Looking into the various critics of Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance (1852), one peculiar item stands out as related to the earlier post. The proto-generative concept of starlight seems to be a major sticking point: this particular observation by Craig White in his ‘A Utopia of “Spheres and Sympathies”: Science and Society in The Blithedale Romance and at Brook Farm’:
“Despite Coverdale’s regressive habits of speech, the new cosmos and its urban microcosm continue to impinge on consciousness: “an astral lamp was penetrating mistily through the white curtain of Zenobia’s drawing room” (161). Identified with the stars even while displacing them, the “astral lamp” indicates the new correspondance between “nature and human existence” (94)
What White seems to ‘zero in’ on is a peculiar talismanic quality of starlight at that particular time in American letters, when new stars were being discovered at a rapid rate. We are still at least a hundred years from Einstein’s theory of relativity, and yet the natural phenomena of starlight and its fixed position tends to reveal the sidereal concept of time that I averred helps displace the “whips and scorns of time” as Shakespeare would put it in Hamlet Ac III Sc i (see here). The focus and study of the stars gives us a sense of eternity in a way that removes us from the randomness inherent in daily life.
The quote, from a ‘not-easily-obtainable-or-out-of-print’ edition of The BlithedaleRomance by Nathaniel Hawthorne happens in Ch. 19: Zenobia’s Drawing Room. (See the available online version here. ) This quiet moment shows us the same sense of peace and purpose that exists in examining the stars. Of course, this ‘astral lamp’ was based on the ideal of divinity revealed in nature before she had been stripped of these virtues in the 19th century. For my part, I feel like I am searching for the starlight of a star that has long since burned out, but whose light may yet still be visible by candlelight!
I have been trying to sift through a number of documents related to the French-American connection during the embryonic stage of American Lit. This has taken the form of the writings of Albert Brisbane, who popularized Charles Fourier (Much as the works of Michel Foucault popularized Jeremy Bentham in ‘Discipline and Punish’) in his ASTRAL howl: ‘The Social Destiny of Man.’
I’ve spent hours in the stacks of the GSU library trying to sort through microfiche (which if you haven’t done is a wild ride in throwback research) in order to get a digital still of Brisbane. I did manage to get this still, (which for the purposes of copyright I am posting a dummy image below). The main word that I got from this particular document was ‘sidereal.’
The rest of this blog is dedicated to understanding this term. Sidereal. Dictionary.com defines this adequately. But the idea is not in the definition. It is this antiquated idea (which many people tie to astrology, but I argue has nothing to do with this sort of superstition) that there is a sacred canopy over us, that dictates the course of human events in a way contrary to random chance.
I won’t get into chaos theory here, because of course it is not possible to totally defeat chaos. Chaos is just part of life, as that Jeff Goldblum clip of Jurrasic Park may testify as to the “tiny variations” (01:31). But is there some other reality tied to the course of the planets and the positions of the stars, which might dictate the relationship between a very random (internet/streaming media) sense of how events happen in the 21st century and the implacable wisdom of the ancients?
I do think that Brisbane was on to something here, or perhaps that we have lost the sense that some things are predetermined in a way that defeats a ‘time plus matter plus chance’ version of reality. The stars symbolize a kind of alternative destiny, that if the starlight could reach the earth before the star burns out, would connect us with an awesome and quite supernal version of reality.