Just a Thought

Author: Nguyen, Isabel

University of Notre Dame

Joseph Rosenberg is a literary critic and cultural historian specializing in modernism and its aftermath. His first upcoming book, “Wastepaper Modernism: Twentieth- Century Fiction and the Ruins of Print,” examines the recurrent images of destroyed and ravaged print that haunt the modern novel. “Wastepaper Modernism” shows that these images are vital to our understanding of modern fiction, disclosing an anxiety about textual matter that lurks behind the desire for radically different modes of communication.

What is it that you are researching and attempting to understand?

I work on literary modernism, so that’s experimental and avant-garde works from beginning of the twentieth century to roughly the 1950s. Specifically, I just finished a book called “Wastepaper Modernism,” which is about how a number of modernist writers imagined the death of paper. We tend to think of ‘the death of paper’ as being a very contemporary anxiety — something that came about with the internet and the Kindle, when books seem to really be in danger. What I show in my project is in fact it’s a really old worry, stretching back to things like the invention of the radio and the cinema. I suggest that a lot of the experimental techniques that you find in “Ulysses” or in Virginia Woolf’s work are actually a reaction to the changes in media that were happening at the beginning of the century.


College is such a formative time in our lives. What are about some formative moments during your college experience or works that you read that influenced your thoughts?

When I was applying to college, I had to make the decision to go to a university or to a music school. I decided to visit one of the universities I was thinking about in Canada. I went to a lecture on T.S. Eliot’s “Waste Land,” which I had never heard of before. I was so intrigued and so amazed — not just by this amazing poem, but also by the things the students were saying, and the lecture that was given. My God, this is heaven, this is what I want to do. That being said, I don’t think college is half as formative as people think it is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s totally important. But one thing I noticed when I was PLS’s undergraduate advisor was that because everyone thinks of college as such a formative experience, it makes students really anxious. They think that choosing their major is choosing their life. It’s not formative in such a direct way. Often, it’s the little things, the strange impressions, that actually form you.