gullivers travel

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I want to outline in this essay some of the ways in which Swift's texts - in particular the shorter prose works and the poetry concerned with the female body - take up and make explicit contradictory philosophical positions. Much time and critical effort has been spent attempting to trace some unifying philosophical thread through the maze created by these and other of Swift's writings, when such a thread may be elusive to the point of vanishing altogether.1 It seems possible that one cause of this critical need to establish consistency in Swift is the influence of Postmodernist thought, which tends to cause a conditioned response to eighteenth century literary works in which the instinctive move is to look for that which totalizes, compartmentalizes, reveals a master narrative or supplies a clearly defined linear teleology. If, however, this kind of pre-imagined consistency proves unavailable, the critic is left with the notion of a multi-vocal, polychromatic Swift which should not, perhaps, be so surprising as there seems nothing alien to the intellectual trends of early-eighteenth century England in Swift's assumption of positions that appear radically opposed to one another. Periods of transition necessarily involve the existence of contradictory positions in constellation often within the work of a single writer or thinker. Even Sir Isaac Newton, the greatest of all icons of Enlightenment rationality, can be represented in such a way: "Newton was a Janus figure, emblematic of the new, rationalist, scientific and secular future, yet also using his mathematical skills for abstruse astrological and biblical calculations." (Corfield, 11). Clearly any attempt to attribute a definitive philosophical position to Swift is fraught with difficulty.2 Not only must the reader attempt to penetrate multiple levels of irony at a micro-level, but at a macro-level the fact that Swift was an Anglican clergyman complicates any philosophical interpretation. The origins of the debates on this issue are contemporaneous with the publication of the texts themselves (William Wotton's observations, for example), and criticism up to the end of the nineteenth century continued, predominately, to insist on an irreligious Swift an approach that survived into the twentieth century: "no defence of Swift's fundamental religious orthodoxy can stand the test of such writings. He is a sceptical humanist who again and again tilts at Christian belief". (Wilson Knight, on "The Tale of a Tub",124). This strain of criticism has been long overtaken, however, by

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