Take Bacon’s Utopia Away Swiftly

By: Katherine Hernandez

Jonathan Swift is known famously for using satire in the novel Gulliver’s Travels in order to convey the foolishness and hypocritical nature of the utopian society that is painted by Francis Bacon. Swift uses irony in Gulliver’s Travels in a very clever way; by depicting the obviously fictions adventures of Gulliver in a way that comes across to readers as perhaps a self-narrative he is able to capture the flawed philosophy of imperialism during his era in almost a seamless manner. What he demonstrates goes directly against the utopian ideology that Francis Bacon sheds light on. By mimicking what Bacon would consider a perfect society, Swift uses satire to shed light on a philosophy that is actually far from perfect and in fact could be held to a mockery considering the fact that during this time period the exact opposite was occurring during the process of colonization. The equality and abundance of food that is mentioned in The New Atlantis is actually the exact opposite of what is occurring in the world.

 

In Gulliver’s Travels a paragraph that demonstrates the irony that exists witch in the text reads as the following, “ I sworn and subscribed to the Articles with great Cheerfulness and Contentment, although some of them were not so honorable as I could have wished;…… Whereupon my Chains were immediately unlocked, and I was at full liberty.” (Part 1, Chapter 3, Page 44)

 

I found this quote especially ironic. Swift demonstrates how in Bacon’s Utopia, something as seamless as a disagreement between morals and cultures can come to an ultimate conclusion in which the parties may live amongst each other in harmony, however, Swift is very much aware how that is not occurring during his time. In fact, in the real world, there is a lack of regard for other cultures, for their rules and their ways of living. The Opposite of what happens in a reality takes place, however, in a utopian society the Cheerful and Contentment that is expressed may, in fact, be sincere and liberty shall be gifted to those that follow the ideal. However, in the real world that is not the case. Thus we are met with the use of irony and satire in Swift’s novel. It shows how Swift plants his feet firmly in the realistic ways people treat other people, which is in stark contrast to Francis Bacon, who believes in the good people can have towards one another and eventually a world that is built on compromise and equality for all, an ideology that Swift mocks throughout the novel.

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Perfection? Not Even Once.

Esther Quintanilla

Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathan Swift offers an interesting narrative of Lemuel Gulliver who swears that the stories of his travels are true. Swift is known for using satire in his works to provoke thoughts that aren’t as popular to the masses. This is evidently seen in Gulliver’s Travels, particularly in that of the description of the “utopia” that was fantasized over by different writers and thinkers, much like Francis Bacon. Swift makes an effort to poke fun at the unrealistic ideas that are put at the forefront by Bacon and rebuttals his ideas by pointing out that if there were such a thing as a perfect utopia, humans would end up ruining it.

Bacon, in The New Atlantis, mainly focuses on the description of the seemingly perfect utopia of Atlantis. He stresses the equality, beauty, and abundance of food that is found in Atlantis and forgets that there can be other nations besides Atlantis. In his article, there is no mention of any other regions or nations besides Atlantis; Solomon even goes as far as to disguise the kingdom of Atlantis in order to keep it safe—“For the several employments and offices of our fellows, we have twelve that sail into foreign countries under the names of other nations (for our own we conceal), who bring us the books and abstracts and patterns of experiments of all other parts” (Bacon 1279). Bacon refuses to name the nations of which they are stealing ideas from, the reader can only assume that it is from Spain and the other powerful nations in Europe.

Gulliver, however, does mention a different nation when he talks about Mildendo, a so-called utopian metropolis of Lilliput— “Now in the midst of these intestine disquiets, we are threatened with an invasion from the island of Blefusco, which is the other great Empire of the universe, almost as large and powerful as this of his Majesty” (pg. 84).

Mildendo is the equivalent to Atlantis in this novel, but Gulliver writes about it in a completely different light. To contrast the description of Atlantis, which is described to be absolutely beautiful with high towers and universal language, Meldendo is contained by five-hundred-foot tall walls with the alleys and lanes only being twelve to eighteen inches wide—not very impressive when compared to Atlantis. Swift is, once again, satirizing the ideas of perfection and how some things just may be too good to be true. This is seen time and time again when Swift makes fun of humanity for needing perfection.

Swift does not believe in the goodness of people. In various works of his, such as A Modest Proposal and Gulliver’s Travels, he talks about how humanity strives for perfection but does not have the ability to keep it perfect. Swift pokes fun at the human idea of perfection and blames us for the lack of it. In Gulliver’s Travels, the philosophers would rather humans try to go to space than infect Mildendo—“…[our philosophers] would rather conjecture that you dropped from the moon, or one of the stars; because it is certain, that in a hundred mortals of your bulk would, in a short time, destroy all the fruits and cattle of his Majesty’s dominations” (pg. 84).

Swift is criticizing the human desire for perfection because we are unable, and possibly even unwilling, to take care of it when it is right in front of us.

Another Island of Enlightenment

In part one, chapter three, after being told of the obligations that he must perform for Lilliput, Gulliver writes that, “I swore and subscribed to these articles with great cheerfulness and content, although some of them were now so honourable as I could have wished … I made my acknowledgements by prostrating myself at his majesty’s feet …” regarding his new duties. I believe that his willingness to so easily accept what could be considered ridiculous demands created by Skyresh Bolgolam, someone who openly disliked Gulliver, is meant to satirize Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis. Gulliver is presented to the reader as a man of the enlightenment who examines the world as a rationale and knowledgeable individual, yet he doesn’t find anything odd or weird regarding the demands placed upon him regarding where and when he can go places, or the demands that he must fight for Lilliput and assist their workmen. Despite effectively being a slave and still a prisoner, Gulliver’s only complaint is that some of the demands weren’t as honorable as he was expecting.

The irony of this situation is that this far away lost island, similar to Bacon’s mythical utopian island of Bensalem, is seen by an individual that embodies the ideas of the enlightenment, to be perfectly reasonable with their requests and customs. Even though Gulliver could be considered enlightened by European standards, to the people of the island, he is seemingly unenlightened given his lack of knowledge regarding the proper way to handle himself on their island. Though Gulliver is massive in comparison to everyone and everything else on the island, he is seemingly regarded to be in a position of inferiority to the Lilliputians because of his lack of enlightenment by their standards and his knowledge on certain subjects which they consider wrong. The customs of the island work to satirize many European customs, appearing to show that the customs and traditions themselves are not superior merely for existing, but because the Europeans hold a dominant position and as a result, believe their culture to be superior. Just like Bensalem, Lilliput too is an island of knowledge and enlightenment for someone who has never been there before.

-Ryan Bucher

Little Bodies, Big Ego

“Now, in the midst of these intestine Disquiets, we are threatened with an Invasion from the Island of Blefuscu, which is the other great Empire of the Universe, almost as large and powerful as this of his Majesty. For as to what we have heard you affirm, that there are other Kingdoms and States in the World, inhabited by human Creatures as large as yourself, our philosophers are in much doubt, and would rather conjecture that you dropped from the Moon, or one of the Stars: because it is certain, that an hundred Mortals of your Bulk would, in a short time, destroy all the Fruits and Cattle of his Majesty’ Dominions… The people so highly resented this Law, that our Histories tell us there have been six Rebellions raised on that account; wherein one Emperor lost his Life, and another his Crown.” (p. 1, ch. 4, pg. 47)

Swift uses satire when talking about the 6 inch people who live in Lilliput. The satire is used to admit that being captured was something he thought was a joke, it was nonsense. Gulliver is much, much taller than them and he lets himself get pushed around and manipulated when he does not have deal with that. He says the Blefuscu is ‘almost’ as strong as the empire he is in right now but really they have no actual power due to their size and continues to let himself get manipulated. Did Swift use this as a way of making fun of Rowlandson? Could this have been as a way to say she never had anything to worry about and made a fuss out of nothing? This could be the case, the natives admitted they were never going to hurt her or kill her but she still made it seemed like she was in actual danger.


The Lilliput people also symbolize the arrogance of the Europeans. It seems to connect to Bacon’s New Atlantis because they believed they didn’t need a god, they only praised those who were smart such as scientists. They believed they were great because they had created a perfect world, a utopian society. The people of Lilliput couldn’t believe when Gulliver said there were other people out there that were different sizes. This is similar to Bacon’s New Atlantis, they were very egoistic that they choose to side with science and not religion. With that much arrogance the world is not meant to go far, they have little minds but big egos and that is no way of running a society. These people, in Lilliput, were going to live in their own little world never accepting the fact that there was more out there. However, was this Swift’s way of showing that this world and Bacon’s, was naive and there was never hope for this type of society?

