"The projecting species": Reading Swift's critique of the scientific project in Book 3 of "Gulliver's Travels"
Piper, William Bowman
Doctor of Philosophy
Book 3 of Jonathan Swift's Travels into the Remote Nations of the World offers a thorough critique of the eighteenth-century scientific world--a world marked by systematization, theoretical speculation, stories of "progress," and innovation, which people have commonly embraced and into which the "modern" mind had unresistingly and perhaps unconsciously placed itself. Because Book 3 appears to indulge in a transparent attack on some specific eighteenth-century events, ridicule seems to be the primary device used to undermine the practices of the scientific community. However closer inspection reveals that Swift's satire is not grounded in the topical particulars of the Eighteenth Century, but addresses such general problems, such as moral deficiency, intellectual arrogance, tyranny, which are common to human experience. Moreover, his attack, not dependent upon ridicule, involves complex rhetorical strategies, including some subversive reader-indicting techniques that challenge and ultimately compel readers to take an active role in resolving the dilemma (intellectual, philosophical, moral, etc.) into which he has placed them. Thus the process of reading Book 3 makes the reader both an active supporter and sympathetic critic of scientific practices. The resulting tension is a primary contributor to the textual problems that have troubled the critics of Book 3 since the Travels first came out, but it is also what makes scrupulous attention to the text worthwhile.
English literature; History of science