The Institute is pleased to co-sponsor with the Program in Liberal Studies the launch of a new book by Joseph Elkanah Rosenberg, Assistant Professor, Program of Liberal Studies. The book is Wastepaper Modernism: Twentieth-Century Fiction and the Ruins of Print (Oxford University Press, 2021).
Maud Ellmann, Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, will deliver remarks.
Professor Rosenberg is a literary critic specializing in twentieth-century British and Irish fiction. His research focuses on modernism and its aftermath, with a particular interest in the relationship between literary style and the book's own material form.
Wastepaper Modernism shows that the ever more avid interest writers took in new media like cinema obliged them to reflect on the materiality of the paper on which their own work (and so much else) was printed. From Henry James’s fascination with burnt manuscripts to destroyed books in the fiction of the Blitz, from junk mail in the work of Elizabeth Bowen to bureaucratic paperwork in Vladimir Nabokov, modernist fiction is littered with images of tattered and useless paper. Wastepaper Modernism argues that these images disclose an anxiety about textual matter that lurks behind the desire for radically different modes of communication.
Having its roots in the late nineteenth century, but finding its fullest expression in the wake of the high-modernist experimentation with novelistic form, “wastepaper modernism” arises when fiction imagines its own processes of transmission and representation breaking down. When the descriptive capabilities of the novel exhaust themselves, the wastepaper modernists picture instead the physical decay of the book’s own primary matter. In bringing this imagination of fragility and decay to light, Wastepaper Modernism uncovers an apprehension about the status of literature as a medium that long precedes current concerns about the death of the book.
In addition to a chapter on the Anglo-Irish novelist Elizabeth Bowen, Wastepaper Modernism delves heavily into Joyce, particularly Finnegans Wake.
Professor Rosenberg's recent work has appeared in venues such as Modernism/Modernity, Critical Quarterly, and The Henry James Review. He is currently working on a new project, provisionally titled Undone: Late Modernism and the Aesthetics of Failure, that examines modernism’s decline from a revolutionary impulse into a sigh of resignation. In it, he argues that "late modernism" is marked by a peculiar veneration of the deflationary, the malfunctioning, and the deliberately incomplete as aesthetic modes. Commentary will include particular attention to Bowen and Samuel Beckett.