Design and Debris: A Chaotics of Postmodern American Fiction. Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 2002, xi, 272 pp. 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. Conte's approach to their work has been through the scientific discipline of chaos theory. He distinguishes between those novels in which narrative structure locates order hidden in disorder (works whose authors he calls "proceduralists") and those in which structure reflects the opposite--disorder emerging from states of order (works whose authors he calls "disruptors").
Conte demonstrates 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, Conte suggests 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.
Unending Design: The Forms of Postmodern Poetry. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991, xii, 314 pp. Nominated for the Poetry Society of Americas Melville Cane Award, 1993.
Drawing on the work of a wide range of contemporary American poets from Ashbery to Zukofsky, Joseph M. Conte elaborates an innovative typology of postmodern poetic forms. In Conte's view, looking at recent poetry in terms of the complementary methods of seriality and proceduralism offers a rewarding alternative to the familiar analytic dichotomy of "open" and "closed" forms.
Unending Design examines general issues of contemporary poetics--how to categorize versions of the postmodern "long" poem, or to address the multiple voices of the lyric, for example--as well as the smallest details of poetic structure. Conte reads closely the works of such canonical figures as Creeley, Ashbery, and Duncan, semi-canonical writers such as Jack Spicer, Louis Zukofsky, and Lorine Niedecker, and previously overlooked poets including Harry Mathews, Paul Blackburn, William Bronk, and Weldon Kees. He describes the serial form adopted by Creeley, George Oppen, and Jack Spicer, among others, as combinative and provisional, incorporating random events without succumbing to formlessness. Then he discusses the procedural form--developed by poets including Ashbery and Mathews, and the composer John Cage--in which arbitrary constraints generate the content, rather than merely contain it. Among the characteristics of proceduralism are the varation of recurrent lexical or semantic elements and the free play of poetic artifice. Conte employs the semiotic approaches of Barthes, Eco, and Riffaterre to define these new compositional methods and to interpret the meaning of form in contemporary poetry.
Unending Design provides both an overview of postmodern aesthetics and a penetrating analysis of the distinct forms of contemporary poetry. It will be welcomed by anyone interested in American poetry in particular and postmodernism more generally.
Editor, Dictionary of Literary Biography 193: American Poets Since World War II (Sixth Series). Detroit: Gale Research Press, 1998, xxiii, 451 pp.
Editor, Dictionary of Literary Biography 169: American Poets Since World War II (Fifth Series). Detroit: Gale Research Press, 1996, xviii, 404 pp.
Editor, Dictionary of Literary Biography 165: American Poets Since World War II (Fourth Series). Detroit: Gale Research Press, 1996, xviii, 377 pp.
From 1995 to 1998 I edited a three-volume
series of the Dictionary of Literary
Biography on American Poets Since World War II that contains critically
informed and biographically illustrated essays on a total of 78 poets in over
1200 pages. As Editor of the series
I intended to address four prominent and sometimes antithetical coalitions in
contemporary poetry—traditional formalism, Language and performance poetries,
the postconfessional lyric, and multicultural poetics.
In my critical introduction to the series, I provide an historical
overview that treats three generations of postmodern poets:
those born shortly after the turn of the century and whose work appears
under the shadow of high modernist achievements; a postwar generation of poets
who are included among the Black Mountain, Beat, confessional, and New York
schools; and a third generation of contemporary poets, born after the second
World War, whose practice is resistant to both the politics and the poetics of
modernism. Widely held in research
and major public libraries, these volumes are now available online through Gale Literary Databases.
Selected Essays and Reviews
Last Revised on Wednesday, March 24, 2010
Copyright © 2010 Joseph M. Conte. All rights reserved.