Joseph Acquisto came to UVM in 2003 after receiving the Ph.D. from Yale University. He specializes in nineteenth and twentieth-century French literature, with particular emphasis on lyric poetry and the novel. His research interests include the relations between music and literature, the notion of modernity in intellectual history and the arts, and philosophical approaches to poetry.
His teaching focuses on modern French literature and intermediate and advanced language courses. He frequently teaches interdisciplinary seminars in the Honors College on topics including modernity and modernism in philosophy, critical theory, and the arts.
He is the author of articles on Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Gide, Proust, Cioran, Huysmans, Vigny, and Jaccottet, among others, and co-editor of a double issue of Romance Studies entitled The Cultural Currency of Nineteenth-Century French Poetry.
His first book, French Symbolist Poetry and the Idea of Music (Ashgate, 2006), argues that music, as theorized rather than performed or heard, serves as a privileged mobile space of poetic creation and dialogue for poets from 1850-1930. The second, Crusoes and Other Castaways in Modern French Literature: Solitary Adventures (University of Delaware Press, 2012), demonstrates how the Robinson Crusoe myth becomes a vehicle for exploration of larger questions about the reception of texts, modes of reading, and the relationship between popular and serious literary traditions. An edited volume, Thinking Poetry: Philosophical Approaches to Nineteenth-Century Poetry (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013) explores relations between contemporary continental philosophy and literature.
His book, The Fall Out of Redemption: Writing and Thinking Beyond Salvation in Baudelaire, Cioran, Fondane, Agamben, and Nancy (Bloomsbury, 2015), claims that Baudelaire is a key instigator of a modern tradition of writing that attempts to relinquish the logic of redemption and to think beyond any theological, esthetic, or political salvation.
Proust, Music, and Meaning (2017) articulates how notions of "modern" listening and absolute music inform the creation of literary meaning in Proust and allow us to measure the distance between what the novel says and what it does.
Poetry’s Knowing Ignorance (2019) examines the role of productive ignorance in defining poetry and its relation to subjectivity and community in nineteenth and twentieth-century French writings on poetry.
Living Well with Pessimism in Nineteenth-Century France (2021), traces the esthetic, ethical, and political dimensions of the debate on pessimism in fiction, poetry, and non-fiction.
Reading Baudelaire with Adorno: Dissonance, Subjectivity, Transcendence (2023) reads Baudelairean duality through the lens of dissonance and in dialogue with the esthetic theory of Theodor Adorno, arguing that the figure of the subject as a “dissonant chord” provides a gateway to Baudelaire’s reconfiguration of subjectivity and objectivity in both esthetic and epistemological terms.
His latest book, Thought as Experience: Bataille, Cioran, Rosset, is under contract.