Dr. Jonathan A. Strauss


I specialize in nineteenth- and twentieth-century French literature and intellectual history, with concentrations in continental philosophy and literature, critical theory, and cultural studies. 

While my work covers a broad range of fields, topics, and languages, it focuses overall on the role of mortality in shaping human experience and on the relations between life and death in aesthetic, theoretical, and social thought.  I treat literature not only as a body of texts with historical and aesthetic interest, but also as a distinctive form of thinking, creativity, and action.  I am particularly interested in the ways that literary forms allow individuals to organize their personal experience into original types of subjectivity.  At the same time, I show that these same forms can have broader social consequences – that they not only influence basic concepts such as individuality, truth, and love, but that they also insinuate themselves into other, unexpected areas of society, such as urbanism, law, and medical science.  To date, I have published three monographs, one edited volume, and numerous articles.  I am currently at work on another book-length project.

My first book, Subjects of Terror: Nerval, Hegel, and the Modern Self, describes Gérard de Nerval’s idiosyncratic style in prose and poetry as an attempt to reinvent the relations among language, mortality, and subjectivity.  It combines close readings of Nerval’s texts with philosophical and psychoanalytic approaches, focusing on Hegel, Heidegger, Levinas, Kristeva, and Lacan.  My second book, Human Remains: Medicine, Death, and Desire in Nineteenth-Century Paris, takes a cultural-studies view of the relations among the arts, urbanism, and medical science.  In its pages, I draw on Lacan and other psychoanalytic theorists to examine the role of irrational or “fantasmatic” thinking within nineteenth-century medical theory.  I argue that this irrational element was significantly, if obliquely, analyzed in contemporary literary and artistic production.  In this respect, these aesthetic works provide a meaningful critique of the legitimacy and nature of modern scientific thought at one of its most crucial moments.  My third book, Private Lives, Public Deaths, shows how Sophocles’s tragedy Antigone represents a turning point in relations between the political state and the individual while arguing for the play’s ongoing importance in contemporary philosophy.  As previous scholars have shown, Greek tragedies attempted to articulate and legitimize the political structures of newly emerging city-states.  Reading back through Hegel and recent philosophical reactions to him, I argue that in Antigone such legitimacy finds itself contradicted by opposing claims about the importance of single human lives.  The concept of such a life was, however, unclear at the time, and I contend that the force of Antigone – indeed, what makes it tragic – is its failed attempt to find meaning in individual experience.  By returning to this historical moment, we therefore rediscover the invented nature of human subjectivity along with the conceptual and ethical difficulties that continue to surround it.  To argue for both the historical specificity of Antigone and its ongoing significance, I have drawn on two distinct disciplinary approaches, combining the work of classicists, such as Simon Goldhill, with that of philosophers, such as Hegel, Luce Irigaray, and Tina Chanter.

In my current book project, I have turned to concentrate on the poetic aspects of language – its opacity, materiality, and resistance to truth claims – to explore how literature can shape our image of the world conceptually, emotionally, and physically.  This is literature not as the representation but the creation of our selves and our environment.  To do this, I am focusing on ways in which literary works from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries affect our understanding and perception of time, both individual and collective.  An extended analysis of the short story “Adieu,” illustrates how Balzac used extreme fictional situations at the limits of rationality (and humanity)  to construct an emotional syntax of historical time.  Studies on Apollinaire, Breton, and Claude Simon examine their use of poetry to illuminate and shape forms of subjective temporality – each time original, but each time, too, linked to the enigmatic difference that separates us from other people’s experience.  Throughout the book and in different ways, I argue that poetry articulates a relation between phenomenology and ethics, grounding our place in the physical and conceptual world through the shadowplay of our mysterious relations to other people.


1993 - Ph.D. - Yale University

Teaching and Research Interests

  • Nineteenth- and twentieth-century French literature
  • Philosophy and literature
  • Aesthetics and medicine
  • History and subjectivity  

Grants and Awards

  • Society for the Humanities Fellowship at Cornell. 2015-2016.

Selected Publications


  • Private Lives/Public Deaths: Antigone and the Invention of Individuality. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013.)
  • Human Remains: Medicine, Death, and Desire in Nineteenth-Century Paris.  (New York: Fordham University Press, 2012).
  • Subjects of Terror: Nerval, Hegel and the Modern Self (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998).
  • Editor, Post-Mortem: The State of Death as a Modern Construct.  Special issue of Diacritics (30:3 [fall, 2000]).  (Appeared in fall, 2002.)


  • "The Story of the Eye." Chapter in Kevin J. Hayes and Céline Scemama, eds., Reading with Jean-Luc Godard (Montreal: Caboose). (Forthcoming in 2017.)
  • "An Endless Person: Heidegger, Breton, and Nadja at the Limits of Language." In Garry Hagberg, ed., Fictional Characters, Real Problems: The Search for Ethical Content in Literature, Oxford: Oxford University Press. (2016)
  • "Eighteen Forty-Eight or the History of Death." French Cultural Studies 23:1. (February 2012). Pp. 3-16.
  • “‘Singulières, répétitives’: La temporalité de l’origine nervalienne.”  In Jacques Bony et al., eds., Gérard de Nerval et l’esthétique de la modernité.  Paris: Hermann, 2010.  Pp. 97-113.
  • “Terreur et horreur dans l’invention de la cité.”  In Bruno Chaouat, ed., Penser la terreur.  Dijon: Presses Universitaires de Dijon, 2009.  Pp. 139-54.
  • “Antigone et l’état cadavérique.”  In Bruno Chaouat ed.  Lire, ecrire la honte.  Lyon: Presses Universitaires de Lyon, 2007.  Pp. 185-206.
  • “The Poetry of Loss: Lamartine, Musset, and Nerval.” In Michael Ferber ed. Companion to European Romanticism.  Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.
  • “Political Force and the Grounds of Identity from Rousseau to Flaubert” MLN 117: 4 (September 2002), pp. 808-835.
  • “After Death” Diacritics 30:3 (fall 2000), pp. 90-104. (Appeared in fall, 2002.)
  • “Paul Eluard and the Origins of Visual Subjectivity” Mosaic 33:2 (June, 2000), pp. 25-46.
  • “Nerval’s ‘Le Christ aux Oliviers’: The Subject Writes After Its Own Death” Romanic Review 88:1 (January 1997), pp. 103-129.
  • “Death-Based Subjectivity in the Creation of Nerval’s Lyric Self” Death in French Literature and Film. L'Esprit Créateur  35: 4 (Winter, 1995), pp. 83-94. 
  • “The Inverted Icarus.”  Yale French Studies, 78 (1990), pp. 106-123. (On G. Bataille). 


Book in Progress

  • From Love to History: Persons, Ethics, Time. (Book-length manuscript in preparation.)