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Culler, Jonathan 1944-

CULLER, Jonathan 1944-

PERSONAL: Born October 1, 1944, in Cleveland, OH; son of A. Dwight (a professor) and Helen (a professor; maiden name, Simpson) Culler; married Veronica Forrest-Thomson, April, 1971 (divorced); married Cynthia Chase (a university teacher), December, 1976. Education: Harvard University, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1966; St. John's College, Oxford, B.Phil., 1968, D.Phil., 1972.

ADDRESSES: Home—P.O. Box 133, Jacksonville, NY 14854. Office—Departments of English and Comparative Literature, Cornell University, 250 Goldwin Smith Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853.

CAREER: Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, fellow of Selwyn College, 1969–74; Oxford University, Oxford, England, lecturer in French and fellow of Brasenose College, 1974–77; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, professor of English and comparative literature, 1977–. Visiting professor at Yale University, 1975.

AWARDS, HONORS: Rhodes scholar, 1966–69; James Russell Lowell Prize from Modern Language Association of America, 1975, for Structuralist Poetics.

WRITINGS:

Flaubert: The Uses of Uncertainty, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1974, revised edition, 1985.

Structuralist Poetics: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1975, new edition, Routledge (New York, NY), 2002.

Saussure, Fontana (Glasgow, Scotland), 1976, published as Ferdinand de Saussure, Penguin (New York, NY), 1977, revised edition published as Saussure, Fontana (London, England), 1985, published as Ferdinand de Saussure, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1986.

The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1981, augmented edition, 2002.

On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism, Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1982.

Roland Barthes, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1982, revised edition, 1986, published in England as Barthes, Fontana Paperbacks (London, England), 1983, revised edition, 1990.

Framing the Sign: Criticism and Its Institutions, University of Oklahoma Press (Norman, OK), 1988.

Baudelaire's Satanic Verses: The Cassal Bequest Lecture, 1994, University of London (London, England), 1994.

Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1997, revised edition, 2000.

Barthes: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2002.

(Editor, with Kevin Lamb) Just Being Difficult?: Academic Writing in the Public Arena, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 2003.

(Editor) Deconstruction: Critical Concepts in Literary and Cultural Studies, Routledge (New York, NY), 2003.

(Editor, with Pheng Cheah) Grounds of Comparison: Around the Work of Benedict Anderson, Routledge (New York, NY), 2003.

Contributor to books, including American Criticism in the Poststructuralist Age, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI), 1981, and Interpretation and Overinterpretation, edited by Stefan Collini, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1992. Member of editorial board of New Literary History, Diacritics, Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, Poetics Today, College English, Comparative Criticism, and Structuralist Review. Contributor to periodicals.

SIDELIGHTS: Jonathan Culler's interest in literary theory was first sparked during his undergraduate career at Harvard University. After his graduation, he attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and wrote his thesis on the relationship between phenomenology and literary criticism in the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. As a university professor, he has "put his lived experience of the differences between the New Criticism of his father's generation and the theoretical interest of his own generation to historic use," claimed an essayist in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. His contributions to the critical and academic debates about critical theory have been of major significance, and he has written important studies and overviews of structuralism, post-structuralism and deconstruction. In his books, he combines "the difficult options of disseminating complex concepts and sometimes arcane terminology to a general readership and … refusing to oversimplify the theoretical arguments under discussion," noted Eugene O'Brien, another contributor to the Dictionary of Literary Biography.

In Culler's first book, Flaubert: The Uses of Uncertainty, he demonstrates the ways in which Gustave Flaubert shattered the expectations that readers coming to his work from the French novelistic tradition might have. "Naive assumptions about thematic coherence and synthesis are also undermined, as are notions about the signifying role of binary oppositions. The result of Culler's reading is to foreground the uncertainty that results within the alert reader of Flaubert, and the dawning of a self-conscious understanding of the many uncertainties and imponderables that come into being as one attempts to construct meaning through reading texts," mused O'Brien. "Hence, Flaubert's texts define a reading process that poses questions and stimulates thought."

Culler's next book, Structuralism: Structuralism, Linguistics, and the Study of Literature, is "important for several reasons," according to O'Brien. It demonstrated the value of linguistic and semilogical paradigms in the study of literature. In the first section, "Structuralism and Linguistic Models," he defines the key terms of structuralism and defines their worth. The second part of the book, "Poetics," examines different genres of literature and "demonstrates the constructedness of the conventions taken for granted by so many critics," stated O'Brien.

In 1976, Culler published Saussure, a concise introduction to Ferdinand de Saussure, whose views on language have had a tremendous impact on almost all schools of literary theory. In 1981, he showed that he had progressed in his literary theories with On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism After Structuralism. This book was a logical sequel to Structuralist Poetics, but was quite different in its method and its conclusions. Pease cautioned that the book presumes a high level of knowledge about literary theory and "probes quite deeply the complex areas of disagreement and conflict that have arisen in the genre of literary theory." He illuminated another literary master with his 1983 study Roland Barthes, which in Pease's words, "demonstrates the protean nature of theoretical readings, and also the near impossibility of attempting to frame Barthes's work within tight theoretical genres."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

BOOKS

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 67: Modern American Critics since 1955, 1988, Volume 246: Twentieth-Century American Cultural Theorists, 2001.

PERIODICALS

American Historical Review, December, 1990, William B. Scott, review of Framing the Sign: Criticism and Its Institutions, p. 1485.

Antioch Review, winter, 1993, Gary Bower, review of Interpretation and Overinterpretation, p. 149.

Chronicle of Higher Education, June 7, 1989, Karen J. Winkler, review of Framing the Sign, p. A8.

Commonweal, December 2, 1983, David Lodge, review of On Deconstruction: Theory and Criticism after Structuralism, p. 661.

Library Journal, April 1, 1983, review of On Deconstruction, p. 744; July, 1983, review of Roland Barthes, p. 1363.

New Statesman, March 21, 1983, Peter Dews, review of On Deconstruction, p. 24.

New York Review of Books, October 27, 1983, John R. Searle, review of On Deconstruction, p. 74; February 2, 1995, Bernard Williams, review of Interpretation and Overinterpretation, p. 33.

Science Fiction Odyssey, fall, 1985, "Interview with Jonathan Culler," pp. 30-35.

Style, winter, 1995, David Gorman, "Jonathan Culler; A Checklist of Writings on Literary Criticism and Theory to 1994," pp. 549-562.

TDR, summer, 1993, Ann Daly, review of Interpretation and Overinterpretation, p. 189.

UCLA French Studies, Volume 6, 1988, Thomas Bertonneau, "An Interview with Jonathan Culler," pp. 1-14.

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