True-to-Life History? What the Dead Say in Gulliver’s Travels, or: Sensational Disclosures (Gulliver Tells All)

in Reading Swift


Although Gulliver’s stay in Glubbdubdrib ostensibly grants access to the truth, truth remains one of the episode’s most vexing issues. Not only is the Voyage to Glubbdubdrib a parti-pris piece in Swift’s politico-literary arsenal against Whiggery; it also abides by the jocular conventions of the Dialogues of the Dead, a fact which undercuts the purported veracity of what Gulliver is imparted: learning from the dead may simply result in more illusions. Indeed, what Gulliver discovers is a variety of political histories which finally boil down to a reductio ad fornicationem, even ad prostitutionem, and which do not rise above those very ‘anecdotes’ that are the ‘hallmark’ of faulty history. Thus, Gulliver’s ‘restoration’ of historical truth suggests that history rests on thin air and that, especially when it serves the practical purposes of politics, it is no better than “obscene necromancy.”

Reading Swift

Papers from The Seventh Münster Symposium on Jonathan Swift


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