Books, In Medias Res (IMR)

Gulliver’s Travel’s, A Satire: (3) Castle in the Sky, Head in the Clouds

Gulliver LaputaPart 3 of Gulliver’s Travels is a hodgepodge of a bunch of places, named Laputa, Lagado, Glubbdubbdrib, Lindalino and Luggnagg. Oh, and Japan. (But that’s mentioned in passing and none of the discussion below applies to it.)

Besides the weird and in some cases insulting names, the inhabitants of these places are even stranger. Unlike Lilliput and Brobdingnag, the people here are of regular proportion.

Well, at least physically. Mentally, they’re kind of insane. Or rather, intelligently stupid. In Laputa, people are only concerned with the science of geometry and music. In Lagado, the people live in poverty because they spend all their resources on fruitless means: turning poop back into food (scientifically impossible), using a bellows to cure any ailment (which gives enema a whole new meaning), and conversing by holding up the object that is the noun (just plain stupid–what if you were talking about anvils or elephants?). In Lindalino, the people tried to overthrow their flying capital by building magnetic spires. In Glubbdubbdrib, magicians can bring back spirits from the dead. And in Luggnagg, some people can live forever…and have a terrible time of it.

The best part, I think, is the flappers. And I don’t mean women in the twenties wearing dresses with an inordinate amount of fringe. I mean people who tail you and wait until someone comes along and wants to speak with you. When such a person comes along, they slap your mouth and ear with a bladder full of tiny rocks to get your attention because you’re constantly wrapped up in your thoughts about the meaning of the universe.

How Swift came up with that idea, I have no clue. But thank his muse, because that is hilarious.

Which brings me to the Castle in the Sky, Head in the Clouds part of this blog. It’s really hard to tell what exactly Swift is satirizing in this part, given the sheer breadth of all this section encompasses. But in the end, I think he’s telling us that our heads are in the clouds.

The scientists of Lagado and the people of Laputa are so caught up with their thoughts and ideas, they never consider how idiotic, ridiculous, or trivial their ideas appear, even with poverty and a bladder full of rocks slapping them in the face.

In Glubbdubbdrib, Gulliver asks to speak with the spirits of great figures from history: Descartes, Homer, Aristotle, Caesar, Brutus. And it turns out, they were amazing because they sucked. We place these people on pedestals, when in actuality there was a lot of foul play on their path to the top.

And in Lagado, Gulliver discusses how wonderful it would be to live forever, only to have reality be his personal flapper when he finds out that despite never ending life, it isn’t never ending youth. By the age of eighty the immortals are so old and crotchety that they are considered dead, and is left to live forever in a pathetic existence, with no relief.

So I think part 3 satirizes how we as people prize things that are either (1) fruitless, (2) come from undesirable means, or (3) not as good as they seem to be. Swift seems to be poking fun especially at scientists, like all their experiments are pointless and are of no use to man kind.

Well, tough, Swift. We have penicillin. We have computers. And we don’t need flappers to remind us to check our Facebook page.

“The World had been misled by prostitute Writers, to ascribe the greatest Exploits in War to Cowards, the wisest Counsel to Fools, Sincerity to Flatterers, Roman Virtue to Betrayers of their Country, Piety to Atheists, Chastity to Sodomites, Truth to Informers.” – Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels

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