Themes and Meanings

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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.

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