William Blake – Hell’s Printing Press

17 Jun


William Blake

    There is a dichotomy associated with the “Printing Press of Hell” that suggests both cause and effect with regards to the acceptance of proscribed religious belief. In the first reading we’re offered an image of the minds of men being formed and filed into libraries; iterations of humanity molded by generations past, who’ve simple accepted that which they’ve been told with unquestioning obeisance. This concept of universal subservience and the image of “mind forged manacles” is extremely potent, and Blake appears to deride the insidious nature of accepted doctrine. Therefore one could understand the Press as a generic branding of the human species in order to insure conformity, the suppression of personal energy, and the prevention of discovery of the true self.

           It is this idea upon which he expounds in a “Marriage between Heaven and Hell”: the restrained desires of the supplicant, as oppose to the boundless energy of the free self. The Church of Blake’s day required passive subservience and so, by submitting to the will of God there was a repression of the internal self. Blake’s caverns are reminiscent of Plato’s analogy, that those shackled within the cave were only aware of shadows, and did not understand the true nature of the world outside of their limited experience. One can recognize this in Blake’s description of hierarchical, diabolical creation, an allusion perhaps to another Eden? To understand his simile one has to look no further than the reintroduction of the Catholic Church by Napoleon after the French revolution, to perceive the controlling nature of public worship – “the opiate of the masses” – and the benefits of organized faith in maintaining the status quo.

               The printing press may also be a personal reference to himself and to those like him. He parodies himself as a devil sweating over a flat rock, an allusion to him, sweating over his copper etchings. Blake is the Satan, the adversary or obstructer of the message. His writings conflict with those of the Church. He understands that as enlightened beings, we fail to recognize our true gifts due to the coercive nature of endemic religion. Blake was a committed opponent to the Church’s dogmatic approach to religion – “the enslavement of the vulgar” – and wrote in order that we might free ourselves, by thinking for ourselves. His writings are clearly radical in their anti-disestablishment prose style and – no doubt – had he truly been recognized in his own lifetime, would have ruffled more feathers than he did. It is only in retrospect that we come to understand Blake’s enlightened view, which may be seen as synonymous with many of the ancient Eastern religions, and even in the pantheistic poetry of the Romantics who followed him.

               Consequently “The Printing Press of Hell” can be regarded from two different aspects. The first, as an allegory for ignorance and an example of unenlightened acceptance, the second, as a forge of dynamic reason and human energy, where one is able free the spirit and escape dogmatic oppression. Although Blake sees himself as a Satan, his books aren’t to be found in Hell, but rather stacked on the shelves on the other side of the “doors of perception.”








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