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The converting imagination : linguistic theory and Swift's satiric prose

Author: Marilyn Francus
Publisher: Carbondale : Southern Illinois University Press, ©1994.
Edition/Format:   eBook : State or province government publication : EnglishView all editions and formats
Database:WorldCat
Summary:
By illuminating Jonathan Swift's fascination with language, Marilyn Francus shows how the linguistic questions posed by his work are at the forefront of twentieth-century literary criticism: What constitutes meaning in language? How do people respond to language? Who has (or should have) authority over language? Is linguistic value synonymous with literary value?
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Genre/Form: Electronic books
Additional Physical Format: Print version:
Francus, Marilyn.
Converting imagination.
Carbondale : Southern Illinois University Press, ©1994
(DLC) 93016890
(OCoLC)27813602
Named Person: Jonathan Swift; Jonathan Swift; Jonathan Swift
Material Type: Government publication, State or province government publication, Internet resource
Document Type: Internet Resource, Computer File
All Authors / Contributors: Marilyn Francus
ISBN: 0585223238 9780585223230
OCLC Number: 44953865
Reproduction Notes: Electronic reproduction. [S.l.] : HathiTrust Digital Library, 2010. MiAaHDL
Description: 1 online resource (xviii, 260 pages)
Details: Master and use copy. Digital master created according to Benchmark for Faithful Digital Reproductions of Monographs and Serials, Version 1. Digital Library Federation, December 2002.
Contents: 1. Swift's Linguistic Education --
2. The Rhetoric of Satire: Swift's Methods of Encoding Meaning --
3. From Here to Eternity: The Prescription of Encoded Meaning --
4. Readers, Critics, and Swift: Perceiving Encoded Meaning.
Responsibility: Marilyn Francus.

Abstract:

By illuminating Jonathan Swift's fascination with language, Marilyn Francus shows how the linguistic questions posed by his work are at the forefront of twentieth-century literary criticism: What constitutes meaning in language? How do people respond to language? Who has (or should have) authority over language? Is linguistic value synonymous with literary value?

The Converting Imagination starts with a detailed analysis of Swift's linguistic education, which straddled a radical transition in linguistic thought, and its effect on his prose. This compelling beginning includes surprising historical information about the teaching and learning of linguistics and language theory in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Swift's academic studies reflected the traditional universalist view that sought an Adamic language to reverse the fragmentation of Babel and achieve epistemological unity. But Swift was also exposed to the contemporary linguistics of the scientific societies and of John Locke, who argued that the assignment of linguistic meaning is arbitrary and subjective, capturing an individual's understanding at a particular instant.

These competing theories help explain Swift's conflicting inclinations toward both linguistic order and free-wheeling creativity.

After delineating the intellectual ferment of Swift's time, Francus develops a range of connections between Swift's practical and theoretical understanding of linguistics and the abiding concerns of his satiric prose.

She outlines Swift's compulsive tinkering with established meaning through puns, relates linguistics to the production of jokes and the status of metaphor, and explains the production of a printed page as a form of Swiftian satire as well as the linguistic effect of reading Swift's words, sentences, and paragraphs.

While Swift is a liberal linguistic experimenter in his own work, he is a conservative linguistic theorist, hoping to preserve the meanings in his texts for posterity and to translate himself through time. The Converting Imagination evaluates Swift's mechanisms for safeguarding his textual meanings, including his advocacy of an English language academy and of rules for spelling, jargon, and abbreviation.

Using broad linguistic theories, Francus explores the notion of how readers read Swift and how Swift reads readers. Swift recognizes that reading is, in essence, rewriting, empowering the reader to appropriate the author's language and use it for his or her own purposes. As an author, Swift rails against such literary piracy, but as a reader, Swift appropriates authorial meaning constantly, often overtly rewriting others' texts to fit his own agenda.

To develop a complete vision of Swiftian linguistics, Francus focuses on A Tale of a Tub as the archetypal linguistic text in the Swift canon, but she also includes evidence from his other famous works, including Gulliver's Travels, A Modest Proposal, Journal to Stella, and The Bickerstaff Papers, as well as from his lesser known religious and political tracts and his correspondence.

In addition, Francus draws on the relevant work of contemporary linguists (such as Wilkins, Watts, Dyche, and Stackhouse), philosophers (Hobbes and Locke), and authors (including Temple, Sprat, Dryden, Pope, Addison, and Defoe).

Swift's characteristic modes - satire and irony - are tropes of duplicity because they rely on language to express conflicting meanings simultaneously. Based on her analysis, Francus concludes that translation is an apt metaphor for the linguistic activity in Swift's satires. By exploiting the transitions inherent in language and the communicative process, he becomes a "translating" writer, demanding that his readers participate in this rhetoric of translation.

Thus Swift occupies a pivotal place in literary history: his conscious emphasis on textuality and extended linguistic play anticipates not only the future of satiric prose but the modern novel as well.

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