Hegel, Marx, and Engels in Eisenstein’s Printing Press.

While Elizabeth L. Eisenstein’s philosophy regarding the role of the printing press as the agent of perpetuating ideology during the Reformation relies heavily on Marxism, she has a crucial understanding of how Hegel’s master-slave dialectic contributes to an individual’s formulation of the self via “the other” (541). For Eisenstein, the printing press is not a mean’s through which an author’s ideas are translated for distribution among the masses (a strictly idealist and Hegelian view). Rather, the printing press is the source from which ideology is both formed and prepared to be distributed. For the masses gaining access to the printed Bible, the text’s content acts as “the other” through which the reader’s self becomes grounded.

Eisenstein highlight’s the role of the printing press as fundamental to Protestantism’s uprise when she quotes Louis Holborn’s statement that “The Reformation was the first religious movement which had the aid of the printing press” (303). Eisenstein’s focus is that the printing of the Bible provided a revolutionary means through which Protestantism (which advocates for a reliance on the test of the Bible rather than rites) as an ideology could be distributed on a large scale. A fellow Marxist critic, Louis Althusser would propose the emergence of Ideological state apparatuses which rely on institutions (rather than violence) to perpetuate ideology (1341). Eisenstein’s example shows how the machinery of the printing press plays an essential role in perpetuating the Church’s ideology: Protestantism. Marx and Engel would assert in The Communist Manifesto that “the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production” (659). FOr Eisenstein, the printing press acts as the primary instrument of production by proposing that it is not only a translator of ideology from the author but is the source from which ideology is created, and our standard understanding of the relationship between reader, author, and text is usurped.

Eisenstein’s focus on mass production invokes Marx’s and Engel’s proposal of the “globalization of literature,” in which local traditions and beliefs would be eradicated by the “products chas[ing] of the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe” (659). Printing allows for increased accessibility which in turn reinforces literate culture. Authority is essentially stripped from the figures of the Church and thrust into the “self-empowered” hands of the reader. In this sense, Eisenstein’s example of the printing press reinforces Marx and Engel’s statement in Capital, Vol. 1 that “the religious world is but the reflex of the real world”( 669) in showing the manufacturing of religion.


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