-Sandy Morelos_

Gulliver’s Travels: Satirizing the Enlightenment

In Gulliver’s prefatory letter to his cousin Sympson, he insists that his captivity narrative is not “mere Fiction” and that everything he wrote is empirically true and factually based.  He insists that he’s a real person, the author of this book full of fabulous voyages.  Clearly, Swift is having fun with his readers: there is no way that the imaginary islands and people Gulliver visited are true. Swift is mocking the popular travel accounts of his time.

Question prompt:

Choose a specific passage from Part 1, “A Voyage to Lilliput,” or part 2, “A Voyage to Brobdingnag,” that satirizes the literary conventions of utopian fiction (Bacon’s “New Atlantis”) or the captivity narrative (Rowlandson).  How does Gulliver’s descriptions in this passage ironize or satirize those of Bacon and/or Rowlandson? To help you with this post, here are 5 close reading guidelines you should follow:

1. Note key words or phrases that repeat in that passage.

2. Look for irony, paradox, ambiguity, and tension.

3. Note those words or phrases that seem odd or out-of-place.

4. Note any important symbols, motifs, and themes.

5. Is there anything missing from the text that should be there?

And for inspiration, I’ve included below a YouTube video clip of the latest film version of Gulliver’s Travels below, starring Jack Black as Gulliver.

Please remember to categorize your post under “Satirizing the Enlightenment” and to create specific and relevant tags (as many as you want).  The post is due by Wednesday (2/27) 9:30am.  And please include your full name, as your TA and I won’t be able to identify you through your blog username alone.

Warning: students who don’t submit their post on time or edit their blog post after the submission deadline, will not receive a grade (a “0”).

Empirical Equates to Truth in Absolute, or does it?

Francis Bacon, in “The New Atlantis,” seems to favor tangible evidence over, hypothetical/figurative reasoning.  He seems to be driven towards finding the truth, empirically, and, in that, seeing truth as a treasure.  But in Bacon’s philosophy about finding truth, is really just the self justification for colonialism.

So the question can be asked: What is his truth?

Let us begin with his explicit truths.  Though his work in “The New Atlantis” is of the fictional genre, his personal values are clearly evident in the choice of rhetoric he uses.  We first see his decision to use the voice of some fictional character who is describing what great riches are to be found upon this perfect world.  With this beautiful scenery, he also describes a systematic process being taken place in this perfect world, and how each individual is assigned to certain roles to make said system run smoothly.  In essence, an industry.  One of the most interesting appeals Bacon uses is when he references a biblical name, calling this perfect world, “the House of Solomon.”  This was perhaps done so as to allow the possibility of the Christian community taking Bacon’s notions into consideration.  While Bacon continues to infer that science can be considered a religion, and that God does have a place in the findings of unanswered hypotheses, he still seems to favor the more visual evidence.

The implicit reality is that Bacon’s ultimate purpose was to romanticize the undertaking of searching, occupying, and ultimately colonizing already occupied lands.  In his writings, the language he uses a lot includes the word “we.”  The use of this words implies a ethnocentric perception of himself and the people that fall within the same category as him, other Europeans.  There seems to be signs of that idealism throughout his writing.  For example, he writes, “There we have the statue of Columbus, that discovered the West Indies.”  Bacon describes the statues that they are rising on this land, and in addition to that description, he goes onto describe Columbus as the “inventor” of so many things.  This seems a bit unfair as he is essentially disregard any other form of culture, or inventor, or school of thought.  

In one of Bacon’s other essays, “Of Truth,” he describes how a man of high authority views poetry as “Wine of Devils” because poetry only covers lies, and in some way creates lies out of truth.  In other words, drowns out facts.  Again, this shows that he feels his own truths, and how they are sought out, is the most relevant.  So, what is his truth?  His truth can be found in the maze of rhetoric he creates throughout his writing, that merely serves as a mask to cover the ugliest of truths, colonialism, and ethnocentrism.

Maricela Martinz

“Take Nobody’s Word for it”

The Royal Society, where “Nullius in verba” or “take nobody’s word for it” is an essential element of “expression of the determination of Fellows to withstand the domination of authority and to verify all statements by an appeal to facts determined by experiment”. The Royal Society takes pride in its history, and to its founders, and its process of work. In Francis Bacon’s The New Atlantis , there is the similar foundations as expressed in the Royal Society.

