Locke and Blake: A Conversation across the Eighteenth Century

By Wayne Glausser | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Printing

In her study of print culture in early modern Europe, Elizabeth Eisenstein emphasizes the close ties between the printing press and the development of Enlightenment patterns of thinking. The expanding power of printing institutions and, less tangibly, the esprit de systeme created by modern printed books, "made it possible for Grotius, Descartes, Richard Simon and John Locke to make a permanent impression on the European mind." 1 These deep influences of printing were suggested at least as far back as Bacon: printing, along with gunpowder and the magnet, "changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world . . . insomuch that no empire, no sect, no star seems to have exerted greater power and influence in human affairs than these mechanical inventions." 2 More recently, of course, McLuhan had everyone thinking about print societies and what came before and after them. Blake started his work when modern print society was mature and thriving. He wanted to subvert it by "printing in the infernal method," as he says in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. McLuhan paid tribute to Blake's subversion at the end of The Gutenberg Galaxy, where he invokes Blake as his presiding muse: "Determined as he was to explain the causes and effects of psychic change, both personal and social, he arrived long ago at the theme of The Gutenberg Galaxy: 'The Seven Nations fled before him: they became what they beheld.' Blake makes quite explicit that when sense ratios change, men change. Sense ratios change when any one sense or bodily or mental function is externalized in technological form . . . Such was the origin of lineal, fragmented analysis with its remorseless power of homogenization." 3

For Locke as well as for Blake, printing was more than just a technological medium by which to express and publicize ideas. Print consciousness influenced those ideas in substantive ways. Locke Essay is not only a printed book but is a book about printing, in the figurative sense that shaped Locke's epistemology. In many of Blake's works he resists the implications of Locke's print

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Locke and Blake: A Conversation across the Eighteenth Century
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter 1 from Caricature to Conversation 1
  • Chapter 2 Mothers, the Matrix, and Marriage 13
  • Chapter 3 Two English Physicians 43
  • Chapter 4 Slavery 62
  • Chapter 5 Seditious Plots 92
  • Chapter 6 Possessions 121
  • Chapter 7 Printing 141
  • Chapter 8 Epitaphs 163
  • Notes 166
  • Bibliography 183
  • Index 191
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