Cover: Theory of the Lyric, from Harvard University PressCover: Theory of the Lyric in PAPERBACK

Theory of the Lyric

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$27.00 • £21.95 • €24.50

ISBN 9780674979703

Publication Date: 11/06/2017


416 pages

6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches

2 line illustrations


How interesting, how convincing, and how disturbing to received ideas are the features to which Culler draws our attention? How useful or how provocative—for poetry, for thought, and for Theory—are his speculations on the forms and conditions of poetic meaning to which these observations lead? Theory of the Lyric brings Culler’s own earlier, more scattered interventions together with an eclectic selection from others’ work in service to what he identifies as a dominant need of the critical and pedagogical present: turning readers’ attention to lyric poems as verbal events, not fictions of impersonated speech. His fine, nuanced readings of particular poems and kinds of poems are crucial to his arguments. His observations on the workings of aspects of lyric across multiple different structures are the real strength of the book. It is a work of practical criticism that opens speculative vistas for poetics but always returns to poems.—Elizabeth Helsinger, Critical Inquiry

Culler is a veteran of the theory wars of the 1970s and 1980s, when he wrote what remain the clearest sympathetic explications of structuralism and post-structuralism. He has an exceptional ability to see the conceptual shape beneath a critical discourse, even if that shape is clouded by jokes or whiffs of bullshit, and to explain it in plain terms. Theory of the Lyric displays those skills. It begins with compressed but beautifully clear histories of both lyric and thinking about lyric; and, like other indispensable studies of this area such as Barbara Herrnstein Smith’s Poetic Closure, it quotes in full a range of particularly well-chosen lyric poems, from Sappho and Goethe to A.A. Milne and A.R. Ammons, in order to establish its claims… Culler’s view of lyric has a flexibility that enables it to stand up pretty well to lyrics that might fly at it from left-field… What the book offers is something more like a study of the generative grammar of lyric poetry and of its practice than an all-encompassing model of what lyric has to be or could become.—Colin Burrow, London Review of Books

After decades of relative neglect, the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest in the theory of the lyric, and Culler’s wide-ranging study is undoubtedly a milestone in this complicated process.—Francesco Giusti, The Los Angeles Review of Books

Theory of the Lyric, by Culler, is an excellent source for understanding the academics and history of the lyric poem… It will be most appreciated by scholars seeking to understand the structure of this genre of poetry.—K. Gale, Choice

Jonathan Culler’s book is literally long-awaited—it is the culminating work of one of the most important poeticians of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.—Simon Jarvis, author of Wordsworth’s Philosophic Song

A capacious and important piece of work. We need someone with the courage to take the broad view, across epochs and Western languages, and Culler is that person. Theory of the Lyric is a crucial intervention in restoring the vibrancy and significance of lyric.—Jahan Ramazani, author of Poetry and Its Others: News, Prayer, Song, and the Dialogue of Genres

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