Mina Loy’s work, as critics have verified, tests the models for avant-garde and modernist paradigms that continue to powerfully inform contemporary literary studies. As Sarah Hayden argues, “Loy’s theories of avant-garde artisthood can and should inform our understandings now of the history of the (historical) avant-gardes” (5). The Beinecke Library’s 2017 announcement “that the Mina Loy Papers have been digitized in their entirety” is a tremendous boon for future Loy scholarship: hundreds of letters, manuscripts, drawings, sketches, designs for inventions, portraits, lampshades, and more can now be freely accessed in the Beinecke’s digital library.
The Beinecke’s digitization of the Mina Loy papers is a vital and necessary step toward making her work more accessible, but it is not sufficient on its own. We need to frame the open-access, digital archive with open-access, narrative interpretations and explanations. As William G. Thomas, founding Director of UVA’s Virginia Center for Digital History, argues, the most pressing need in digital humanities today is for digital narratives, which he defines as “multimodal, user-directed, hypertextual” narratives that change with each encounter and “situate evidence, interpretation, and arguments in ways that allow readers to understand the scholarly project” (“Plenary Address”). When narratives change with each encounter, it means that users have been able to navigate the material according to their own interests and questions, and participate in the process of meaning making.
The Chapters assembled here comprise a collection of digital narratives that contextualize and interpret Loy’s work and related artifacts. These narratives seek to enable such “user-directed” inquiry, allowing users to chart their own course through Loy’s archive, interact with the materials, and seek expertise from scholars. The Chapters are organized chronologically and geographically, following Loy’s movements through time and space.
Chapter 1, “Loy’s Italian Baedeker: Mapping a Feminist En Dors Garde,” presents a visual and textual tour of Italian sites significant to Loy, discussing how place — including geographic, visual specificities – informs Loy’s feminist en dehors garde in its early development. Mapping the Italian poems’ geography of gender, the chapter tours locations in Florence, Rome, and retreats such as Vallombrosa, Forte Dei Marmi, and Bagni di Lucca to distinguish how Loy’s writing and artwork of this period realigns our thinking about the historic avant-garde.
Chapter 2, “Courting an Audience: Loy’s Plays,” examines Loy’s early involvement with Futurism, arguing that her encounters with Italian Futurists ignited her interest in the avant-garde artist’s relationship to the audience. It also inspired her to write several experimental plays, through which she explores this relationship, begins to develop her own theory of the avant-garde, and shifts affiliation from Italian Futurism to New York Dada.
Chapter 3, “Pas de Deux: Mina Loy & Alfred Stieglitz Dance Dada,” focuses on the appearance of both artists in the little magazine Blind Man in order to understand Loy’s transition from Italian Futurism to New York Dada. The chapter argues that this shift was motivated, in part, by Loy’s critique of the Futurist’s combative relationship to their audiences and her own search for a more amiable, even amorous relationship to people who might understand and appreciate her unconventional work.
Chapter 4, “Surreal Scene: Paris, 1923-1936,” discusses Loy’s relationship to the Surrealist movement in Paris and her role in Surrealism’s trans-Atlantic crossing, including her work as Paris agent for the Julien Levy Gallery. It addresses how her poetry, fiction, visual art, objects and designs from the 1920s and early 30s respond to and transform Surrealist themes, ideas, and techniques. Contextualizing Loy’s work through analysis of the Surrealist movement’s treatment and representation of women, gender, and sexuality, the chapter explores connections between Loy’s work and the art and writing of other women from this era who engaged Surrealism from the movement’s margins.Chapter 5, “Surrealism on the Move: New York, 1937-1953” considers transformations in Loy’s relationship to Dada and Surrealism when she moved to New York City for the second time. This chapter does not approach Loy’s late work as an afterthought to or falling off from an earlier European “avant-garde” moment but as an active working through of ideas and techniques she had absorbed from Dada and Surrealism, which she would continue to critique and transform during her years in New York. Her own struggles with aging and poverty coupled with her experience living near the Bowery and friendship with “American Surrealist” Joseph Cornell would inflect her poetry and visual art of this time with ethical vigor and spiritual reflection. Considering Loy’s importance to the history of Dada and Surrealism in the U.S. (which lacked an organized Surrealist movement) clarifies the usefulness of the concept of the “en dehors garde.”
Like a traditional print volume of scholarly essays, the Chapters are written and peer reviewed by experts in the field of Loy studies to ensure quality and accuracy. We have partnered with ModNets, submitting the project to their vetting process for double-blind peer review. We have also worked with the developers of the web annotation tool, Hypothes.is, asking our advisory board to test this tool as a means of offering public commentary on the platform. Although there are professional risks involved in working outside traditional vetting processes for print scholarly publication, the principal faculty architects of this project have tenure at our respective institutions, so we can afford to risk testing alternative processes for assessing the quality and value of digital scholarship in ways that might eventually benefit untenured scholars and help transform institutional standards for hiring, tenure, and promotion.
Unlike a print book of scholarly essays, our Chapters are not self-contained in a single, bound volume, but exist within the framework of a larger project to reimagine humanities scholarship for the digital age, a project co-created by students, librarians, programmers, designers, instructional technologists, and you, our readers.