“Various Tricks of Type”: The Material Constellations of Paris by Hope Mirrlees (Ruth Clemens, Utrecht University)

Utrecht | 4 February 2020
Modern and Contemporary Literature Research Group Seminar, Utrecht University
When: 4 February, 2020, 15.15-17.00
Where: D 25, Room 105
Please also note the following dates for upcoming seminars: 10 March and 14 April, 15.15-17.00.
This year marks a hundred years since the publication by Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press of Hope Mirrlees’s long poem Paris. With its striking typographical layout and experimental form use of paratexts, the poem presents multiple forms and languages to narrate a walk through the European modernist cityscape. Paris was largely met with derision by critics and the poem – as well as its author – fell into relative obscurity until recently. This paper will contribute to the current drive to recover Mirrlees’s work, and will draw upon research undertaken at the Hope Mirrlees archive in Cambridge. Paris ends with a typographical rendering of the Great Bear constellation – a formal signature found throughout Mirrlees’s oeuvre. Part paratext, part experiment in poetic form, and part cosmic map, this asterism is the nexus for a radical reframing of subjectivity via queer, animal, and celestial bodies. Furthermore, reading this paratext beyond Paris reveals an interconnected attentiveness to form and materiality present throughout Mirrlees’s works, many of which remain out of print to this day. This counters the widely accepted reading of Paris as a one-off material, linguistic, and formal literary experiment. Rather than the gendered readings of a limited writer who ‘dabbled’ in the avant-garde, I show how Mirrlees developed a complex theory of materiality which is an important historical contribution to modernist poetics.
Dr Ruth Clemens is a Lecturer in Literary Studies at Utrecht University. Ruth received her PhD in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Leeds in 2019. Her current work focuses on multilingual literature, modernism, paratexts, and critical posthumanism. Ruth is co-organizing the upcoming OSL workshop on Women in Transnational Modernisms, which will take place in November 2020.