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Groups, Coteries, Circles and Guilds

Modernist Aesthetics and the Utopian Lure of Community

Edited By Laura Scuriatti

In the first half of the twentieth century, artists, intellectuals, writers, thinkers and patrons in Europe and the United States created a large number of artistic communities, circles, groups and movements with the aim of providing alternatives to the increasingly conflictual political and intellectual climate; the works and artistic practices of many of these groups were marked by an ethos of collaboration, based on a collective understanding of artistic production, and on the nurturing and exercise of sociability and conviviality. Collaboration, sociability, friendship and collective artistic efforts represented the utopian aspects of the radical experiments carried out by avant-garde and modernist artists; they were also the counterparts of the period’s obsession with the notion of genius and the cult of the artist. This book offers studies of under-researched (and often consciously provincial) avant-garde and modernist groups and authors. Their progressive aims are here read as particular forms of utopia based on the ethics and aesthetics of community.

The essays in this volume analyse the significance (and failures) of literary coteries as spaces of aesthetic and political freedom. They explore the internationalist and interdisciplinary practices of the Porza Group, the abstrakten hannover and the anthroposophical group Aenigma; the utopian efforts of the artists’ communities at Dornach (Switzerland) and Farley Farm, in England; the political and aesthetic implications of collaborative practices of cultural mediation, criticism and translation within the Bloomsbury group, the «Young American Critics», and of single individuals in relation to networks and avant-garde coteries, such as Mina Loy, the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Djuna Barnes. The volume offers an evaluation of the roots and ethos of sociability in the Enlightenment, as the basis of modernist utopias of community; it also reflects on the problematic notion of individual authorship within artistic groups, as in the case of the early-modernist Finnish author Algot Untola, who created around forty fictitious author-names.

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3 Together, on Her Own: A Survey of Mina Loy’s Textual Communities (Laura Scuriatti)


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3 Together, on Her Own: A Survey of Mina Loy’s Textual Communities


Mina Loy (1882–1966) was loosely associated with avant-garde groups and modernist coteries (Futurism, Heterodoxy, New York Dada, Surrealism, the expatriate communities in Florence and Paris) but she never became an official member of any group; while Loy defended, satirized, interpreted, celebrated and rewrote the work of modernist groups and authors, thus creating a virtual community centred on her own persona, her writings engaged critically with various notions of artistic and political communities. Drawing on the impact of Georg Simmel’s theory of sociability on modernism, and on Ferdinand Tönnies’s distinction between society (Gesellschaft) and community (Gemeinschaft), this chapter explores a few of Loy’s lesser known texts, such as ‘Psycho-Democracy’, ‘The Pamperers’, ‘Gloria Gammage’ and ‘Rosa’, showing the complexity and the significance of the utopian notions of community, sociability and artistic collaboration for Loy’s own aesthetics and politics.

Mina Loy (1882–1966) is perhaps an unlikely candidate for inclusion in a volume on the avant-garde and modernist fascination with the utopian aspects of experiments in communal artistic production. Although Loy, British born, participated in and was linked to a number of avant-garde groups, such as the Futurists in Florence, New York Dada and, indirectly, the feminist association Heterodoxy, as well as circles and salons – Mabel Dodge’s in Florence and New York, Natalie Barney’s circle in Paris, the Arensbergs’ salon in New York – she never...

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