The Typographic Hub

NOTE: This event is now closed

Missing Texts

2nd June 2012

Material Texts Conference, Birkbeck College, University of London
2 June 2012


Missing Texts’ is an international peer-reviewed conference organized by the Material Text Network at Birkbeck, University of London.

The Network is interested in the way in which material form influences meaning - and the range of work within the Net-work is wide. But it seeks, in particular, to encourage reflective, critical, imaginative thinking about the relationship be-tween materiality and literary studies: it believes the infectious enthusiasm for materiality within current academic re-search needs to be complemented with more creative self-reflection.

This peer-reviewed conference invited interdisciplinary approaches to the topic and the organizers encouraged proposals that addressed amongst other things: texts or works that have been erased, over-painted, defaced, cancelled, or de-stroyed; missing works that exist only through photographs or other archival traces; texts or works overlooked for ideo-logical, or other, reasons, in catalogues, inventories, & canons; and the role of missing texts in literary works.


Paris Underground: the missing memory of the city

This paper will consider the words, images, and graphics that can be found below the streets of Paris, which for more than 300 years have been over-painted, defaced, obscured or destroyed until they are transformed anew.

Paris is in the international super-league when it comes to galleries: no tour of the city is complete without a visit to the Louvre. However, Paris has another hidden gallery, which is home to a collection so vast it defies estimating, whose oldest mark was created in the seventeenth century and whose newest work was made only yesterday.

This secret gallery can be found in the complex network of passages that wind their way through 170 miles of abandoned quarries below the French capital. It is forbidden to enter the quarries, however this has not stopped the curious from descending into the underground and for nearly 300 years illicit visitors have marked the quarry walls with a remarkable collection of graphic material: Prussian and German soldiers, Free French, smugglers and secret societies, students and tourists.

It is impossible to reckon how much material there is in the quarries: millions of different marks have been made by an inestimable number of people, for innumerable reasons, on diverse subjects. These frequently personal, often fantastic, and always unique marks testify the individual’s role in the evolution of a metropolis; collectively they form a visual memory and memorial of the city.

The contemplative and very personal works are always extraordinary and frequently bizarre: monsters and beasts, phantoms and ghouls are favourite subjects; futuristic topics recur; and politics, religion and sex inevitably find wall space.

Opinion is divided over the merits of the work. Some see it as an unwelcome presence that is defacing the city’s subterranean heritage. For others, the work brings humanity to an inhospitable place and provides evidence of life in an otherwise fossilised environment. But love or hate the work, it is a testimony of Paris, and takes its place in the history of the quarries.

For more information: