Cosmopolitanism vs. Globalization


I will present a lecture, “Transversal Cosmopolitanism and the Global Novel,” at the Cosmopolitanism vs. Globalization Symposium, sponsored by the Department of Jewish Thought, the Humanities Institute, and the Baldy Center at the University at Buffalo, on Monday, October 23, in 508 O’Brian Hall.

Cosmopolitanism Conference

Cosmopolitanism Conference


Transversal cosmopolitanism offers resistance to both the hegemony and homogeneity of globalization through the highlighting of incommensurable cultural difference, the fostering of creative appropriation, and an exposure to alternative systems of belief or idioms.

Cosmopolitanism occupies the same pathways of (de)differentiation and (de)territorialization as globalization, but at every point its relation to the hegemonic flow is transversal rather than oppositional, diagonal rather than dialectical. Transversality in Deleuze and Guattari’s “lines of flight” accounts for hybridity, the combination of elements that correspond obliquely on what would otherwise be separate and non-communicating pathways. Transversals are “double captures” with the potential for change that affects both elements in a correspondence.

I read the post-9/11 global novel as an expression of transversal politics, as narratives that expose the différend which resists translation into a single global idiom; and I identify those characters who are cosmopolites, global citizens, who instigate a shared deterritorialization or double capture, or who may be types of an ethnocentric nationalism advanced in the 2016 Presidential election that is in the process of transversal transformation. I examine four novels that traverse in bi-social fashion the fractious relationship between Islam and the west. Amy Waldman’s The Submission (2011) and Laila Halaby’s Once in a Promised Land (2007) confront the profiling, racism, and backlash towards Muslims in America after 9/11. The protagonists of both novels are well-educated professionals and nonobservant Muslims who are forced by political circumstance to reconsider their citizenship, their practices, and their faith. Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) and Dave Eggers’ A Hologram for the King (2012) reconsider the American abroad who is both naïf and ugly in his encounter with the other, innocent and guilty of the civilized savaging of a foreign land. All four protagonists leave the US to become global citizens.

English 301: Criticism (Fall 2017)



Escaping Criticism, Pere Borrell de Caso (1874)

Pere Borrell de Caso, Escaping Criticism (1874)

This version of Criticism will be devoted to the problem of postmodernism. We struggle to find an appropriate definition for an historical period that may have begun, according to architectural theorist Charles Jencks, on July 15, 1972, when the Pruitt-Igoe housing project in St. Louis was demolished, and may have ended with the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. For some, postmodernity cannot be defined, or is so beset with a deep form of irony that no definitive statement about it could possibly apply. We can, however, address certain issues that arise in the debates on postmodernism. Jean-François Lyotard argues that postmodernism is accompanied by incredulity, a new skepticism toward the grand narratives of Western culture, or the Big Lies. Marxist theorist Fredric Jameson suggests that the style of postmodernism is nothing more than the hyperinflation of a consumer economy, or the Big Buys. Charles Jencks contends that all postmodern buildings—and by extension, the images we encounter in our environment—are “double coded,” with aspects of both popular and elite culture. And, of course, there is irony. As Umberto Eco says, in his Postscript to The Name of the Rose, it is no longer possible to say “I love you madly.” It only possible to say, because romance novelist Barbara Cartland has already said it, “As Barbara Cartland says, ‘I love you madly.’”

We will read several essays on postmodernity collected in Jencks, ed. The Post-Modern Reader, 2nd ed. (2011). But since our goal will be to “perform” criticism, we’ll also read three fictions that respond to the question of postmodernity directly or indirectly: Margaret Atwood’s dystopian (and newly relevant) feminist novel, The Handmaid’s Tale (1986); Paul Auster’s reflexive detective novel, City of Glass (1985), and Don DeLillo’s satire of simulacral culture, White Noise (1985). In two midsemester writing assignments and a final critical essay, we will try to ascertain the degree to which the theory and practice of postmodernism are related.

The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be: 1990s Virtual Reality Enters the 21st Century


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Friday, February 17th, 12:00-1:30

306 Clemens Hall

University at Buffalo

sega-vr-headset-1993The night of January 17, 1991, when laser-guided smart bombs and Tomahawk cruise missiles rained down on Baghdad at the start of the first Persian Gulf War, marked a transitionary moment from analogue to digital media. The legacy forms of broadcast TV, print fiction, and 2-D cinematic projection would be gradually replatformed by the new media of cable TV, ebooks, game boxes, and virtual reality.

Howard Rheingold’s influential Virtual Reality (1991) touted the “ten-year rule,” according to which computer enthusiasts by the millions—in 2001—would be interacting directly with virtual worlds through their desktop VR engines. But films of the 1990s, such as Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995) and David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ (1999), and novels such as Pat Cadigan’s Synners (1991) and Richard Powers’s Plowing the Dark (2000), uniformly present VR as the usher to a postmillennial apocalypse. Their dystopias are a means by which the legacy media of print fiction and the cinema “remediate” both the false promises and the disturbing threats of an artificial reality that would supplant them.

