Poetic meditation and political morality: Jorie Graham's Heideggerian poetics

Tricia Robertson Bogle, Fordham University


This dissertation offers a philosophic and political analysis of the poetry of Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Jorie Graham, exploring her work through the lens of the later essays of philosopher Martin Heidegger. Graham, who studied philosophy for many years before beginning to write poetry, produces poems that often puzzle literature scholars, who frequently find the philosophic issues that animate her poetry outside their realm of expertise. My dissertation aims to fill this void by providing a detailed examination of the Heideggerian underpinnings of Graham's work. I highlight the Heideggerian foundations of Graham's poetry by coupling short explications of Heidegger's essays with close readings of Graham's poems. Reading Graham's poetry together with Heidegger's later essays, as I do in this dissertation, provides an enlightening entree into the work of this most provocative poet. I argue that Graham aligns herself with Heidegger because she shares his belief that modern society is in crisis. Heidegger contends that this crisis is the result of an overwhelming emphasis on calculative reason, scientific investigation and technological progress, which places human beings in a confrontational and alienating relationship with the world around them. Heidegger proposes that the solution to this crisis lies in adopting a more “poetic” or “meditative” approach to the world—one characterized by an attitude of Gelassenheit [“releasement”]. Graham, drawing on the powerful combination of her philosophic and poetic training, takes up Heidegger's project and extends it in surprising ways, testing the limits of poetry's ability to open readers up to intuitive modes of understanding and to preserve a sense of mystery and humanity in a world being suffocated by science. I argue that Graham's work demonstrates both the seductive charms of a Heideggerian poetics, and also the disturbing moral and political implications of a poetry that is grounded in such a world-view. While Graham's early poetry provides alluring reminders of what is lost when we approach our world only as a collection of objects to be mastered, her later work demonstrates that a quest for perfect Gelassenheit can lead a poet to abandon both political judgment and meaningful conversation with readers.

Subject Area

Political science|American literature|Philosophy

Recommended Citation

Bogle, Tricia Robertson, "Poetic meditation and political morality: Jorie Graham's Heideggerian poetics" (2003). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3083157.