Remembering the Beginning: “All Electrons Are (Not) Alike” by Rosmarie Waldrop

Abstract: Through a close reading of “All Electrons Are (Not) Alike,” the opening poem of Rosmarie Waldrop’s latest collection of prose poetry, Driven to Abstraction (2010), this paper shows how the poem deconstructs history and memory through criticism of language. Retelling the narration of the conquest of the Americas, “All Electrons Are (Not) Alike” calls into question the beginning of what was to become US American national identity. Putting Waldrop’s poem in the broader context of transnational criticism, I argue that its deconstructive poetic and philosophical use of language contributes to the transnational turn, helping to create the room that transnational criticism needs in order to come up with new, more appropriate ways of structuring literary studies.

“Yet new ages are not brought into being merely through the development of new ideas: the dissolution or overthrowing of old ideas plays an equal part in their emergence.” Moretti 42

In her poetic work, Rosmarie Waldrop frequently uses theories of language and philosophy to deconstruct personal recollections and collective memories that constitute history. Like most poetry, her work is explicitly self-reflexive. Employing poetic language as a tool, Waldrop continuously calls into question the possibility of representing facts and experiences ‘truthfully’ by means of language, emphasizing the limits inherent in the structure of language itself. Her work, like that of “other Language poets[,] testifies to the existence of [...] a new hybrid kind of creative writing, itself halfway between poetry and theory” (Delville 230). Waldrop’s poem “All Electrons Are (Not) Alike” is an example of such a “hybrid kind of creative writing” (Delville 230).

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