Posts Tagged ‘satire’

Reflecting on the Human

by   |  11.26.09  |  221-Restoration/18th Century

    Much of Swift’s satire in Gulliver’s Travels comes from a captain’s log describing a foreign land to his countrymen or describing his own country to a foreigner. Either way we as readers are forced to view ourselves from a different perspective. In Book 2 after hearing a relation of the “State of Europe” with its senators, soldiers, priests, lawyers, and judges, the 70 foot king of Brobdingnag can only look down on Gulliver and his countrymen, dismissing them as a “pernicious race of little odious vermin” much like the Lilliputians in Book 1.

    Gene Rodenberry must surely have read Swift since similar descriptions or critiques occasionally appear in episodes of Star Trek. Whenever Kirk or Picard attempt to explain some typically human behavior to a Vulcan, an android, or an alien ambassador, the audience is forced briefly to reconsider its own view of the world.

    The heirs of Gene Rodenberry have occasionally used the human body to consider the essential features of humanity. Each series has provided rational foils like the Vulcan Spock or the android Data as mirrors through which to reflect the most basic elements of a human being: body and mind, passion and reason. In the following clip from Star Trek: Voyager, Lieutenant Torres has been sent to repair an alien ship inhabited only by a pathological hologram who may have disposed of the ship’s human crew.

    Star Trek, Revulsion clip

    Though many of the political and social targets of Book 4 have been treated earlier in the novel, one subject new to Book 4 is the satire of the human body. In passages like those in chapters 5 and 6, the Houyhnhnms provide an ironic study of the human form which focuses not on its beauty but on its deficiencies. What does Swift have to say about this “biological cage of flesh and bone and blood”?

Gulliver’s Trek Exercise

    Since, if Swift had lived in our own time, he surely would have sent Gulliver traveling through space, boldly going where no yahoo had gone before, choose some aspect of life in our country or on our planet that an alien observer would find amusing or repulsive (possibilities might include love, democracy, social clubs, church, movies, weapons of mass destruction, or kissing).

    Before moving on, write a 1 or 2 paragraph description of a topic taken from politics, religion, or society for some member of a more civilized culture and bring your work to class.

    I’ve included two imaginative examples from past students below, but feel free to take your own post into uncharted territory.

    We Call It “Democracy” – Student Example

    On Matters of Transportation – Student Example

Rescuing the Human

    Scott Derrickson’s 2008 Day the Earth Stood Still offers a recent revision of the alien visitor motif. The hyper-reasonable Klaatu has come to save the earth from the human race. These scenes share several parallels with the judgments of the representatives of pure reason in Gulliver’s Travels though they add a clear acknowledgement of humanity’s dual nature, as the greatest threat and hope of the future.

    Judgment Day clip