Their madness is contagious


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. In “The Hall of Fantasy,” the world’s dreamers gather to dispute the merits of their envisioned futures. The story, first published in 1843, arises from a failure to write a story: the narrator, a dreamer himself, has drifted off while working on an “idle tale” and finds himself in a glistening hall. There reside “the statues or busts of men who in every age have been rulers and demigods in the realms of imagination.” Among the stony luminaries are Homer, Aesop, Dante, Milton, Cervantes, and Shakespeare. The hall itself is paved with white marble, capped by a “lofty dome,” supported by ornate pillars, decorated with a mixture of styles from around the world, and lit by stained glass.

more from Jeremy Kessler at The New Atlantis here.