• Eccentricity

    • In 1729, Swift undertook a satirical exercise to make us think of the ways in which modernity was unable to provide for all the members of urban society, leading to considerable problems still present today.

    Culinary science and utopia, according to Jonathan Swift / 

    The author of Gulliver’s Travels was not just a consummated utopian novelist, he was also a satirist with an extremely dark sense of humor. In a short tale-essay from 1729, the Irish writer wrote A Modest Proposal (which is the title of the piece) to bring poverty to an end and to reach a new degree of economic prosperity. This is not the first time that a writer suggests a social adjustment (and in a certain utopian sense, since it is impossible), but it was the first time that this suggestion was presented with such a radical sense of humour.

    The proposal was introduced as follows:

    I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.

    Could cannibalism really by the solution to the financial woes of 18th century Ireland? Throughout the essay, Swift tries to make us believe he is talking about a serious proposal (one of those social reforms that satiric thinkers such as Propertius or Chesterton have made at different points in history), thus denouncing the excesses of corporate thought.

    Doesn’t cooking, stewing or roasting children seem as brutal as having them working in sweatshops making iPhones and all other sorts of luxury items for the privileged classes?

    Reading A Modest Proposal puts us face to face with the way in which we accept the far from modest proposals of our governors, and places a satiric note on political thinking, that is to say, in the notion of what is good for the people.

    I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggar's child (in which list I reckon all cottagers, labourers, and four-fifths of the farmers) to be about two shillings per annum, rags included; and I believe no gentleman would repine to give ten shillings for the carcass of a good fat child, which, as I have said, will make four dishes of excellent nutritive meat, when he hath only some particular friend, or his own family to dine with him. Thus the squire will learn to be a good landlord, and grow popular among his tenants, the mother will have eight shillings neat profit, and be fit for work till she produces another child.

    Tagged: Jonathan Swift, writers, Eccentricity, Satire