Prof. Jonathan Culler, English and comparative literature, spoke Wednesday about his new book The Theory of the Lyric as part of Cornell University Library’s Chats in the Stacks book talk program.
The Theory of the Lyric, published by the Harvard University Press in June, explores the Western lyric tradition across millennia, continents and cultures. Culler drew upon 40 years of research on a wide range of poets, including Sappho, Baudelaire, Petrarch, William Carlos Williams and even nursery rhymes to help determine how the lyric continues to exist socially and enchant readers today.
“[Culler] challenges us to reexamine what we think we know about the lyric poem and expands our concept of the lyric as a genre,” said Bonna Boettcher, director of Olin and Uris Libraries.
Culler explained that his new publication originated in his curiosity of the strange ways lyric poems often addressed subjects such as time, winds, trees and the dead and how the poems asked its subjects to do something or refrain from doing what they usually do. Culler said that from the Greeks to the moderns, poets often called upon the universe and other subjects they thought to be responsive and issued demands.
“The question is ‘what’s really going on here?’” Culler said. “What do these strange ways of speaking tell us about the investments and ambitions of lyric poetry? How should we approach it?”
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