Tracing a trajectory of literary and philosophical texts from the ancient atomists to the late twentieth century, this essay explores the surprisingly consistent role that dust has played in the conceptualization of language. In Lucretius, Sophocles, and the New Testament, dust is as much a standard of representation as it is one object of representation among others. In the most extreme case, it becomes the defining medium of inscription. In Paul Celan’s work, the attempt to articulate a rhetoric of negation that will put language on something other than a dusty footing comes perilously close to demonstrating that all verse unfolds under the aegis of the word dust. The essay closes by suggesting that Jorie Graham’s poetry offers a new perspective on what it would mean to read the surface of a text, particularly when that text is dusty.

You do not currently have access to this content.