Mina Loy’s Bloomsday

This follows from an earlier suggestion of mine to celebrate Bloomsday by quoting not only Ulysses, but also the works that Ulysses made possible. One of the more interesting contemporary comments on Ulysses is the poem dedicated to it, in 1922, by the modernist poet and futurist feminist Mina Loy:

The Normal Monster
sings in the Green Sahara

The voice and offal
of the image of God

make Celtic noises
in these lyrical hells

of reasoned musics
reap the uncensored earth

The loquent consciousness
of living things
pours in torrential languages

The elderly colloquists
the Spirit and the Flesh
are out of tongue

The Spirit
is impaled upon the phallus

of Irish fires
lighten the Occident

with Ireland’s wings
flap pandemoniums
of Olympian prose

and satinize
the imperial Rose
of Gaelic perfumes—
the sadistic mother
embraces Erin

of meteoric idiom

The word made flesh
and feeding upon itself
with erudite fangs
The sanguine
introspection of the womb

Don Juan
of Judea
upon a pilgrimage
to the Libido

The press
its lullabies to sanity

Christ capitalized
incontrite usurers of destiny
in hole and corner temples

And hang
The soul’s advertisements
outside the ecclesiast’s Zoo

A gravid day
gutteral gargoyles
upon the Tower of Babel

Empyrean emporium
where the
flashes the giant reflector
on the sub-rosa

Loy catches much that was timely and relevant in Joyce’s novel: its anti-colonial politics (“England / the sadistic mother / embraces Erin”), its impious emphasis on sex and the body (“The Spirit / is impaled upon the phallus”), its medievalism (“gutteral gargoyles / upon the Tower of Babel”), its scatology (“The voice and offal / of the image of God”), its representation of female consciousness (“The sanguine / introspection of the womb”), its gentle satire on modernity and savage satire on religion (“And hang the soul’s advertisements / outside the ecclesiast’s zoo”). Loy, unlike other early readers (Woolf, Jung), seems to appreciate the novel’s surfeit of words and meanings: “The loquent consciousness / of living things / pours in torrential languages.” She contrasts these to official and commodified language: “The press / purring / its lullabies to sanity.” Above all, she grasps the novel’s central religiously irreligious paradox in the phrase “a pilgrimage / to the Libido,” which suggests both Joyce’s modernity (what he shares with Freud, a contemporary also seen, like Bloom, as a “Don Juan / of Judea”) and his traditionalism (what he shares with Chaucer, who also wrote of randy pilgrims). Joyce is not only a Satanic “rejector,” but also a divine “recreator”—one who improves the work of God through play. And a voyeur who turns his reflector (art, considered as the directed shining here and there of a light from above?) on what he spies under the rose. And what does he see? That the average human being is nothing more than “The Normal Monster.” I wonder if any other early reader understood the novel so well.


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