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Title: Swift, Ireland and the aesthetic critique of modernity.
Author: Deeming, David.
ISNI:       0000 0001 3421 4048
Awarding Body: Birkbeck (University of London)
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 1999
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The thesis examines the cultural and political significance of the formal and stylistic strategies in the work of Jonathan Swift; particularly the early prose satire A Tale of a Tub. Given his Irish origins and the largely colonial basis of England's relationship with Ireland, Swift's aesthetic strategies are shown to offer a mode of aesthetic resistance to, and interrogation of, English colonialism. In a rapidly modernising, secularising England national identity and social cohesion were being increasingly galvanised through an aesthetic ideology that emphasised the function of the aesthetic as that which can present a model of integration and shared values. Swift, drawing upon his experience of an Ireland socially fragmented by colonialism, emphasises the simultaneous, if contradictory, function of the aesthetic as the domain of the subjective imagination. An extreme wit, feared by Locke as that which will cause the individual subject to forget his or her social responsibilities, itself fragments society by encouraging the individual to inhabit an interiorised world of irrational associations. Swift, ostensibly satirising such behaviour in the Tale in the name of an English nationalism, actually allows the logic of such an extreme wit to dominate. Thus, he utilises what Vivian Mercier has shown to be the modes of traditional Irish literature, while simultaneously engaging with the (colonising, commercialising) ramifications of England's emergence into modernity. In the first, introductory chapter I explain, with reference to Swift's early life and work and to the critical work that already exists on Swift, why this thesis is a necessary addition to such a body of criticism. Chapter Two constitutes a closer examination of the Tale, the strategies of which are illuminated by a comparison with other works from the Anglo-Irish tradition: Burke, Swift's eighteenth-century Dublin biographers, the political economy of Sir Francis Brewster. Chapter Three turns to Swift's attempts to conform to English social and cultural modes in the first half of his career, particularly in The Examiner of 1710-11. The thesis returns to the idea of Swift as an Irish literary subverter in Chapter Four, this time by looking at the way the Tale and its companionpiece The Battle of the Books employ a form of 'extreme' allegory described by Walter Benjamin as essentially baroque in origin, and so able to adopt a critical position towards the early enlightenment principles of Swift's mentor and patron, Sir William Temple. Given that the category of the modem aesthetic emerges conceptually as a product of the enlightenment, Chapter Five examines Swift's work in the context of subsequent European enlightenment thinkers Kant and Herder, showing how Swift can be said to mediate their respective positions. The thesis concludes by arguing for Swift as, ultimately, a champion of reason; and goes on to point towards how Swift's aesthetic critique has resonances for our own contemporary situation: namely, how his early satirising of modem astrology is an early recognition of the unreason inherent in mass culture.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Swift, Jonathan; Satire; Irish; Colonialism