Design and Debris: A Chaotics of Postmodern American Fiction

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Overview

Reading eight major contemporary authors through the lens of chaos theory, Conte offers new and original interpretations of works that have been the subject of much critical debate.

Design and Debris discusses the relationship between order and disorder in the works of John Hawkes, Harry Mathews, John Barth, Gilbert Sorrentino, Robert Coover, Thomas Pynchon, Kathy Acker, and Don DeLillo. In analyzing their work, Joseph Conte brings to bear a unique approach adapted from scientific thought: chaos theory. His chief concern is illuminating those works whose narrative structures locate order hidden in disorder (whose authors Conte terms "proceduralists"), and those whose structures reflect the opposite, disorder emerging from states of order (whose authors Conte calls "disruptors").

Documenting the paradigm shift from modernism, in which artists attempted to impose order on a disordered world, to postmodernism, in which the artist portrays the process of "orderly disorder," Conte shows how the shift has led to postmodern artists' embrace of science in their treatment of complex ideas. Detailing how chaos theory interpenetrates disciplines as varied as economics, politics, biology, and cognitive science, he 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. Thus, Conte concludes, contemporary literature is a literature of flux and flexibility.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"There are very few books on postmodern fiction comparable in quality to this one, fewer still that address the relation between fiction and science, and none at all that do so with such clarity and aplomb."
—Brian McHale, author of Postmodernist Fiction and Constructing Postmodernism
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780817311155
  • Publisher: University of Alabama Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2002
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph M. Conte is Associate Professor of English at SUNY-Buffalo and author of Unending Design: The Forms of Postmodern Poetry.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
1 Being in Uncertainties: Orderly Disorder in Postmodern American Fiction 1
2 Design and Debris: John Hawkes's Travesty, Chaos Theory, and the Swerve 33
3 Discipline and Anarchy: Disrupted Codes in Kathy Acker's Empire of the Senseless 54
4 American Oulipo: Proceduralism in the Novels of Gilbert Sorrentino, Harry Mathews, and John Barth 75
5 Noise and Signal: Information Theory in Don DeLillo's White Noise 112
6 The Perfect Game: Dynamic Equilibrium and the Bifurcation Point in Robert Coover's The Universal Baseball Association 140
7 The Excluded Middle: Complexity in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow 163
8 The Superabundance of Cyberspace: Postmodern Fiction in the Information Age 193
Notes 221
Works Cited 249
Index 261
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