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Claire Lyu

Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies

Office Address

363 New Cabell Hall

Spring 2024 Office Hours

Tuesdays 2:00pm - 4:00pm and by appointment

My current research explores ways of going beyond the critical paradigm of negativity we have inherited from modern theory. I examine an ensemble of literary and critical texts in which the theory of negativity and its attending practice of suspicious reading reaches exemplary height: 20th-century critical readings of 19th-century French modernist authors. I revisit these texts, paying particular attention to the motif of blank space that emerges in them and which culminates in Mallarmé's groundbreaking poem Un coup de dés (A Throw of Dice) where verse and sentences are shattered, and the blank space -- or le blanc -- fills up the page. Major theorists read Mallarmé’s blanc as the space par excellence of absence and negativity. I offer an alternate reading: the blank space welcomes and greets more than it negates. This enables me to advance that literature exceeds the characteristic that modern theory has given it of standing apart in a self-referential enclosure in negation of the world. I highlight literature’s equally unique capacity to disclose, and connect us to, the world. In doing so, I hope ultimately to propose a shift in orientation in literary studies from the prevalent practice of suspicious demystification toward the possibility of affective receptivity.

In re-conceiving the blank space as welcoming, rather than negating, I became interested less in what might be unique to literature and more in what might be common to literature and other forms of communication; that is, I came to associate language less with (human) exceptionality/ exclusivity and more with relationality/ inclusivity. The works of Stengers, Latour, and Despret, who are opening new horizons in the fields of animal studies, science studies, and philosophy, have been guiding my recent exploration on how language connects us to the (non-human) world. My next project will bring together the languages of literature, science, and animal training in their common endeavor to articulate a syntax of relationality.


Bachelor of Arts (BA), Wellesley College
Master of Arts (MA), Johns Hopkins University
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Johns Hopkins University

Research Interests

Modern Poetry and Poetics, Literary Theory, Literature and Philosophy, Literature and Science, Animal Studies and Eco-criticism.


All-University Outstanding Teaching Award, 2000-2001.
Z-Society Distinguished Faculty Award, 2001.
Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, 2001-2002

Representative Publications


Nonmodern Practices: Latour and Literary Studies. Eds. Elisabeth Arnould-Bloomfield and Claire Chi-ah Lyu. New York: Bloomsbury, 2020.

A Sun within a Sun: The Power and Elegance of Poetry (University of Pittsburgh, 2007)

Articles and Book Chapters

"Latour, Stengers, and Nonmodern Poetry." In Nonmodern Practices: Latour and Literary Studies. Eds. Elisabeth Arnould-Bloomfield and Claire Chi-ah Lyu. New York: Bloomsbury, 2020. 89-111
"Blank Space and Affect: Reading Mallarmé through Balzac and Blanchot.” Nineteenth-Century French Studies 47.1-2 (2018–2019): 132-49.
"A Renewed Relationship with Words."  MLA Approaches to Teaching Baudelaire's Prose Poems. Ed. Cheryl Krueger. New York: MLA publications. 2017. (29-36) 
"Blank Phenomenality." Thinking Poetry: Philosophical Approaches to Nineteenth-Century French Poetry. Ed. Joseph Acquisto, 113-30. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2013. 
"Flaubert's Proposition." French Forum 36: 2/3 (Spring-Fall 2011) 41-60.
"Unswathing the Mummy: Body, Knowledge, and Writing in Gautier’s Le Roman de la momie." Nineteenth-Century French Studies 33 (Spring-Summer 2005): 1-12. 
"Mallarmé's Fashion." Figurationen. Gender, Literatur, Kultur 2 (Winter 2000): 29-50.
"Stéphane Mallarmé as Miss Satin: The Texture of Fashion and Poetry." Esprit Créateur 40 (Fall 2000): 61-71.
"The Poetics of the Penult: Mallarmé, Death, and Syntax." MLN 113 (1998): 561-87.
"'High' Poetics: Baudelaire's Le Poème du hachisch." MLN 109 (1994): 698-740.

Representative Courses:


Literary Theory: Classic Thoughts, Modern Texts, Contemporary Debates
Modern Poetry and Poetics
Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Mallarmé
The Spiritual and the Everyday


Text, Image, Culture
The French-Speaking World III: Modernities
Poetry and Attention
Baudelaire and Modernity
Bodily Knowledge (Topics in Cultural Studies)