Memory and Matter: Anne Clifford’s ‘Life of me.’

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Karen Barad has written, “Memory – the pattern of sedimented enfoldings of iterative intra-activity – is written into the fabric of the world. The world ‘holds’ the memory of all traces; or rather, the world is its memory.” This chapter explores the technologies of creating and preserving memory in Anne Clifford’s manuscript autobiography, “The Life of me.” Set in the context of Clifford’s archive of commemorative works and artificats, the “Life” invites us to explore the interface between materiality—of bodies, things, and places—and textuality in the early modern arts of memory. Crafting its subject discursively, “The Life of me” attends equally to the materiality of Clifford’s phenomenal experience. If this is a book of memory, Clifford’s “Life” is also a book of the body—one that conceives of remembrance as a bodily function co-constituted with the materialities of time and place.

Clifford’s “Life” was composed for inclusion in her Great Books of Record, a magisterial dynastic history compiled to commemorate her inheritance of the Clifford lands after nearly half a century of legal struggle. Read alongside her Great Picture, commissioned at the same moment and with the same purpose, both autobiographical works enliven memory in the intra-actions and exchanges of creatures across porous temporal borders. In the Great Picture, Clifford as subject materializes in plural; doubly represented in two environments, co-existing spatially in a pliable temporality. In the panel between these two figures, bodies congregate across the porous threshold between life and death, between presence and absence, where Clifford herself is included, as the inscription tells us, emergent in her mother’s body and already immersed, as Merleau-Ponty would say, in “the flesh of the world.” The Great Picture offers a visual template for the material-discursive work of memory in Clifford’s “Life. Both works represent the webs of connection that tie the body, oriented to the past and the future, to the agencies of a material world, to the materializations enfolded in its fabric.

In approaching Clifford’s works from this vantage point, the chapter both takes account of the discursive conventions at play in crafting memory, and attends to the intertwining of discourse and matter in these productions. As such, the chapter interrogates the usefulness and relevance of new materialist theory for pre-modern texts and artifacts. This theoretical strand of posthumanism imagines body and place as continuous and co-created, and reimagines the individual subject no longer as occupying a bounded, self-enclosed body distinct from a world beyond. Rather than residing in a stable corporeal rind, individuals, like environments, are permeable, intertwined and emergent. I suggest that this view of the body’s immersion in the forces and agency exerted by matter aligns with the early modern conception of the humoral body in life, and the dissolution and resurrection of the flesh in death: a fulcrum at which Clifford’s arts of memory reside. Her manuscript and artifacts are the “sedimented enfoldings” of her entanglement in the world.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Women's Writing in English, 1540-1700
EditorsDanielle Clarke, Elizabeth Scott-Baumann, Sarah C. E. Ross
Place of PublicationOxford and New York
PublisherOxford University Press (OUP)
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780191892653
ISBN (Print)9780198860631
Publication statusPublished - 19 Dec 2022


  • Anne Clifford, manuscripts, memorial artifacts, new materialism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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