The Pleasures of Paper: Tethering Literature to Obsolete Material Forms

  • Alexander Starre


In her short story “Ragtime” from 1938, Anaï s Nin recounts her experiences during a visit at a Parisian ragpickers’ camp. For Nin’s narrator, the urban underworld forms the landscape of a hallucinatory dream. The story renders the ragpickers’ camp as a paratactic heap of discarded things and makeshift habitations, consisting of demolished buildings, old carts, and shacks. When the narrator peers into a shack, she sees rags: “Rags for beds. Rags for chairs. Rags for tables. On the rags, men, women, brats.”1 The ragpicker seems to know neither time nor agency: in a narrative almost bereft of verbs, humans and things merely accumulate on the urban fringes. While the city dwellers assume that their waste will eventually disappear, the scavengers understand that discarded things only migrate elsewhere. Exposed to this unlikely scenario in which detritus is valuable, Nin’s narrator wonders if it is possible at all to permanently dispose of something. With a knowing smile, the ragpicker answers this desperate query with a meditative song that asserts how “nothing is lost but it changes.”2


Material Form Literary Text Outer Canthus Early Modern Period Leisure Class 
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© Babette B. Tischleder and Sarah Wasserman 2015

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  • Alexander Starre

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