Language(s) as liminal space in Mirrlees’s Paris

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Paris reflects Mirrlees’s own competence as a linguist: it is marked by an integrated and complex form of multilingualism, manipulating the differences between English and French, but also drawing on the full resources of the French language. On the page, French is untranslated, and italicised or capitalised words remind the target Anglophone audience of the ‘foreignness’ of the subject-matter. The reader is relegated to a state of at least partial ‘not knowing’, and this in turn directs our attention to the physical play of the words. This refusal to domesticate the foreign source text (Paris) for the Anglophone reader is significant. However, it masks another unsettling, subversive and potentially hopeful function of French that we find in the poem: Paris slips at times into a much more liminal form of multilingualism, an oscillation between English and French that unsettles the reader, directing us to the connections and complementarities of languages as well as their fragmentation, and eliding the boundaries between national languages. As such, the language of the poem reflects Mirrlees notion of the ‘holophrase’ which, as Briggs has noted, punningly plays 7not only on ‘hollow phrase’, but on the idea, following Jane Harrison, of the ‘wholeness’ of forms of linguistic expression.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - Jun 2022
EventHopeful Modernisms: the conference of the British Association for Modernist Studies - University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Jun 202225 Jun 2022

Academic conference

Academic conferenceHopeful Modernisms
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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