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The Dial and the Untimely “Spirit of the Time”

  • Constantinesco, Thomas
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2018
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Long neglected and often derided for its abstract idealism, the Dial has recently been reevaluated as a major venue where transcendentalist writers could articulate their philosophy and convey their critique of the politics of antebellum United States. Drawing on Agamben’s lecture on “the contemporary,” this essay argues that the transcendentalists were truly contemporary precisely because their magazine seemed ill timed and their interventions in the public debate appeared irrelevant. To this end, I begin by reviewing some of the debates surrounding the Dial’s political purpose and aspirations at its foundation, before situating the magazine’s concern for “the spirit of the time” within the history of American transcendentalism and European Romanticism. In order to apprehend the Dial’s political purchase, the final section looks at the magazine’s internal dialogics by examining three contributions by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Theodore Parker appearing in the same issue of 1841. Highlighting the uncanny effects of periodical publishing and periodical reading, I suggest that these pieces’ dissonant concordance echoes and refracts the Dialers’ untimely contemporaneousness, while enacting the transcendentalist project of giving voice to the spirit of the time.

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