When published in 1857, Baudelaire's collection of poems, Les Fleurs du Mal, was prosecuted for obscenity and found guilty of offense to public morals. Today Les Fleurs du Mal is a celebrated, canonized work, though many editions omit the six poems that were banned by the court or relegate them to an appendix. How should we read the Les Fleurs du Mal today? For example, Baudelaire originally proposed to call his collection "Les Lesbiennes" and two of the banned poems focus on lesbian relationships. How do these poems relate to today's interest in gay and lesbian studies? And what can we make of the poetry of "evil," which the title claims to offer us?
Jonathan Culler teaches English and Comparative Literature at Cornell, where in 1982 he succeeded M. H. Abrams as Class of 1916 Professor of English. 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 taught French at Selwyn College, Cambridge, and Brasenose College, Oxford, before moving to Cornell.
Most of his publications bear on contemporary critical theory, French and English: Structuralist Poetics (winner of the MLA’s 1976 Lowell Prize), On Deconstruction (his best known work), Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction (which has been translated into some twenty languages), short books on Roland Barthes and Ferdinand de Saussure, and three collections of essays on theoretical topics –most recently, The Literary in Theory (Stanford 2006). His first book was Flaubert: The Uses of Uncertainty, and he is working on books on the theory of the lyric and on Baudelaire.
He has been President of American Semiotic Society, Trustee of the English Institute, and President of the American Comparative Literature Association, as well as a member of the Board of the American Council of Learned Societies, the Advisory Board of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, and the Executive Council or the MLA’s. He has held Guggenheim and NEH fellowships and has been elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.