The Baroque in English Neoclassical Literature

By J. Douglas Canfield | Go to book overview

13
Swift: Eccentrically Meant

SEEKING NEOCLASSICAL ORDER, ONE STRUGGLES WITH THE STRUCture of Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, by Lemuel Gulliver. Its real author, Jonathan Swift, seems to set up a rational, spatial continuum between parts 1 and 2. Part 4 might have seemed a logical conclusion to Gulliver’s experiences in parts 1 and 2. But when Swift added part 3, he wrenched the simplicity of his original design. Or is there a method in his baroque madness? As I struggled years ago with this difficulty, it dawned on me that part 3 adds a temporal continuum to the spatial. For in Glubbdubdrib Gulliver travels into remote nations in time. And in a sense, Gulliver grasps at his last hope, the future, in the chapter on the Struldbruggs or the Immortals. The axis of the coordinates may be baroquely eccentric, but the center of Swift’s satire seems to locate itself at that precise crossroads.


ABJECTION IN GULLIVER’S TRAVELS

These Struldbruggs and I would mutually communicate our Observa-
tions and Memorials through the Course of Time; remark the several
Gradations by which Corruption steals into the World, and oppose it
in every Step, by giving perpetual Warning and Instruction to Man-
kind; which, added to the strong Influence of our own Example,
would probably prevent that continual Degeneracy of human Nature,
so justly complained of in all Ages.1

Despite the bulk of criticism on Gulliver’s Travels, not enough attention has been paid to this very important passage toward the end of part 3 (chap. 10), which brings together at a climactic juncture the two major themes of nosce teipsum and antiperfectionism.2 The juncture is climactic because it concludes the entire

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