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By John H. Jones (auth.)
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Extra info for Blake on Language, Power, and Self-Annihilation
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, which enacts an argument about biblical interpretation, employs, as we shall see, the Menippean satire genre, a genre that fragments authorial Selfhood by combining poetry and prose, realism and fantasy, and the serious and the comic, in order to keep the debate open-ended and to invite the reader’s participation. Blake’s later work involves less generic experimentation as it focuses more on the relationships between author, text, and reader by relying increasingly on invocations of muses to annihilate the Selfhood of the author.
The concluding two lines of the stanza, repeating the first two exactly, seem at this point to reinforce the speaker’s assumption that the lamb is capable of a response, that it is capable of participating in dialogue. Indeed, this repetition suggests that the speaker seems to insist upon an answer, lessening the likelihood that the question is only rhetorical with no answer expected. The answer to the question comes in the second stanza and involves a triple identification through names that give each of the three figures, the child, the lamb, and Christ, an equal opportunity Songs of Innocence and of Experience 29 to participate in dialogue, thereby removing the linguistic privilege of any one figure over the others and the power to curtail dialogue: Little Lamb I’ll tell thee, Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
And it bears the fruit of Deceit, Ruddy and sweet to eat; And the Raven his nest has made In its thickest shade. 11–20, E 27) This shade indicates the uncritically accepted meaning that lies behind the language of Cruelty’s discourse, a meaning that is built on deceit and allows the parasitic, opportunistic flies, caterpillars, and ravens to manipulate it to their own advantage. As a model of self-closed discourse and social control, the poem suggests that the social institution, in coercing listeners to accept the “truth” of its discourse, robs the individual of a chance to engage in dialogue and an opportunity to confront institutional power.