PhD candidate in English and Theatre Studies, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne
Esmé James’ work traces an aesthetic experience she has termed the ‘sexual sublime’ across a range of literature from the eighteenth to early twentieth century, investigating the social and ethical implications of the transforming relationship between erotism and the sublime aesthetic. She begins with the pornographic literary traditional of the eighteenth and nineteenth century, believing it particularly apt at engaging aesthetic discourse due to the latter’s palpable erotic undercurrent. Placing the works of theorists – such as Edmund Burke, David Hume, and Immanuel Kant – in conversation with novelists – such as John Cleland, Marquis de Sade, and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch – Esmé aims to demonstrate how these works illuminate and mutually complicate their ideas. Proceeding from here, she considers how the works of Rachilde and Kate Chopin subsequently disrupted dominant understandings of aesthetics and sexuality – instead, creating a space to express a space which exists within, and derives pleasure from, a zone of unconquerable excess.
Esmé currently has a journal article forthcoming in Hecate entitled, "Celebrating Enigmas: Re-Examining Gertrude Stein’s Relationship to the Literary Canon.” Her work will also be included in an anthology with Hardie Grant Press, Roots, set for publication in July 2021.