Blake

February 23, 2004

The following is the opening sequence for today's lecture on the Industrial Revolution - straight from my teaching notes. I often write out my introductions and use sketch notes for the rest, even if I then paraphrase the written text in class. I wanted to blog this because of the final quote from Blake, where the soft affections "condense into cruelty" beneath the hammer of the mills. It is a wonderful phrase, made more so because I recently finished Jacquelline Carey's pretty good trilogy about cruelty, affection, and love, a trilogy organized around the notion that something can be yeilding but not weak, and that "love as thou wilt" if taken seriously is an amazingly versatile and subversive thought, differently but equally as radical as "workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains."

I Dark Satanic Mills

Did anyone see the really good little movie "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys?" In it a group of alienated Catholic schoolboys in 1970s South Carolina start, among other things, reading William Blake. Their teacher, a nun played by Jodie Foster, warns them that Blake is dangerous and they should not be reading him.

Blake was dangerous - a deeply spiritual man, a mystic, firmly religions and completely disaffected from both the Church of England and the new Dissenting churches that grew up around the Industrial Revolution. He saw the new cities and the new society as a this-worldly battleground between God and Satan, and he was not quite sure how things would turn out.

William Blake, (1757-1827) writing at the turn of the 19th century, wrote about life in the cities, life in industrial England, and about the mythic past available to Albion as it stretched its modern sinews. We mostly know him for "Tyger Tyger, burning Bright / in the Forests, In the night / What immortal Hand or Eye / could frame thy fearful symmetry." In England, they know him for the English national hymn: Jerusalem "And did these feet in ancient times" which contains the question I want to ask "And was Jerusalem builded here / among these dark satanic mills."

Those mills, who he elsewhere has speak saying
"Loud roar my Furnaces and loud my hammer is heard
I labour day and night, I behold the soft affections
condense beneath my hammer into forms of cruelty"

are for Blake a symbol of Satan's presence in the physical world. Lets look at those mills, at how they came to be located in England and then across Europe, and at the changes they created.

Posted by Red Ted at February 23, 2004 12:16 PM | TrackBack