On being of the Devil’s party

by look i have opinions

“The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet, and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.”

—William Blake

I think Blake is being deliberately over the top here, and yet it still seems very right. Art is not something you can do as an authority figure, even a benevolent one, or as a servant of authority. You don’t make art as a judge or a priest or a leader. For that matter, you don’t make art as a conscientious moral philosopher. Authority, duty, order, propriety, conscience, tact—all the formal structures that make society possible are opposed to the artistic impulse. Milton as artist wasn’t evil, but he was too free to be good in any sane, orderly sense of the term. To make himself good, he had to make himself less of an artist.

I use the tag “moral obligations of writers” a lot, but I don’t really mean that belletrists should write with morality in mind. That is not always possible, and sometimes absolutely impossible. Writers should think hard about morality, and they should also write exactly what they feel like writing. Write down the most offensive things imaginable—write your most indulgent fantasies, your worst fears, your cruelest judgments, the most damaging secrets you’ve ever learned—fine. But then edit them. Self-censor. Pick and choose. If your creation belongs in Hell, put it there.

At least, that’s the best I can come up with right now.

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