Themes and Meanings
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 429
In “Apology of Genius” Mina Loy draws on the romantic vision of the artist as a uniquely gifted and inspired individual set apart from and incomprehensible to ordinary people. In Western culture the idea is as old as Plato, who regarded poets as visited by a kind of divine madness and therefore unsuitable citizens of a totally rational society. “Apology of Genius” emphasizes the ostracism of the innovative or avant-garde artist through metaphors and images calculated to shock anyone who subscribes to the philistine values that the poem deplores. The initial characterization of artistic genius as a “disease” and artists as “lepers” initiates the series of outré images, but the most startling is the poem’s single simile, which likens the uncomprehending gaze of the ignorant audience’s “fools’ faces” to “buttocks bared” in primitive rituals of mockery. A yoking together of disparate concepts, as in the figure of “sacerdotal clowns,” linking buffoon performers and priests in a single image, may call to mind the extreme conceits of seventeenth century metaphysical poems. However, Mina Loy was more immediately inspired by the Italian futurist poets who were her friends, mentors, and lovers during the years when her poetic style was being formed. Violent joining together of images drawn from the most diverse and contradictory sources is an explicit strategy of futurists, according to the manifestos of Italian futurist F. T. Marinetti. Another fusion of contrary images occurs in the final image of a field of “criminal mystic immortelles,” which links the themes of antisocialism and marginalization (criminal), religious ecstasy (mystic), and organic beauty (immortelles) in a metaphor for works of art.
“Apology of Genius” also belongs to the tradition of writing that defends art and artists; examples go back to Ovid and Sir Philip Sidney. Unlike earlier writers, however, who offered arguments intended to persuade their audiences of the beauty and virtue of poetry, Loy frames this strong, even savage harangue attacking ignorance and misunderstanding as a sermonlike speech that purports to affront the ignorant reader. The poem can evoke highly charged, emotional responses, depending on whether the reader identifies with the poem’s internal audience (the “you” that the speaker castigates) or with the “we” for whom the persona speaks. The choice of “cuirass” is indicative of the highly charged emotional tone of the poem; the image refers to armor protecting the soul of the genius from the casual damages of the ignorant, but a cuirass is specifically armor for the torso, suggesting that protection of the heart and other internal organs, traditional seats of the emotions, is paramount.