The Naked Sublime
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Type of WorkText
DepartmentEnglish and Languages
ProgramDoctor of Philosophy
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This study investigates the sublime in three of Sharon Olds' collections, The Father, The Gold Cell, and Blood, Tin, Straw. It offers a reading of the sublime that counters the trend within the discourse to define the concept as either masculine or feminine, expands the sublime moment to include the sensory and the beautiful, and shifts the sublime from domination to reconciliation. Promoted by Immanuel Kant and Edmund Burke, a masculine narrative emphasizes male autonomy and distance; invented by Patricia Yaeger, the feminine account describes how the female accommodates the other and draws near to the inexplicable. Both versions emphasize an individual's crisis of the mind. "The Naked Sublime" maintains that two co-equal entities construct and share in a sublime moment that is both crisis and resolution. Olds' collections provide the impetus for this reading through her focus on nakedness. Even as Olds' participants share their nakedness with one another--and feel anxiety as a result--they eventually feel complete in their desire for one another. Olds' work leads to the construction of the term naked sublime that compels the discourse to strip away gender constructs and point to new readings of the sublime, readings that are not cliché, antagonistic, hierarchical, or privileged. Because nakedness is a condition felt by men and women and is a concept, like the sublime, which provides diverse paradoxical meanings--from the ordinary to the revelatory or the shameful to powerful--this reading of Olds challenges the exclusivity of the gendered sublime.