Language at Work in Jonathan Swift
Language is not a simple bridge from thought to meaning: it has a constitutive function of its own, and its effects should be considered along with the ideas it conveys. The language of Jonathan Swift illustrates this point exactly, because of its mode of operation. In the Swiffian text language is always at work; involved in processes of questioning and reshaping its contents, and our reading of them. Swift's writing enacts, as much as it states, and the reader must be attentive to this process, if the full impact of the texts is to be measured. My project in this thesis is to analyse how language operates in the major works, and the outcome of its activity. In each chapter, I consider how relevant seventeenth- and eighteenth-century ideas of language impact on, and are affected by, Swift's language; as well as his amenability to current ideas in theories of language. First, seventeenth-century attempts to reform and purge language are measured against Swift's handful of explicit statements on the subject; and although there are points of convergence, I conclude that it is more productive to study Swift's less conventional experiments with language than to assemble a fitful philosophy from a few comments. The remaining chapters engage in this project. I assess A Tale of a Tub in relation to ideas of 'the book'—an opportunity to consider the complex interactions between authors, texts, and readers from the vantage point of an ideal of certainty and totality. The poetry is measured against the Augustan separation of 'sound' from 'sense', which founders when confronted with Swift's contemplation of the poetic object through excessive concentration on the body and its products. And Gulliver 's Travels represents an engagement with issues of fictionality and context, and how these affect the dispensation of meaning. Throughout these discussions, my intention is to establish that Swift's writing survives, and its future is assured, because of its interactive, interrogatory, self reflective nature.