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"Zadie Smith: Artist and Citizen" (Lecture)

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Mar 5, 2011

Fancy as a mode of satire in Swift

Satire seems to have begun as a magical abuse purporting, like a curse, to wreck effective harm on the victim. Such attacking literature using invective as its main weapon would now be styled ‘Lampoon’ rather than satire. On the other hand when, as in the case of Swift, methods of stylistic caricature ad farcical content to predominate that malice and morality tend to melt away in the mockery. Swift started working on the book Gulliver’s travels apparently around the 1720 when the idea was advanced in Scriblerus Club of which he was a member. It was to have been incorporated in “Memoirs of Scriblerus”. It has the advantage of being a book interest to adults because of its satire on man and his institutions and to children because of its fantasy.

If by fantasy we are mean the capacity for making images, especially when fanciful, whimsical or visionary, swift has it. If one tries to know why of all of his books Gulliver’s Travels is popular among readers of all is that there is playfulness and fancy, the parable he attempts is a pseudo-realistic narrative. There us a direct vigour and matter of factness about his satire. His humour is often bitter as gall but its power and oppositness are beyond question. Tragedy is written across Swifts life. His intellectual audacity stood in his own pathway. He saw himself in a world of confusion and fleshood, no eyes were clearer to see it than his. For the issues he touched upon them, vastly transcended them. No finer things have been said of his tragic life and fantasy than was said by Thackeray: “to think of him is like thinking of the ruin of a great empire.”

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