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James E. Swearingen TIME AND TECHNIQUE IN GULLIVER'S THIRD VOYAGE Since marjorie hope nicolson's epochal essay "The Scientific Background of Swift's Voyage to Laputa," the satire of Part III of Gulliver's Travels has been understood as directed against the researches of The Royal Society.1 In a recent essay David Renaker has extended the Nicolson thesis by arguing persuasively that the distinction between the episodes on Laputa and in Lagado are directed against the Cartesians in France and the Newtonians in England respectively, thereby explaining the obvious distinction in the text and lending a greater sense of unity to the Travels as a whole by echoing die earlier pairing of Blefuscu and Lilliput.2 These clarifications of the historical context to which Swift is responding provoke much greater interest by providing modern readers some sense of die poignancy ofthe satire as it was felt by Swift's contemporaries. However, the view "that in interest and literary merit it falls short of the first two voyages" on the ground that "it is marked by multiplicity of themes . . . [and] is episodic in character" may now deserve rethinking.3 The difficulty in obtaining an appropriate relation between technological power and the conditions of concrete human well being in die latter decades of the twentieth century is likely to lend greater interest to the text, for interest is historical in a profound sense. Reconsideration may even lend a sense of urgency to Swift's understanding of the phenomenon of scientific knowledge. The question ofliterary merit would be set in a new light if it were possible to discover unity in that multiplicity of themes and order in those random episodes. If one could show that Part III were not completely lacking in "the philosophic intuition of the voyages to Lilliput and Brobdingnag" or in "die power of the violent and savage attacks upon mankind in die Voyage to the Houyhnhms" — even more significantly, if one could show that Swift's intuitive grasp of the destiny of technological culture were so radical as not to be fully accessible until that destiny had worked itself out, then what has been universally regarded as the weakest part of the Travels, perhaps constructed in haste, certainly lacking in equal brilliance, might be seen as more worthy of its context and a greater credit to its age. Philosophy and Literature Vol. 6 Nos. 1 and 2 Pp. 45-61 0190-0031/82/0061-0045 © 1982 by The Johns Hopkins University Press 46Philosophy and Literature Thus the present essay is to ponder the modernity of the satire, to set beside our understanding of background the question of foreground or that about which the work speaks so clearly to twentieth-century ears. The greatest minds among the English Augustans stand on a frontier where new cultural forces are gathering that are destined to alter an ancient understanding, grown somewhat hazy perhaps, but not so anthropocentric yet as to have obscured the phenomenon of man. The dawning era of the study of man thus marks an ending and a beginning. The Travels stands peculiarly poised between the ancient vision of man as nous, later creature, and the modern project of scientific enlightenment in which that essence of man is forgotten and where nature is no longer kosmos, order and the beauty oforder, nor ens creatum, the realm ofcreated being, nor even mundi habitores with its specific reference to the being who is addicted to the world. Swift is pleased to regard as benighted the hope for a brave new world, a heavenly city on earth, peopled by unconditioned, unhistorical intellectuals. The task of the Voyage to Laputa is to reveal dimensions of the new scientific enlightenment that were not evident in the eighteenth century and that are only gradually emerging in the twentieth. Hence Swift examines two aspects ofthat phenomenon by letting Gulliver be cast away on an island named Balnibarbi in die least charted region of the earth. He is taken aboard a flying island called "Laputa" (from the Spanish for "whore") with echoes of Luther's famous phrase "the whore reason." Among the great preoccupations of the Laputans are astronomy and a perpetual fear that die...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 45-61
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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