Joseph M Conte

Welcome to the home page of Joseph M. Conte, Professor of English at the University at Buffalo. Since 1988 I have taught twentieth-century American literature, with an emphasis on poetry and poetics, postmodern fiction, and the theory of postmodernism.

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I received my Ph.D. from Stanford University, where I held a Whiting Fellowship in the Humanities. I was included in the Directory of American Scholars in 2000. My most recent book, Design & Debris: A Chaotics of Postmodern American Fiction, was published by the University of Alabama Press in May, 2002. Design & Debris was awarded the 2000 Elizabeth Agee Prize for best manuscript in American literary studies by the University of Alabama Press. Design & Debris discusses the relationship between order and disorder in the works of Kathy Acker, John Barth, Robert Coover, Don DeLillo, John Hawkes, Harry Mathews,  Thomas Pynchon, and Gilbert Sorrentino.  My approach to their work has been through the scientific discipline of chaos theory.  I distinguish between those novels in which narrative structure locates order hidden in disorder (works whose authors I call "proceduralists") and those in which structure reflects the opposite--disorder emerging from states of order (works whose authors I call "disruptors").

I demonstrate how the paradigm shift from modernism, in which artists attempted to impose order on a disordered world, to postmodernism, in which artists portray the process of "orderly disorder," has led postmodern artists to embrace science in their treatment of complex ideas.  Detailing how chaos theory interpenetrates disciplines as varied as economics, politics, biology, and the cognitive sciences, I suggest a second paradigm shift--from modernist specialization to postmodern pluralism.  In such a pluralistic world, the novel is freed from the purely literary and engages in a greater degree of interactivity--between literature and science and between author and reader.  Contemporary literature, then, is a literature of flux and flexibility.

A new project in poetics, Poetic Textures, explores the relationship of compositional method and poetic texture in modern and postmodern poetry. My study of American modernism adopts an interdisciplinary approach through the visual arts and musical form, with emphasis on constructivism, William Carlos Williams, and the New York avant-garde. Information and links to resources in the visual arts can be found at the course website for The New York Avant-Garde, 1913-1929.

From 1995 to 1998 I edited a series of the Dictionary of Literary Biography on American Poets Since World War II in three volumes, published by Gale Research Press, that contains critically informed and biographically illustrated essays on 78 poets in over 1200 pages. The series addresses four prominent and sometimes antithetical coalitions in contemporary poetry—traditional formalism, Language and performance poetries, the postconfessional lyric, and multicultural poetics. More information on these volumes can be found under Publications. 

For information regarding membership and benefits of the Don DeLillo Society, please see the society website's page for members.

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Department of English  306 Clemens Hall  State University of New York at Buffalo  Buffalo, New York 14260-4610  Vox (716) 645-0696 Fax (716) 645-5980   


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Last Revised on Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Copyright 2009  Joseph M. Conte.  All Rights Reserved.