyond the synopsis of vision.

THE straight line and the circle are the parents of design, form the basis of art; there is no limit to their coherent variability.

LOVE the hideous in order to find the sublime core of it.

OPEN your arms to the dilapidated; rehabilitate them.

YOU prefer to observe the past on which your eyes are already opened.

BUT the Future is only dark from outside.
Leap
into it—and it EXPLODES with Light.

FORGET that you live in houses, that you may live in yourself—

FOR the smallest people live in the greatest houses.

BUT the smallest person, potentially, is as great as the Universe.

WHAT can you know of expansion, who limit yourselves to compromise?

HITHERTO the great man has achieved greatness by keeping the people small.

BUT in the Future, by inspiring the people to expand to their fullest capacity, the great man proportionately must be tremendous—a God.

LOVE of others is the appreciation of oneself.

MAY your egotism be so gigantic that you comprise mankind in your self-sympathy.

THE Future is limitless—the past a trail of insidious reactions.

LIFE is only limited by our prejudices. Destroy them, and you cease to be at the mercy of yourself.

TIME is the dispersion of intensiveness.

THE Futurist can live a thousand years in one poem.

HE can compress every aesthetic principle in one line.

THE mind is a magician bound by assimilations; let him loose and the smallest idea conceived in freedom will suffice to negate the wisdom of all forefathers.

LOOKING on the past you arrive at “Yes,” but before you can act upon it you have already arrived at “No.”

THE Futurist must leap from affirmative to affirmative, ignoring intermittent negations—must spring from stepping-stone to stone of creative exploration; without slipping back into the turbid stream of accepted facts.

THERE are no excrescences on the absolute, to which man may pin his faith.

TODAY is the crisis in consciousness.

CONSCIOUSNESS cannot spontaneously accept or reject new forms, as offered by creative genius; it is the new form, for however great a period of time it may remain a mere irritant—that molds consciousness to the necessary amplitude for holding it.

CONSCIOUSNESS has no climax.

Mina Loy, "Aphorisms on Futurism" from The Last Lunar Baedeker, published by Jargon Press. Copyright © 1982 by Mina Loy. Reprinted by permission of The Estate of Mina Loy.
Originally Published: October 13, 2009
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 Mina  Loy

Biography

Although born in England, Mina Loy worked as a poet and visual artist in Paris, Florence, and New York City, where her beauty and outlandish behavior shone at the center of several avant-garde circles. The eccentric vocabulary and syntax of Loy’s free-verse poems and their sardonic treatment of love can puzzle and offend, but no reader can question the work’s originality nor the poet’s fierce intelligence.

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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