Sarah Wasserman

Wolf Humanities Center Regional Fellow

20182019 Forum on Stuff

Sarah Wasserman

Assitant Professor of English, University of Delaware

Sarah Wasserman is assistant professor of English and Material Culture Studies at the University of Delaware.  She specializes in American literature from 1900 to today, with an emphasis on post-1945 contemporary fiction. She is currently completing a book entitled The Death of Things, which considers representations of disappearing objects in post-war American novels. Her second book project, Digital Romance, charts the effects of digitality on ideas of love in contemporary American and Anglophone fiction. She is the co-editor of  Cultures of Obsolescence: History, Materiality, and the Digital Age (2015) and co-curator of the Stanford Arcade Colloquy, “Thing Theory and Literary Studies.” Her work has appeared in Contemporary Literature, Literature Compass, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Journal of American Studies. Before joining the department at the University of Delaware, Sarah taught in Germany at the JFK Institute for North American Studies at the Free University Berlin. 

The Death of Things: Ephemera in America

The Death of Things is the first comprehensive study to address the role that ephemera—objects marked by their imminent disappearance or destruction—play in 20th century fiction. Planned obsolescence, technological change, and the shift from print to digital media have made ephemera ever more meaningful. The disappearing object, so definitive of post-industrial culture, is central in literature seeking to represent the experience of perpetual change and loss. Attention to these objects animates my project, which takes its cue from recent work done under the rubric of “thing theory.” If objects have lives of their own, what happens when they die? From the paper-mâché palaces of World’s Fairs to the abraded edges of postage stamps, disappearing objects intrigue writers like Don DeLillo, Ralph Ellison, and Philip Roth, elegists of the waning promises of American modernity. In my account, post-45 U.S. fiction responds to the vanishing object-world in ways that are both melancholic and transformative. Bringing material culture studies into dialogue with psychoanalytic theory, I argue that literary portraits of our vanishing stuff never allow us to let go of or to fully possess our belongings.