Literary Criticism of Swift’s Poetry

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Literary Criticism of Swift’s Poetry In her article, "Voyeurism in Swift's Poetry," Louise K. Barnett explores the trend of voyeurism m the works of Jonathan Swift. She speaks broadly about the use of this technique in his work and concentrates on a few poems including "The Lady's Dressing Room." Barnett believes that Swift's poetry tends to be more voyeuristic than it is obsessed with excrement and decay. To support this, she maintains that each poem centers around the experience of seeing the obscenity (i.e. "The Lady's Dressing Room" revolves around Strephon's response to Celia's dirt and dung) rather than the obscenity. Barnett claims that the act should offend readers more than the content: "What is seen [in Swift] - a pathetic streetwalker disrobing, a disordered dressing room and lavatory - is not truly extraordinary; the appropriation of private experience and the poetic vindication of it are more so." (18) The fact that Swift looks at (and writes about) the private life constitutes a betrayal that should make the reader uneasy. (19) In light of this, Barnett suggests: What makes voyeurism such a powerful aesthetic strategy is its violation of the taboo of privacy, its denial of a condition that we take for granted as our right - namely, not to be observed in certain places, at certain times, doing certain things. 17 The private life consists of details that the public life would rather deny or at least hide. (17) If one person examines the private life of another (i.e. Strephon sees Celia's dressing room), the credibility of that public life is destroyed for him or her. If a large number of people examine that private life (i.e. readers of Swift's "The Lady's Dressing Room"), the public facade is totally dest... ... middle of paper ... ...tion of some sort of improper behavior." (20) I found Bamett's article engaging but difficult to digest. She tries to fit words like "obverse" and "espousal" into her work smoothly, but instead leaves the reader pouring over her words with a dictionary nearby. (This seems to be a trend in literary criticism - apparently, the bigger your words, the more people believe that you know something they don't!) She sets up her argument for "The Lady's Dressing Room," "A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed," and "The Legion Club" to be considered voyeuristic rather than scatological efficiently. Though I disagree, her belief that Swift objectifies women just as the Romantics he critiqued deserves merit. The only downfall is the abuse of a thesaurus. Works Cited Barnett, Louise K. "Voyeurism in Swift's Poetry." Studies in the Literary Imagination. Spring l984: 17-26.

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