Who decides what we can or can't handle?
I want to talk about the mulch pile. The mulch pile is a metaphor modern-day author Diane Setterfield uses to describe the source of every person's creativity. Every encounter and book and radio commercial you listen to goes into the compost heap and then over time, hopefully, creates a rich, dark, peaty, mulch that - if you're of the particular creative mindset - you will use to nourish your art.
Reading Milton's Areopagitica always reminds me of Setterfield's metaphor, that if we are the composite product of all influences in life, why limit those? The name John Milton is almost synonymous with his great work, Paradise Lost, one of the greatest Christian fiction pieces ever written. Yet that he would argue the same point that other writers throughout time (Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville) would argue, that man should expose himself to darkness in order to understand and appreciate the light, is mildly shocking. His Areopagitica argues this in a scathing way when he says that "unlesse warinesse be us'd, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God's Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the image of God"(Milton). The idea of censorship was so offensive to Milton because it took agency away from the population to educate and expose themselves to the material responsible for molding their personhood.
With the emergence of the printing press, new material was made available to larger groups of people, and with it, the debate of censorship. It's hard to gauge the impact the availability of literature - in the form of pamphlets, novels, booklets, fliers - had on the public, but the outcry against censorship is one way of measuring how much the public valued the freedom of the new press. As Renaissance poet G. R. Weckherlin wrote, "To remain silent about everything means to die without complaint"(Weckherlin).
Milton, John. Areopagitica.
Weckherlin. Letter, June 24, 1626.