Three Moments in Paris

by Mina Loy

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Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 526

Like a number of early twentieth century women poets, ranging in style from Dorothy Parker and Edna St. Vincent Millay to H. D. (Hilda Doolittle) and Laura Riding, Mina Loy was concerned with the nature of romantic attachment between men and women. Why, in an age that seemed otherwise so modern, did men remain dominant in relationships while women continued to be overly dependent upon them? This age-old “battle between the sexes” was no longer limited to husbands and wives; it now included lovers outside marriage as well as writers and artists of both sexes positioning themselves on the intellectual landscape. Loy’s response to this issue was somewhat complicated by her attraction to Futurism, with its underlying strain of misogyny. Although she would later reject this aspect of Futurism, Loy appears to hold both sexes accountable in “Three Moments in Paris.”

An emphasis on vision, through the use of withheld and explicit images, pervades all three poems in the sequence, suggesting that the first step in the transformation from flawed relationships to successful ones is clear perception. The female speaker in “One O’Clock at Night” cannot recognize the differences between men and women until she awakes and has to adapt herself to the male world of intellectual argument. Yet given the poem’s irony regarding the speaker’s knowledge, even these differences are satirized, since the poem is itself an argument against male posturing.

The lover’s eyes in “Café du Néant” are also eyes lined with kohl; their darkness parallels the atmosphere of decay that permeates the café and its patrons. Unable to see themselves clearly, the patrons are doomed to repeat their old patterns of courtship even as modern life, in the form of a cab, moves on outside the café. Both men and women participate in a fin de siècle facade that offers little relevance to male-female relationships in the second decade of the century.

Three sets of eyes appear in “Magasins du Louvre.” The eyes of the dolls are the “virgin eyes of the world,” suggesting not only blindness among the sexually inexperienced but also that there is “nothing” to see “through the human soul.” All humans have is what the physical world provides them. Thus, the next two sets of eyes—those of the cocottes and those of the speaker who observes them—are all too human. Embarrassed by the juxtaposition their presence in the doll shop produces, these human eyes become averted and secretive, mirroring the type of communication that typifies and complicates male-female relationships. At the same time, the mutual recognition that both female innocence and female experience via sexuality are salable provides a Joycean epiphany in the poem: What passes for modern love remains strangely tied to old habits.

“Three Moments in Paris” sketches a world of romance as oblique and difficult to understand as any reality of romance one is likely to encounter. Yet Loy’s poem functions within the best tradition of satire. Clearly embedded in its images of boredom, decay, and avoidance is a voice that insists on a better, though yet undefined, alternative to love as it is generally understood.

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