English 694:  Maximalism and Minimalism in Postmodern Fiction

Professor Joseph Conte

Fall 1996


Most likely in defiance of the conventional market wisdom that calls for an accessible language of personal expression, funneled through characters of recognizable purview, and presented at a moderate length that enhances sales, postmodern fiction has tended toward the margins. It's too big, too ornate, too complex. It's too small, too recondite, too obscure. It says too much to be absorbed while in the airport check-in lounge; it explains too little to be read without paying attention to each and every sentence. It makes broad millennial claims; it makes bitingly sarcastic comments in an aside.

We'll examine the relations of maximalism and minimalism, systems and distributions, the encyclopedic work and the coterie novel. In organizing this course, I've decided to devote two-week sessions to four maximalist novels: Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, John Barth's Letters, Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual, and Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum.

We'll also read several shorter works, interspersed among the world-makers, that present the sparking and fritzing of the cross-wired information age: William Gibson's Neuromancer, Don DeLillo's White Noise, Donald Barthelme's Snow White, Kathy Acker's My Mother, Demonology, and Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association.

Needless to say, a good dose of critical methodology and theorizing from the likes of N. Katherine Hayles, F. Lyotard, David Porush, Tom LeClair, and Brian McHale among others will be administered.


Last Revised on Tuesday, January 11, 2000.
Copyright 2000 Joseph M. Conte. All Rights Reserved.