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College of Arts and Sciences

Literary scholar Jonathan Culler elected to British Academy

By: Daniel Aloi
Cornell Chronicle
July 31, 2020

Literary scholar Jonathan D. Culler, the Class of 1916 Professor of English and Comparative Literature in the College of Arts and Sciences, has been elected to membership in the British Academy.

Culler is one of 86 new fellows in the humanities and social sciences elected to the prestigious academy.

A specialist in literary and cultural theory and French literature of the 19th century, Culler is a prolific scholar whose most recent book is the acclaimed critical study “Theory of the Lyric” (2015). Many of his works are considered seminal texts and have been translated into at least 26 languages, including Japanese, Russian, Czech, Chinese, Latvian, Arabic, Farsi and Vietnamese.

His published works have had an emphasis on structuralism, theory and criticism; semiotics; and contemporary and comparative literary theory. A Cornell conference in celebration of his 70th birthday was held in 2014.

Born in 1944 in Cleveland, Culler graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in history and literature from Harvard University in 1966. Attending St. John’s College of Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar from 1966-69, he earned a B.Phil. in comparative literature in 1968. He went on to earn a D.Phil. from St. John’s in modern languages in 1972.

After serving as a fellow and director of studies in modern languages at Cambridge University, Culler taught at Oxford and at Yale University before joining the Cornell faculty in 1977. He was named the Class of 1916 Professor in 1982.

At Cornell he has served as chair of the departments of English, Comparative Literature and Romance Studies, and as senior associate dean of Arts and Sciences.

Culler served on the editorial board of the Cornell literary journal Diacritics from 1977-2017, and as its editor from 1993-98 and 2004-05. He has held editorial positions at numerous journals including New Literary History, Poetics Today, Comparative Criticism, Alaska Quarterly Review and Thinking Verse.

His honors include the Modern Language Association of America’s James Russell Lowell Prize in 1975 for his book “Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature” (revised in 2002); a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation fellowship in 1979-80; and a National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship in 1987-88.

He became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2001 and of the American Philosophical Society in 2006, and was the National Humanities Center’s M. H. Abrams Fellow in 2011-12. He also has held fellowships at the Harvard Center for Literary and Cultural Studies, in 1987-88, and the University of California Humanities Research Institute, in 1992.

 His elected leadership roles include secretary of the American Council of Learned Societies (2013-17), and in such organizations as the Semiotic Society of America (president, 1987-88); the American Comparative Literature Association (president, 1999-2001); the New York State Council for the Humanities (board of directors, 2007-16; elected chair, 2016).

His books also include: “Flaubert: The Uses of Uncertainty” (1974); “Ferdinand de Saussure” (1976); “The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction” (1981); “On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism” (1982); “Barthes” (1983) and “Roland Barthes: A Very Short Introduction” (2001); “Framing the Sign: Criticism and Its Institutions” (1988); “Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction” (1997) and “The Literary In Theory” (2006).

He has edited several other volumes, including “The Call of the Phoneme: Puns and the Foundations of Letters” (1987) and the four-volume “Deconstruction: Critical Concepts” (2003).