Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Instability and Perspective: Purgatory in Horse Land

Thinking further about the discussion of Gulliver's perspective in Part IV of Gulliver's Travels, it seems that not only is he occupying a different sort of space from the first two books, but that he is unable to maintain his hold on this space. In Books I and II, Gulliver was able to occupy one side of a binary: either tiny or gigantic in proportion, completely cast as an "other" in these societies. In the land of the Houyhnhms, Gulliver walks into a society in which a binary already exists. Gulliver, however, cannot identify completely with either side of the dialectic and therefore occupies a liminal space, resting in a sort of purgatory between the Houyhnhms and the Yahoos. His addition into the society creates a third dimension, which is cast as inherently unstable. Gulliver cannot negotiate his way as a thrid party in this binary, and begins the process of identifying as a Yahoo, and the self-loathing that accompanies that identification. In terms of the satire of the novel, this oscillation in the liminal space in between the Houyhnhnms and the Yahoos parallels Swift's move to invoke a sense of universal satirization. From his/Gulliver's place within the society (instead of outside of it, as was posible in the other books), however, this process breaks down, leaving Gulliver's self-identification unstable.

1 comment:

  1. I like this discussion (which continues in Professor Porter's post) because it highlights such a universal question: what is man's place in the world? I do not know a great deal about specific religious debate in the 18th century, but I feel that as science improved, many questioned man's place (or space) in the universe. It goes along with the earlier discovery that the sun did not revolve around the earth, but rather the opposite. What does this mean? people must have wondered. Gulliver's alienation on account of his completely topsy turvy experience of his place in the world is ridiculous, but I think it might mirror the sentiments of many of his contemporaries at the time.