Plugging the holes in a spotty education.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Swift Vote

Satire is difficult. And who is the audience for it? George S. Kaufman said: “Satire is what closes on Saturday night.” Is that because the audience is too dumb to get it? Or maybe they don’t want a nice evening spoiled by reminders of all that’s wrong with the world?

More to the point, how could an otherwise well-educated woman such as myself have missed out on one of the world’s most famous satires: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift? For it’s true, I must make the Shame-Faced Admission™ that until now I hadn’t read Swift’s classic book.

Gulliver’s Travels, the full title of which is Travel into Several Remote Nations of the World, recounts, in his own voice, the fantastical adventures of Lemuel Gulliver. In his first tale Gulliver is shipwrecked on an island inhabited by a race of tiny people, his next tale takes him to a land of giants, the third to an island in the sky filled with philosophers and absent-minded scientists (no, not Seattle, but close) and the fourth finds him sharing oats with the admirable Houyhnhnms.

(BTW, this is the third shipwreck in the last four Shame-Faced books I’ve read. It makes me never want to get on a boat again.)

Satire walks a fine line – too funny and you obscure your point. Too obvious and you’ve written a pamphlet. Gulliver’s Travels is known as a book that gets it right. I can add my agreement. Engrossing and imaginative, it posits worlds one can believe, not quite as our own, but with human nature clearly on display.

Before starting the book, I was a bit concerned that I wouldn’t get the allusions and be as lost as Swift would be in the audience for Saturday Night Live. By not knowing much (read: any) of the political history of 18th century Europe, I’m sure I missed a lot. But there was still plenty to glean from the petty concerns of the Lilliputians and the coarseness of the Brobdingnagians.

Imagine Swift taking in an SNL skit about Paris Hilton. He wouldn’t get the jokes about the sex tape, but he’d recognize a vapid clotheshorse when he saw one. Some failings never go out of style.


Blogger Willy B. Good said...

good read and I bet if Swift saw SNL he would totally agree with George S.
Kaufman and throw away his pen forever

12:25 AM


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