Actualité du transcendantalisme / Transcendentalism Revisited - 3/31/2013 & 11/15/2013

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Thomas Constantinesco, Université Paris 7 & François Specq, Ecole Normale Supérieure de Lyon, France
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Special Issue of the Revue Française d'Etudes Américaines

Actualité du transcendantalisme / Transcendentalism Revisited

When Perry Miller published his now classic anthology of Transcendentalist writings in 1950, American scholars were only beginning, in the wake of F.O. Matthiessen’s American Renaissance (1941), to take a renewed interest in Emerson, who had been quite neglected since the end of the 19th century, along with those thinkers and writers whom their opponents called, by the end of the 1830s, “Transcendentalists,” in a somewhat strange fashion, at least from a European perspective. Today, things have changed and Transcendentalism is the focus of much critical attention in the United States, as evidenced by a regular flow of publications over the past thirty years. In France, and in Europe more generally, the situation is obviously very different: if a number of articles and a handful of books have been devoted to well-known Transcendentalist figures like Emerson, Thoreau or Margaret Fuller, very few publications have aimed at investigating Transcendentalism as a “movement.” Even though the relevance of considering Transcendentalism a movement proper has repeatedly been questioned, a group of Transcendentalist writers and thinkers did nevertheless exist and its influence on American culture has been considerable.
This special issue of the Revue française d’études américaines (RFEA) would like to take stock of current research on Transcendentalism and its many developments over the past decades. Initially perceived in the light of religious controversy and philosophical debate, then as a literary phenomenon, Transcendentalism has increasingly been envisaged in relation to its historical, social and political contexts (abolitionism, women’s rights, the rise of capitalism, to name but a few), as well as the scientific discoveries of its time, at the risk perhaps of forgetting its earlier characterizations. This issue of theRFEA would especially like to reconsider Transcendentalism’s philosophical import by confronting it with contemporary thought (Derrida, Latour, Cavell and others). We also wish to recover Transcendentalism’s enduring literary energy, which is sometimes overlooked by the proponents of Cultural Studieswho tend to emphasize the reception of Transcendentalist texts rather than take an interest in the texts themselves. More precisely, our ambition is not to put together a new encyclopaedia of Transcendentalism – a task made redundant by the recent publication of the monumental Oxford Handbook of Transcendentalism (2010), and in many ways impossible within the limited scope of a special issue. We would like instead to confront what we might call, probably too quickly, “American” and “European,” or “French,” responses to Transcendentalism, and to bring “contextual” analyses together with more “textual” readings. Our hypothesis is that Transcendentalism’s religious, philosophical, social and political stakes emerge first and foremost within textual, if not literary, configurations and can best be approached through the study of the scenes of writing and networks of figures that shape them.
While no French publication has sought to provide an overview of the intellectual effervescence and wealth of thought that Transcendentalism also was, this special issue of the RFEA would like to consider the movement’s internal and external dynamics in connexion with its members’ writing practices, that is to say, how various forms of textualities helped shape the Transcendentalists’ relations with each other and informed their interactions with their religious, cultural, social and political environment. This issue’s main ambition will be to highlight the profound vitality of Transcendentalist texts.
Proposals can focus on major figures (Emerson, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller) or lesser-known ones (Bronson Alcott, Theodore Parker, Orestes Brownson, George Ripley, Sampson Reed, Frederic Henry Hedge, Jones Very, or Caroline Sturgis), as well as on the paradoxical community formed by a movement that never thought of itself as such. For instance, we welcome contributions on the modalities of the circulation of ideas among the Transcendentalists, or essays reflecting on the issues of gender/genre, or studies on the ways in which the writings of this intellectual community (essays, poems, journals, letters, reviews) reconfigure the limits of the private and the public. We thus seek to revisit Transcendentalism in and as writing, but we also invite contributions focusing on its posterity in more contemporary cultural productions.

Please send your proposals to Thomas Constantinesco ( and François Specq ( for proposals (500 words) is 31 March 2013. Deadline for completed articles (30,000 signs) is 15 November 2013. The Revue française d’études américaines is a peer-reviewed journal.

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