I concluded a good semester of ENGL203 with a pretty good week, literature wise. I decided to read all four parts of Gulliver’s Travels, and in hindsight I think that was a good decision, because not only did it provide a lot to think about, it also put the fourth journey to the land of the Houyhnhnms a little more in context for me. I thought the grand academy at Balnibarbi was especially interesting, and I think its satire is still relevant in a lot of ways – it specifically made me think of TED, with so much speculation and so many convoluted solutions to serious problems with so little in the way of what’s actually practicable. There was also “The Engine,” which I made a forum post about and incorrectly located on Laputa rather than Balnibarbi… oh well.
If there’s one major theme that I saw underlying the four parts of Gulliver’s Travels, it’s disease, disgust, and deformity. I guess that looks like three themes… let’s invent a disease-disgust-deformity complex so we can call it one. The changes in scale in Lilliput and Grobdingrag both brought into focus everything that’s dirty and repulsive about the human body. Among our fellow-sized creatures we’re apparently able to overlook the stinks, smells, and blemishes, but in Lilliput and Grobdingrag they become unignorable. But is Gulliver’s Travels an argument against the human body? I don’t think so – in part 4, when Gulliver comes to the land of the Houyhnhnms who are apparently without disease and physical deformity the sterility of their society puts him into a mentally diseased and unwell state. I think he tries to separate himself from his corporeality, but then there’s the issue with wearing the skins of Yahoos… I’m a little lost. I’m sure someone has written about this pretty extensively in a dissertation somewhere. The big takeaway seems to be that humans as rational creatures are inseparable from humans as physically dirty and disgusting creatures. I would say it reminds me of Bataille, but I’ve never read Bataille – would I have gotten away with it?
Outside of the assigned reading, I’ve had another pretty exciting literary experience. When I was in an antique store in Carytown about a month ago, I found this paperback copy of Titus Groan, and although I’d never heard of it or its author I saw it was printed by Ballantine and, being a huge fan of Dunsany and Morris (who they so graciously reprinted) and the Ballantine Lin Carter anthologies, I decided to pick it up. What a great book! It’s like a Gothic The Charwoman’s Shadow, I love it! Can’t believe no one ever mentions it, although apparently they made it into a BBC miniseries starring Sting. Knowing about which doesn’t make me not worried about the fate of authors like William Morris and Anatole France and Hope Mirilees. You just can’t find them in libraries, and I think it’s an enormous shame. Actually, same goes for LeGuin, which is just tragic. If classic fantasy has been canonized, why isn’t it being curated???
I don’t want to say too much more, but I ought to at least reflect on the fact that it’s been a really good semester and I’ve had a really good time with this course. I don’t think I would have read Milton again if it hadn’t been for this course, and I certainly would have never read Julian. I’m looking forward to taking more classes like this in the future!
Unfortunately, I ran out of oyster facts a long time ago. Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.