The Possibility of Progress: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Hall of Fantasy”

Jerremy Kessler in The New Atlantis:

ScreenHunter_107 Feb. 16 17.54At any moment, the imagination says no to the world as it is while saying yes to an alternative reality — to a world that never was or has yet to be. Behind every vision lies dissatisfaction. This holds true for the statesman as much as for the artist. Both say no to the world in which they find themselves, even as they say yes to its next incarnation, now disincarnate.

In his story “The Hall of Fantasy,” Nathaniel Hawthorne hints that every form of human activity verges on the unworldliness of fantasy, negating the present in favor of the future or imagined past. Yet it is the political use of the imagination that attracts Hawthorne’s most skeptical treatment. Political reformers and revolutionaries, Hawthorne argues, are uniquely unworldly, even anti-worldly, as they claim to care deeply for the same world that they work to destroy. Hawthorne’s story is a peculiarly American meditation on the relationship between art and politics and the purpose and power of human creativity.

More here.