Jonathan Swift: Poems

Epistemology and Explicitation in a Selection of the Prose and Poetry of Jonathan Swift

I want to outline in this essay some of the ways in which Swift's texts - in particular the shorter prose works and the poetry concerned with the female body - take up and make explicit contradictory philosophical positions. Much time and critical effort has been spent attempting to trace some unifying philosophical thread through the maze created by these and other of Swift's writings, when such a thread may be elusive to the point of vanishing altogether.1 It seems possible that one cause of this critical need to establish consistency in Swift is the influence of Postmodernist thought, which tends to cause a conditioned response to eighteenth century literary works in which the instinctive move is to look for that which totalizes, compartmentalizes, reveals a master narrative or supplies a clearly defined linear teleology. If, however, this kind of pre-imagined consistency proves unavailable, the critic is left with the notion of a multi-vocal, polychromatic Swift which should not, perhaps, be so surprising as there seems nothing alien to the intellectual trends of early-eighteenth century England in Swift's assumption of positions that appear radically opposed to one another. Periods of transition necessarily...

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