Sunday, 17 February 2013

Traveling with Gulliver, Part 3

Let's see... I don't want to ruin any parts of this that you haven't read and I also don't want to bore you with too many details.  I think what I'll do is discuss the chapters/scenes in order with my favorite observations along with the descriptions (this is by no means comprehensive so if I miss your favorite scene it's unintentional).  Are you ready?

Chapter 1

     It's only been two months at home before Gulliver leaves again... he seems to have a most understanding wife.  And this is after he makes a fool of himself at his homecoming from stooping down to hug everyone because of the difference in perspective from his journey to Brobdingnag, land of giants.
     However, leave he does and promptly encounters pirates, AAAARRRGHHH!  The episode with the pirates really only acts as a vehicle to get him to his next fantastical journey but does have a surprising amount of detail about a Dutchman pirate who exhibits pure nastiness.  This does lead to him being marooned on a boat which he rows to a set of islands and shows us his camping skills with gathering dry seaweed and plants to start a fire and roast eggs he finds.

Chapter 2

     Now, after enjoying the first episode of Survivorman:  Marooned on the Rock Islands, I was distinctly underwhelmed by the floating island if Laputa. The description of the mechanics of the island didn't interest me but the mention of the people is amusing.  It's here that Swift begins his lambasting of education, science and learning.  It's not so much the acquisition of knowledge that Swift finds so pretentious--it's the single-minded pursuit of reason and science at the expense of common sense and practicality that he finds offensive.
     Needless to say, he finds the Laputans to be a party to this difficulty and leaves when he can without being rude.  Of course, he is still able to learn yet another language in this short time.

Chapter 3

     This short chapter is heavy on the physical description of the island and how it moves.  If you like descriptions heavy in the manner of geometrical concepts and the physics of magnetism, you'll enjoy this.  If you;'re not, feel free to skim.  This also talks about the kings interesting and ultimately ineffective way of disciplining his people.

Chapter 4

     Gulliver seems content to leave Laputa and he travels to Balnibarbi and there are more and more examples of his opinion of the uselessness of the pursuit of pure science.

Chapter 5

     This has got to be my favorite part of Book III; the description of the Grand Academy of Lagado (Gulliver moves to and from so many places, it's hard to keep up with him).  Here the ridiculousness of "pure" and "theoretical" science is spotlighted.  From the filling of a dog's lower digestive tract with air to relieve cholic (and killing it in the process) to the blind artist endeavoring to paint by identifying the colors by smell, taste, and feel, to the professor who made his students eat the inked parchment with their lessons; this discourse abounds in absurdities.  Even more outrageous is when I think that not very much has changed in the last several hundred years.
     Oh yes, the last part of chapter 5 describes a mechanism that reminds me of the old theory; "If you put 1000 monkeys in a room with 1000 typewriters, for an infinite amount of time, they will produce the works of William Shakespeare."  What do you think are the chances of that?

Chapter 6

     Swift devises an ingenious way to settle political arguments within this Academy and, if the debaters survived, it might actually work!  There are some more gross-out bits before a stop at code-deciphering fun before he is ready to leave.

Chapters 7 and 8

     While waiting for an opportunity to travel home, Gulliver takes a short trip to Glubdrubdrib.  The most notable thing to me is that he enjoys and encourages the Governor's use of necromancy (the art of speaking to the dead).  In light of Swift's support of the Christian church, the willingness to call up a vast number of historical figures from the dead is surprising.  It makes me think that his faith his superficial--more a dictate of how-to-live values than an internalized belief.  Funny now curiosity can overcome scruples.

Chapters 9 and 10

     Gulliver travels to yet another land to discover the same level of intricacies in a court setting as he's found before--just different behaviors.  Now, beyond the Governor's palace and necromantic arts, we find Gulliver in Luggnagg expounding to the locals about the beauty and opportunity of being immortal, many of these individuals reportedly living in that country.  He is in for a rude awakening when informed that immortality does not equal youth and vitality--just long life and continuous aging.  That uncomfortable thought is still not brought to bear in most current literature.

Chapter 11

     The end of Book III finds Gulliver sailing to Japan and back to England and his family.  Where, after a 5 year 6 month absence he describes his family as "in good health".

I'm interested to see where Book IV carries our intrepid traveler.  If you're reading along with me, let's take it easy and give ourselves up to two weeks to finish.  Let me know if you are enjoying our journey in the comments below.