Category Archives: Swift (Jonathan)

Emily Dickinson’s Deathbed Fly

Okay, here is a second post on poems about small winged pests, written in honor of President Obama’s cool and cold-blooded killing of a fly. When I was a child, I used to enjoy the poem about “the funny old lady who swallowed a fly.” It is one of those repetition poems, with a new […]

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Bush, Obama, and Gulliver’s Travels

I return for one last time to Swift, who provides invaluable perspectives for understanding contemporary politics. Swift was a shrewd student of political dynamics. His satire is often an allegorical depiction of real life people and incidents, and if one knows one’s history, one can read parts of Gulliver’s Travels as a roman à clé, […]

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Can Satire Change Lives?

  For a website devoted to whether and how literature can change lives, satire presents a special case. That’s because satire seems to have changing lives as its goal. Because of this apparent agenda, it fell out of favor with the high culture crowd in the heyday of the New Criticism.  The New Critics, who […]

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The Symbolism of Cutting up Bodies

William Hogarth, The Fourth Stage of Cruelty  There are a number of images of cutting up human bodies in Swift’s satire. In this post I am going to explore why. In Book I of Gulliver’s Travels, the Lilliputians, when they want to punish Gulliver for his “traitorous” decision not to obliterate Blefescu, consider starving him […]

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Swift’s Attack on Cynicism

Venturing into the heated atmosphere of Supreme Court confirmation politics yesterday is a nice lead-in to my topic for today, which is the temptation to become so disgusted with human behavior that we throw up our hands and walk away. Or, since walking away is not really an option, the fantasy of doing so. Jonathan […]

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Silencing Inner Doubts through Fanaticism

Continuing the discussion on how Gulliver’s Travels can help us handle the challenges of political disillusion, I turn to Book II, where Gulliver finds himself stranded in the land of the giant Brobdingnags. In Book I, as I noted in the last entry, Gulliver can remain aloof from human perversity—and when, in the end, it […]

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Using Gullibility as a Shield vs. Disillusion

In Book I of Gulliver’s Travels, Gulliver lives in a world where he can be “above it all.” He can afford to be open-minded and generous because most issues don’t really affect him. Although he is, as his name suggests, gullible, it is gullibility that he can get away with. I stress this point because […]

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Swift, Obama, and Idealism

Like many Americans, I was excited, inspired, and rendered hopeful by the election of Barack Obama as president last November. I felt that, at long last, we could accomplish great things in this country. I have also been thinking how I will respond when my high hopes run up against reality. At least I’m old […]

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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