Some say that with the technological improvements introduced by Oculus Rift or Google Glass, VR’s moment in media history has finally arrived in the 21st century; some say that for VR and its funny goggles, its future has already passed.

Italian American Studies Association Conference


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I’ll present a paper, “The Ritornati: Migration and Remigration in Sciascia’s ‘The Long Crossing’ and Tucci’s Big Night,” at the Italian American Studies Association Annual Conference, California State University, Long Beach, CA. November 3-5, 2016.


The turmoil regarding migration, immigration and remigration has engulfed both Italy (and the European Union more broadly) as well as the United States. There are two sides to the coin of migration, and historically the two countries have coped with surges of immigration and remigration (the return to one’s homeland) with unfortunately proscriptive strategies. Of the 64,900 migrants, most from sub-Saharan Africa, who sought political asylum in Italy in 2014. 6,944 were forcibly deported and the remainder of these refugees were expected to continue their trek to northern European Union countries rather than remain as “guest workers” in the struggling Italian economy.

The irony of such a massive migration into Italy and the European Union would not be lost on Sicilian writer Leonardo Sciascia, whose story, “The Long Crossing,” concerns Sicilian villagers who are conned by that day’s version of human traffickers into believing they will be deposited (as illegal immigrants) on the shores of New Jersey. Between thirty-five and fifty percent of the mostly single males who ventured to L’America returned to Italy; the ritornati were indeed remigrants. In Stanley Tucci and Campbell Scott’s film, Big Night (1996), chef Primo considers whether to return to work in his uncle’s restaurant in Rome, against his brother Secondo’s conviction that only America provides the opportunity for advancement. Migrants into both the United States and Italy have faced isolationist, xenophobic and anti-immigration political parties such as the Northern League and the Tea Party.

E-Book Publication of Unending Design: The Forms of Postmodern Poetry


I’m very pleased to announce the e-book republication of Unending Design: The Forms of Postmodern Poetry by Cornell University Press in February 2016.

Drawing on the work 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.




Defining a Postmodern Poetics
Seriality and Proceduralism: A Typology of Postmodern Poetry


The Infinite Serial Form

The Unbound and the Uneven: Robert Duncan’s Passages
Against the Calendar: Paul Blackburn’s Journals
One Thing Finding Its Place with Another: Robert Creeley’s Pieces

The Finite Serial Form

The Dark House: Jack Spicer’s Book of Language
The Subway’s Iron Circuit: George Oppen’s Discrete Series
Sounding and Resounding Anew: Louis Zukotsky and Lorine Niedecker


A Predetermined Form

Renovated Form: The Sestinas of John Ashbery and Louis Zukofsky
Canonic Form in Weldon Kees, Robert Creeley, and Louis Zukofsky

A Generative Device

Constant and Variant: Semantic Recurrence in Harry Mathews, William Bronk, and Robert Creeley
Arbitrary Constraints and Aleatory Operations: Harry Mathews and John Cage

A Polemical Conclusion: The Language Poetries and the New Formalism




Unending Design is available across major e-book platforms:

Amazon Kindle

Apple iBooks

Barnes & Noble Nook



English 357: Cyberpunk Literature and Virtuality




Winter 2016, University at Buffalo
Online Course, January 4-22, 2016

During the 1980s and into the 1990s an almost imperceptible and underground transformation in our cultural imagination took place, as our dependence on the analogue media of print, broadcast television and celluloid film slowly gave way to a digital information culture that William Gibson termed “cyberspace” in his novel, Neuromancer (1984). While the public waited for Tim Berners-Lee to fashion a hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) and Marc Andreesen to code the first widely used Web browser, enabling a boringly commercial hypermedia known as the World Wide Web, the legacy media of science fiction and cinema took it upon themselves to imagine a dynamic, immersive, resistant and culturally diverse virtual reality. It’s not exactly what we got by the millennium; or, as Lawrence “Yogi” Berra is reputed to have said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.” But that is the world of Cyberpunk, populated by techno-adept hackers and socially marginalized types, combining the grunge aesthetic of Punk music, the gritty realism of Film Noir, and the postmodern theory of a Simulacral society. In this condensed, three-week Winter session, we will read three classics of the cyberpunk genre: the aforementioned Neuromancer, whose antihero Case “jacks into” the Matrix of cybernetic war and trolls the dystopian Sprawl; Pat Cadigan’s Synners (1991), in which the map of the mind becomes the territory of real space; and Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (1993), featuring Hiro Protagonist, whose digital avatar pursues a virus capable of infecting the cerebral cortex. We will complement these three works of fiction with three popular films in which virtual space overwhelms our Euclidean world: the millennial apocalypse of Kathryn Bigelow’s Strange Days (1995); an alternate world in which reality is a deceptive digital representation in the Wachowskis’s The Matrix (1999); and David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ (1999), in which computer gaming becomes all too real. This course will be conducted online through UB Learns, with digital streaming of the films. Students will be required to participate in weekly graded discussion boards and writing assignments on both novels and films.