English 1022E Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: A Modest Proposal, Jonathan Swift, The Satirist
English Lecture “A Modest Proposal”
October 21, 2010
Exordium: from beginning to “I shall now propose.”
Proposition: from “I shall now therefore...”
Digression: from “A very worthy passion...”
Confirmation: from “I have too long digressed...”
Reputation: from “I can think of no objection...”
Allusion: from “But as for myself...”
1. The projector/proposer
3. Parody of scientific treaties
4. Oration structure
Irony: a “combination of ‘meaning it’, not meaning it, and not not meaning it.”
Problems at the heart of this text that we should think about. Swift has still created the
modest proposer. “Lessen the number of papists among us” he was an anglican, who
was deeply opposed to papists. Could be Swifts own idea creeping in there. He talks
about getting rid of prostitutes. Talks about using skin as gloves and boots (Nazis made
lampshades out of human skin (!)) Although he’s concealed behind the proposer, he’s
still Jonathan Swift. This came from his mind. He can say one thing, mean another, and
then not not mean the second one. Triple take. Even at the heart of someone who is
trying to be into Right Reason, there can still be some insanity there which we see in
these three things.
Satire, or militant irony, needs two basic things in order to operate. An object to attack,
something that the satirist feels needs to be addressed. The satirist must have some
kind of norm, standard, system of values, to launch that attack. Some kind of platform.
-Swift being a child of the Renaissance relies on “Right Reason”. He recognized that
without some kind of rudder, or values, the ship of reason could go astray.
-Reason without morals can become selfish. They sound good, but the more you think
about them you find that they aren’t good at all. Reason left to it’s own devices can
become very destructive.
-We have laws against Hate Speech because it aims to be destructive, it aims to use
false logic to bring about harm to other people.
-Swift recognizes that Right Reason is central to human activity. reason without
moral/spiritual value is open to all destructive sorts of things. The people doing these
things in the text is the Projector/Proposer
-Projector/Proposer: Someone in whom reason has become unhitched from reality and
moral and spiritual values. Reason has become a servant of persuasion, sold out to a
kind of economic rhetoric. He’s pointing out to us how dangerous Reason can be.
-In Ireland, land was owned by landlords who just wanted it for financial gain - this issue
Swift is addressing.
-England was also controlling Ireland economically, politically, religiously.
Religiously, the Church of England was doing everything in its power to
undermine the Catholic Church, trying to drive them towards
-England was metaphorically consuming Ireland. This metaphor Swift picks up.
We can see a Parallel in the Dead and the Modest Proposal.
-In The Dead, Joyce shows the people as all dead. Swift uses the metaphor that
England is eating up Ireland, and he uses this metaphor literally in the text.
-p.1119: “country that would eat up our own” - England, cannibalizing the Irish.
-The more you actually think about what he’s proposing, the more horrifying it becomes.
-Makes us see that Right Reason is being abused, that England is consuming Ireland.
He does this through 4 Devices:
1. The Projector/Proposer: The projector is a hand puppet for Swift, uses it for getting
across ideas. He sounds like the soul embodiment of Right Reason but he’s actually the
soul embodiment of perverse, horrifying reason. But he sounds so happy and humble. “I
profess in the sincerity of my heart... I have no other motive than the public good of my
country” - this is total hypocrisy. Tapas of affected modesty. This man is definitely not
modest at all. He proposes erecting a statue in his honor for coming up with this idea,
he wants public recognition. But yet he says that he has no personal interest in the
matter, but he does, he’s selfish.
a. We see that this “reason” isn’t reasonable at all; when he talks about breeding (not
having families, making kids as a job), talking about 1 male ‘serving’ 4 females.
b. Biggest giveaways “The hindquarters will make a reasonable meal.” What?! The
use of the word reasonable gives away just how unreasonable this is.
c. p.1117 - Talks about advantages to this. Uses the magisterial style of a carefully
laid out textbook like argument to make his proposition that more convincing.
3. Parody of Scientific treaties
d. He varies the tone. Goes from mild, to barbaric, and back again. “Knowing
American” = cannibal. There’s this rhythm of concessiveness.
e. Science can be used for destructive purpose
a. Reduces girls and women to animals by referring to them as “the female sex”.
Exordium: To get us on his side. By the end of the first paragraph we’ve heard someone
who sounds reasonable, who knows what he’s talking about etc. etc.
Proposition: When he proposes that he wants people to eat babies
Digression: Purpose is to establish and define the limits of the Proposal. He says that he
only wants to eat babies, not teenagers or adults.
Confirmation: Says that men will become more like stock breeders, take better care of
their women (not beat them) so they don’t miscarry.
Reputation: Uses the reputation to present the satirical norm. Spirit of honesty, industry
Conclusion: Swift is deadly serious. He pulls out all the stops so that we have to pay
attention, we have to see what is happening to the Irish at the hands of the english is
shocking and repulsive. Irelands problems are within their own power to solve them.
Think of ways of dealing with this problem, have to be aware that right reason can
become perverse when not linked to moral/spiritual values.