Dr. Alex E. Blazer

Department of English

Georgia College & State University

Milledgeville, GA 31061




Jorie Graham's Errant Universalism


And then         no sound.

In the dark, cells dividing, cells

dividing further . . .

Something remembers them always and everywhere.

Always and everywhere. How consent to that         honor-

        —Jorie Graham, "Little Requiem"


My paper will probe Jorie Graham's last book of poetry, The Errancy, while exemplifying three poems ("Little Requiem," "Untitled One," and "Untitled Two") as models of a deconstructive ethics turned universalist poetics. As the epigraph detailing cell exhibits, Jorie Graham's poetics has always been one of obtuse abstraction enmeshed in transcendent elegance: the ineffable and indeterminate division of cells becomes a metaphor for how language, people, or ideology, though formed from difference, still engenders dissemination transcendence. This is to say that her poetry conflates a highly detailed and experiential subject matter—the intimacies of an intense relationship or the minutia of a stark memory—with the cosmos. In a phrase, her dissemination of details into the universe engenders a Platonic ideal. However, the tentative, fleeting, and even dissolute nature of her particulars (or her expression of those details) constitutes the paradox of her universalistic tendencies. She writes, desperately, toward the sun not only on but also from a crumbling epistemological/ontological position; she believes the paralyzing theories of postmodernism/ poststructuralism (the friction that is language, the deconstructive potential of all texts; the death of the author, identity as subject-position) but places her faith in the expressible, even universal, soul. The postmodern romantic, the romantic postmodernist. Because of and in spite of these postmodernist realizations, Graham actualizes particular, even idiosyncratic, details to a ontological level that merges them with universal experience, knowing full well that this transcendence is a construct. As the self has been decimated by high theory (cultural, linguistical, philosophical, and psychoanalytical), Graham shores up the fragments of her existence in order to disseminate them, and by extension her-soul, into the universe. Graham transforms the divisions of mind and body, which have been shown in contemporary theory to alienate us, into individual rungs on a ladder, albeit born of a particular cultural construct—romantic/postmodernistic, that rises toward a primary unity that exists beyond conflicting fleshes and contradictory ideologies.


This abstract summarizes my presentation, "Jorie Graham's Errant Universalism,"  Northeastern Modern Language Association, Buffalo, NY, April 7, 2000.