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Culture Forum

  1. 02 Dec '12 14:14
    I'm trying hard to get through this difficult-to-read book. I find the author, Jonathan Swift, uses commas in a way that seems almost random, and uses terms such as "the common size of human understanding", which I have no idea where to begin to look to discover their meaning. I want to finish and understand the book because it's considered a classic work of English literature, and therefore should be part of my continuing self-education, but my reading speed is slowing down to beyond painful.

    Did you enjoy reading the novel, or was it merely worth the pain for the ideas expressed? Do you have tips on how to get to grips with it? Is it relevant to today's world of social media and high technology as anything other than a historical curiosity to be read only by students of English?
  2. 04 Dec '12 00:08
    Authors from the past can pose problems for contemporary readers, as with punctuation. I don't know of an intermediary for J. Swift as, for example, Thomas Aquinas is for Aristotle; you might ask as a local college. Let me suggest that you find his shorter work, "A Modest Proposal," and start with that. It you enjoy it, get a good biography, preferably a literary bio, and get into him that way. Good luck.
  3. 04 Dec '12 00:43
    http://www.whatshouldireadnext.com/0140620842/isbn

    Have you read any of these? Perhaps they will help me get into the language. I've read some H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, The Country of the Blind), which was mind-expanding and thought-provoking, but I couldn't get into the Defoe I tried reading (Moll Flanders) or Moby Dick (although I don't think I knew what whales or rough sailors were back when I tried reading that). I also read Locke's Essay at school, but only with much help from a highly-educated teacher. I should probably try Robinson Crusoe, because Gulliver's Travels was in part a response to that, as I learn from Wikipedia. Perhaps some poetry, too.
    Will look up some literary bios and see if I can find a nice short one. I have a feeling finding out more about the 17th and 18th centuries would also help.
  4. 05 Dec '12 14:38
    Originally posted by NoEarthlyReason
    I'm trying hard to get through this difficult-to-read book. I find the author, Jonathan Swift, uses commas in a way that seems almost random, and uses terms such as "the common size of human understanding", which I have no idea where to begin to look to discover their meaning. I want to finish and understand the book because it's considered a classic ...[text shortened]... ology as anything other than a historical curiosity to be read only by students of English?
    Good literature is simply harder to digest than schlock. Patience! The rewards will far outweigh the effort required! Try reading Cicero's Phillipics in side by side Latin-English. Will make Swift seem like a piece of cake! Or Caesar's " Commentarii De Bello Gallico"
  5. 05 Dec '12 17:48
    Originally posted by scacchipazzo
    Good literature is simply harder to digest than schlock.
    Absolutely, and that's one of its charms, if one can take care over the reading and comprehension. I don't read schlock, generally (and I certainly think there's a lot of great modern writing, especially SF, if one can dig a little deeper than the bookseller charts), but I grew up reading novels and literature that were generally more accessible, at least in terms of grammar and punctuation. I'm appreciating the ideas in Gulliver's Travels now that I've read something about the book's context and it's place in the literary canon. To properly understand them requires education above my current level in English and politics, which is one reason why I find the book difficult. However, the ideas feel nearly within my grasp, so it's worth reading to "stretch the intellectual muscles" and contribute to the complex picture of the world that I'm building up. I think I'll be a more empowered citizen after reading it, which is very timely as pressures build in an increasingly argumentative, confrontational society.
  6. 05 Dec '12 20:59
    Originally posted by NoEarthlyReason
    Absolutely, and that's one of its charms, if one can take care over the reading and comprehension. I don't read schlock, generally (and I certainly think there's a lot of great modern writing, especially SF, if one can dig a little deeper than the bookseller charts), but I grew up reading novels and literature that were generally more accessible, at ...[text shortened]... imely as pressures build in an increasingly argumentative, confrontational society.
    You certainly have a grasp of today's climate and indeed flexing mental/intellectual muscles is a must. Allegories galore abound in Swift's books but this makes them more interesting since politics seem to have an endless cycle. As for punctuation simply think back to the days when it did not exist nor were there spaces between words. Caesar made a revolutionary leap forward by inserting a dot at the end of sentences, not a period for it was about mid-letter height and made his missives eminently more readable. WE take punctuation for granted, but it took forever to evolve.
  7. Standard member sonhouse
    Fast and Curious
    06 Dec '12 15:07 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by scacchipazzo
    You certainly have a grasp of today's climate and indeed flexing mental/intellectual muscles is a must. Allegories galore abound in Swift's books but this makes them more interesting since politics seem to have an endless cycle. As for punctuation simply think back to the days when it did not exist nor were there spaces between words. Caesar made a rev ...[text shortened]... sives eminently more readable. WE take punctuation for granted, but it took forever to evolve.
    On a different note, I saw in your profile about the aria E lucevan le stelle, I am listening to a performance by Paparazzi, er Pavarotti

