The Death of Things: Ephemera and the American Novel

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Product Details

University of Minnesota Press
Publish Date
5.5 X 8.5 X 0.9 inches | 0.95 pounds

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About the Author

Sarah Wasserman is assistant professor of English and material culture studies at the University of Delaware. She is coeditor of Cultures of Obsolescence: History, Materiality, and the Digital Age and cocurator of the "Thing Theory and Literary Studies" colloquy on the Stanford Arcade website.


"Across a wide range of genres and authors, Sarah Wasserman argues that material artifacts--a poster, a dropped cotton bale, a collection of postage stamps, a dubious antique, a roll of blueprints, or a sign in a shop window--provide crucial plot points and also serve to signify emerging cultural forces. Tracking the structural transformations of post-World War II modernity, Wasserman calls attention to the ways these apparently trivial objects embody potent and latent energies. Whole histories reside in the clutter and stuff of small things deployed, she asserts, not as inert objects, but as agents of memory and imagination enacting the tension between what vanishes and what remains."--Johanna Drucker, author of Iliazd: A Meta-Biography of a Modernist

"As in person, so in print: Sarah Wasserman is a witty conversationalist and infallible guide to postwar American literature. Her writers are known for largesse of form, ambition of argument, and fascination for quirky objects, and it is an elective affinity, for that is her own mode. The things we least regard may be the things that most tell us who we are. Such is the wisdom found in this book. Transience, like books about it, makes things glow."--John Durham Peters, Yale University

"Sarah Wasserman adds an important new chapter to our understanding of how narrative prose fiction represents the object world--not just the life of things, but also their dying, their death, and their unsettling, uncanny afterlife. She persuasively shows how integral the object world became to the American novel of the post-war era. Indeed, the great range here--from Doctorow to Marilyn Robinson, Chester Himes to Pynchon and DeLillo--demonstrates the persistence of things as a focus of the American literary imagination, and the insistence of things as a force in the human world, both individual and collective. To apprehend that insistence she offers an expanded definition of ephemera that will be useful to readers across fields, and to anyone trying to understand the dynamics by which objects form and transform human subjects."--Bill Brown, author of Other Things