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Forum Response of Warren Montag to Carole Fabricant's review of The Unthinkable Swift: The Spontaneous Philosophy ofa Church ofEngland Man in EighteenthCentury Fiction 8:3 (1996), 417-21. The Unthinkable Swift, as its subtitle indicates, concerns Swift's philosophy, that is, the philosophy that can be disengaged from his works, especially A Tale ofa Tub and Gulliver 's Travels. Three of the book's four chapters trace relations of Swift's "spontaneous philosophy" to a number of philosophical doctrines, notably those of Plato, Aristode, Lucretius , Vitoria, Suarez, Grotius, Descartes, Gassendi, Hobbes, More, Cudworth, Locke, and Spinoza. I was surprised, therefore, to find that philosophy hardly figures at all in Carole Fabricant's review. It is discussed in only one of its twelve paragraphs and, of all the philosophers listed above, Fabricant mentions only Spinoza, once. My readings of these philosophical doctrines and their connection to Swift's work, that is, die basic arguments of my book, were all but ignored. I am not sure why she elected to review a book whose subject matter apparently interests her so little. Fabricant was a bit more interested in my approach to the historical background of Swift's work, which she found severely flawed. Before turning to concrete historical questions, however, permit me one theoretical point: while if it is true that I wrote that history erupts within texts, I neither said nor implied "that history is not someüiing 'out there,' external to the text." On the contrary, I feel quite confident that history exists outside as well as inside texts and I do not feel the slightest inclination to place quotation marks around the word "facts," as Fabricant does. I was persuaded to write a long historical introduction precisely because so many interpretations of Swift are based on the denial or suppression of the most well-known and incontrovertible facts of English and Irish history and because I have no interest in considering Swift's ideas apart from their historical, material context. If Althusser influenced my book it was in his identifying as the golden rule of materialism Marx's dictum that one should never judge a man by what he thinks about himself. Swift may have declared himself a champion of liberty and a man of the people but his word does not make it so. Let us leave to the side Swift's political and propaganda activities before 1714. Perhaps his support for mandatory conformity in religion, for censorship, for a restricdon of public office to the landed classes, and for an extension of royal prerogative under Queen Anne was, as Fabricant argues, merely an early Swift in many respects opposed to a later, more liberal incarnation (under the Hanoverians whose theologico-polidcal allegiances differed greatly from those of Anne). Swift's views, like the historical conjuncture itself , are complicated, and it is often difficult to separate tactics from principles; among Swift scholars and historians there is much legitimate debate. Let us tum instead to an apparently simpler case: Ireland. Who are the critics who contest the received truth that Swift was a champion of Irish liberty? This view is absolutely hegemonic in literary EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION, Volume 9, Number 1, October 1996 102 EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FICTION 9:1 circles (though not at all in historical studies) and has been repeated uncritically and unthinkingly by generation after generation of Swift scholars. I can see why Fabricant as a vigorous exponent of this position must reject a narrative of mere "facts" as "flatfooted ": for the simple reason that this vision of Swift is incompatible with historical reality (if I may be allowed that vulgar phrase). Further, I explicitly criticized Fabricant 's position in my book. It is unfortunate that she chose to ignore my critíque instead of taking the opportunity to respond to my arguments. For Fabricant, Swift was fundamentally an Irishman and, as such, locked in combat with the English colonizer. He was, in her view, a "proto-nationalist and anti-colonialist," fighting for the right of the Irish to govern themselves, that is, to enact laws and raise taxes solely on the basis of the consent of the people. I will say, without hesitation, that mis...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1911-0243
Print ISSN
0840-6286
Pages
pp. 101-102
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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