    He is a great singer for sure and actor and I see what you mean about that aria. Thanks for pointing it out.
  8. 07 Dec '12 02:43 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by sonhouse
    On a different note, I saw in your profile about the aria E lucevan le stelle, I am listening to a performance by Paparazzi, er Pavarotti

    He is a great singer for sure and actor and I see what you mean about that aria. Thanks for pointing it out.
    Puccini wrote wonderful music, but few of his arias reach the "sublime" heights of E lucevan le stelle. The incredible drama of the moment is enhanced a thousandfold by the almost lugubrious beginning foretelling death. The clarinet is seldom able to reach depths of despair, but Puccini willed the instrument in his other-wordly obbligato. Seldom does one feel pain when contemplating or listening to art. The melody is so haunting, so far from mellifluous it almost hits our ears so hard with overwhelming melancholy only it's profound beauty avoids us actually becoming sad and instead overpowers us with sympathy for the soon to die character.

    Here's a version with a Heldentenor instead of normal tenor. I like the slightly deeper voice for such a number: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7YM67osqF4
  9. Subscriber Suzianne
    Misfit Queen
    12 Dec '12 16:11 / 1 edit
    Originally posted by NoEarthlyReason
    http://www.whatshouldireadnext.com/0140620842/isbn

    Have you read any of these? Perhaps they will help me get into the language. I've read some H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, The Country of the Blind), which was mind-expanding and thought-provoking, but I couldn't get into the Defoe I tried reading (Moll Flanders) or Moby Dick (although I don't thin t one. I have a feeling finding out more about the 17th and 18th centuries would also help.
    If you want to try other authors of the period (recommended works), H.G. Wells (The Time Machine) is good, as is Jules Verne (Journey to the Centre of the Earth, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), or Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island). You could also try Joseph Conrad (Heart of Darkness), H. Rider Haggard (King Solomon's Mines), Edgar Allan Poe (The Fall of the House of Usher) or Jack London (White Fang).

    Defoe is more difficult, as is Melville. If you're dead set on tackling Melville, I'd recommend either his first novel, Typee, or his last one, Billy Budd, before trying Moby Dick.

    EDIT: How could I leave out Edgar Rice Burroughs (Princess of Mars or Tarzan of the Apes)?
  10. 12 Dec '12 19:35
    Thanks Suzianne, that's really helpful. I loved The Time Machine and I was blown away by Conrad's 'Twixt Land and Sea. It won't be my last Conrad.
  11. Standard member Bosse de Nage
    Zellulärer Automat
    13 Dec '12 17:05
    Originally posted by NoEarthlyReason
    I'm trying hard to get through this difficult-to-read book. I find the author, Jonathan Swift, uses commas in a way that seems almost random, and uses terms such as "the common size of human understanding", which I have no idea where to begin to look to discover their meaning. I want to finish and understand the book because it's considered a classic ...[text shortened]... ology as anything other than a historical curiosity to be read only by students of English?
    You have to work out why it's funny.

    As for the commas, it's timing. Try reading it with an outrageous 18th century accent. George Washington or Thomas Paine would do.

    Oh and, just for you: readings of some 18th century authors (including some of Swift's poetry), so you can get a sense of the timing. It's not done with an outrageous accent, but it may help.

    http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Richetti.html
  12. Subscriber Suzianne
    Misfit Queen
    14 Dec '12 01:03
    Originally posted by NoEarthlyReason
    Thanks Suzianne, that's really helpful. I loved The Time Machine and I was blown away by Conrad's 'Twixt Land and Sea. It won't be my last Conrad.
    That's awesome. Sounds like you're on your way.
  13. 14 Dec '12 20:42
    Originally posted by Bosse de Nage
    You have to work out why it's funny.

    http://writing.upenn.edu/pennsound/x/Richetti.html
    Splendid. Thanks!