On behalf of Phi Beta Kappa Cornell, we would like to invite you to our Distinguished Lecture Series featuring Dr. Jonathan Culler, who will be exploring the role of narrators in his public lecture, “Must Novels Have Narrators and Lyric Poems Speakers?” (Please see attached poster). The lecture will take place online via Zoom on Wednesday, October 28 at 4:30PM EDT. The Zoom information for this presentation can be accessed at http://shorturl.at/azV39
In the 20th century it became an article faith in the academic study of narrative that all narratives must have a narrator, covert if not overt; and in latter part of the century, in the Anglophone world at least, a similar presumption took hold in the study of lyric poetry: every poem should be conceived as uttered by a persona, a fictional speaker other than the poet. Thus pedagogical handbooks declare that the first question to ask of a poem is “Who is speaking and in what situation?” But both of these presumptions are open to question. For so-called third person narratives, do we really need to posit a narrator? What good does that do? And for many poems, doesn’t asking “who speaks?” misdirect our attention, leading us away from the poem toward an imagined fictional situation? What are the analogies between these two rather different cases, where the 20th century sought to focus on invisible, temporally-unlocated speakers? And do the two cases illuminate one another?
Jonathan Culler is Class of 1916 Professor of English and Comparative Literature, Emeritus, at Cornell University. A 1966 graduate of Harvard, he won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, where he took a B. Phil. in comparative literature and a D. Phil. in modern languages. He was Fellow in French at Selwyn College, Cambridge University, then University Lecturer and Fellow in French at Brasenose College, Oxford University, before moving to Cornell in 1977. In 1982 he succeeded M. H. Abrams as Class of 1916 Professor of English.
An expert on French and English literature and literary theory, Culler is the author of Flaubert: The Uses of Uncertainty (1974) and numerous books on contemporary critical theory, French and English: Structuralist Poetics (winner of the MLA's 1976 Lowell Prize); Ferdinand de Saussure (1976); The Pursuit of Signs: Semiotics, Literature, Deconstruction (1981); On Deconstruction (1982); Roland Barthes (1983); Framing the Sign: Criticism and Its Institutions (1988), The Literary in Theory (2006), and Theory of the Lyric (2015). His Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (1997, augmented edition, 2011) has been translated into 30 languages.
Culler has been President of the American Comparative Literature Association and of the Semiotic Society of America, Chair of the Supervising Committee and then Trustee of the English Institute, twice a member of the Executive Council of the Modern Language Association of America, and member of the Board of Directors and subsequently Secretary of the American Council of Learned Societies. He has also served as chair of the New York Council for the Humanities. He has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Philosophical Society, and the British Academy.