Shelley's sublime

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The sublime is a topic with a rich context in art, philosophy, religion and rhetoric. Critical discussion of Percy Shelley’s use of the sublime has frequently included connections to romantic aesthetics and the philosophy of the period. This thesis argues that Shelley utilized the sublime for political ends by engaging with its religious and philosophical perspectives. Building on the work on Shelley and the sublime done by Cian Duffy, I investigate the way in which Shelley utilized the sublime in a way that shows his interest in the relationship of the reader/observer to sublime objects, images, or other elements in a text. Chapter One demonstrates through a reading of Mont Blanc how Shelley empties the sublime of its ability to figure for or explain power structures and instead redirects the reader’s focus on his fellow man. Chapter Two considers how Shelley employs a perverted Christian allegory to show how sympathy and memory are linked to the response to the sublime. The final chapter illuminates the connection between the sublime and Shelley’s take on Necessity in the prose fragment, The Assassins. This thesis chooses as its focus an interest in the reaction of the reader to a sublime moment in the text and seeks to define how that moment differs from others in the act of reading. It is the argument of this project that Shelley was interested in this moment and sought to construct his texts in such a way that the sublime might be didactic in so far as it produced the potential for a change in the reader’s thinking by placing him closer to his fellow man. In this way, the sublime, normally thought of in terms of its boundlessness, operates as a means of closing the gap between the beholder and the object being observed as well as bringing the reader in connection with another person. The stakes of this move by Shelley are explicitly political, in that they acknowledge the power of public space and its necessary place in bringing about a change in the political landscape.

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English literature