Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Swift's Science of Distortion

The issue of bodies in Gulliver's Travels is one that Swift confronts in a way different from what we've seen in other works. Particularly when read after the grotesque distortions of the body in "A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed" and "The Lady's Dressing Room," the mere size distortion with which Swift plays in the citizens of Lillliput and Brobdingnag seems, at first anyway, tame. The features and actions of these diminished or gigantic figures are essentially identical to Gulliver's, merely on a different scale. While certainly qualifying as "impossible," it seems a stretch (pun sort of intended) to classify these distortions in the same way. The fact that this almost fairy-tale like representation of the body, however, seems more real and less grotesque than those literary representations of the "true" (however artificial) body that we've seen speaks then to how we perceieve "natural" and "unnatural" as relating to the body.

Swift's distortion of size also serves to create an interesting resonance between Journal of the Plague Year and Gulliver's Travels. Both narrators are able to take an almost anthroloplogical view of the societies that they describe, and the mechanism for this detachment stems directly from the distinction between their bodily state and the state of those around them. The health and size, respectively, of the narrators in these novels grants them an initial distinguishment from their subjects, allowing them scientific authority in their detachment. Both tales weaving into something of ethnographies, complete with both numeric precision in recording as well as personal anecdotes and interactions place the authors on something of a knife's edge, both living in the societies, but above them, claiming authority.

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