As Bacon is writing about the fellows employment opportunities and he begins to describe:

“We Have three…

“-that collect the experiments which are in all books.”

“-that collect the experiments of all mechanical arts.”

“-that try new experiments.”

“-that draw the experiments.”

“-that bend themselves.”

“-that take care of.”

“-that do execute the experiments so direct, and report them.”

“-that raise the former discoveries by experiments into greater observations, axioms, and aphorisms”

Francis Bacon illustrated the importance of experimenting, fellows needed to look at work over and over. Understanding that science is a process, we can’t just accept one experiment, because then that would mean essentially accepting everything. To ask questions, because those questions will guide upon growth in intelligence. The primary fact that Bacon’s The New Atlantis  was so ahead of his time, parades his thought process. This thought process also illustrates The Royal Society’s pride, in a growing society we are constantly questioning concepts, and ideas. It is a great symbol for growth, which is essential in our modern world.

But at the same time in the website you can’t help but notice the importance of the Royal Society’s grants and how much money is coming in on a yearly basis. And the sad thing is is that’s what is more important today rather than education. We can even look at our own school systems and see how much money is wasted and not properly spent on student programs. Funds have become more important, building the next business that makes a good amount of money has become more important.

-Viviana Ojeda

The Shift Caused by The Royal Society

Many today can agree with some of the statements made by Francis Bacon because he was both and English philosopher and scientist. As stated by Francis Bacon in Of Truth

“And though the sects of philosophers of that kind be gone, yet there remain certain discoursing wits, which are of the same veins, though there be not so much blood in them as was in those of the ancients” (1258).

In this quote Francis Bacon emphasizes the importance that literature still had even at the prime of the Royal Society (founded in 1662). Bacon was seen as a “guiding spirit” of the Royal Society, unfortunately not many believed that. The method of inductive reasoning that Bacon presented is in definition is “used in applications that involve prediction, forecasting, or behavior” which is still common in most of the social sciences therefore it is still common today. Newton argued that poetry “was a kind of ingenious nonsense; at best it was a pleasing cheat, supplying pleasant pictures and agreeable visions” (lecture notes #3). Unfortunately, these thoughts are still common among many people today. This has shaped the understanding of today because many scientists are awarded for their discoveries but those who produce literature are often turned away or must work harder in order to be acknowledged. This situation has also served to shape the way in which the natural and social sciences are seen in the eyes of many people. There are many who do not value the English Literature or any of the SSHA majors this might have been cause by the praise the Royal Society has received as shown in the picture that depicts then in a royal scene, especially Charles II.

Although the Royal Society shifted some of the attention from poetry to the sciences it was extremely necessary for them to create a base for the technology that exists today. Their curiosity for that expansion of technology was the commence of the great technology we currently have now.

-Luz Zepeda

Royal Society: Then and Now

The royal society may have overall been influenced by Francis Bacon, Thomas Sprat, and Isaac Newton, but today has now surpassed those original ideals. Today, the Royal Society doesn’t just challenge the laws of nature or scientific law (rules discovered by observation and experimentation), but also challenge natural law (rules discovered by reason, human nature, and governments). The Society began by acquiring knowledge through experimental investigation, and embracing the idea that no one and no idea is safe from criticism and today the Royal Society still follows this model, but today challenging the norm is even more dangerous. As today, there are leaders, media, and governments which try to silence the truth. For instance, fellow Royal Society member Stephen Hawking made headlines when he stated the need for space travel rather than putting all our faith on God for human civilization in the future. He also stated that the ‘Big Bang’ proved that there was no God. This caused much controversy even among fellow scientists. Hawking had to later restate his claim more clearly so that he wouldn’t offend some scientists. Another Royal Society fellow and zoologist Richard Dawkins made his career on challenging  religion and the effects that it has on governments and people’s way of thinking, and he was most definitely shunned by the public. The Royal Society has also lead scientists in a stand against ‘Brexit’ and discussed the effects that leaving the European Union would have on England and its government. Therefore, I think that the Royal Society doesn’t just focus on scientific laws, but all aspects of the world. Their motto has changed from ‘Take nobody’s word for it’ to ‘No idea, governing body, or ideology is exempt from criticism or judgement’. This idea is what makes people think and challenge the norm.

-Ben Montes