The Art of Coming-in-this-World: On Sylvia Plath’s “Elm”




American studies, Sylvia Plath, Ariel, "Elm", poetics


Sylvia Plath’s posthumously published Ariel has generated a plethora of responses. While critics have tended to focus on the biographical aspects of the poet’s work, lay reviewers have simultaneously emphasised their lack of understanding and the strength of their perceptual and affective responses. The present article, which focuses on Plath’s “Elm,” has a threefold aim. First, it seeks to present “Elm” as a work of verbal art; secondly, it endeavours to expose the features which may be responsible for readers’ responses; thirdly, it considers the potential of “Elm” for mental health. To this end, the study mobilises concepts and methods drawn from stylistics, (Systemic Functional) Discourse Analysis, psychology, and philosophy. Research findings show that the following features may allow for an internally lived rather than an externally cognised aesthetic experience: the dissolution of the signifier-signified pair, the use of intersensory-physiognomic language and the introduction of atopia as a topos. These salient features enable readers to privilege significance over signification and to be confronted with jouissance, an experience that grounds them in the flow of (be)coming.

Author Biography

Amélie Doche, Birmingham City University

Amélie Doche is an AHRC-funded Doctoral Researcher at Birmingham City University. Her primary research areas include Reader-response, Contemporary British Literature, Stylistics and (Systemic Functional) Discourse Analysis.


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