AN ANIMAL KNOWN AS MAN

“He who has a rudimentary education in misanthropy and wishes to perfect himself in it, should pay a visit to the Swift School, then he will learn to bestow upon his contempt for man the intensity of neuralgia.”
(E.M. Cioran, Syllogisms of Bitterness)

When talking of misanthropists and misogynists, we cannot forget Jonathan Swift.

He was a misanthropist because he, more than anyone else, despised the human species, yet paradoxically was consumed by a frenetic need for justice. He expressed this contradiction in the following words: “I have always detested all nations, professions or communities and can feel affection only for individuals. I especially detest and despise that animal known as Man, though I love John, Peter or Thomas and so on, with all my heart.”

Though he was a misogynist, his private life was full of the most complicated emotional entanglements. Three women fight for his love and between them, as always happens in such affairs, they end up destroying themselves: not one of them remains with him and not one will forgive him, leaving him more solitary than a cactus in the desert.

Besides being a misanthropist and a misogynist, he was the originator of black humor (a term first coined by Andre Breton).

Swift, in fact, has every right to be considered the originator of dark, savage humor. In his essay Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting [1706], I came across five magnificent quotations that reveal his versatility as a humorist and satirist -

The first is about jealousy: “Jealousy, like fire, can sever the horns, but it leaves a bad odor.”

The second is about marriage: “Venus, a very lovely lady, was the goddess of love; Juno, a fearful harpy, was the goddess of marriage — and always they were mortal enemies.”

The third is about poverty: “I once asked a poor man how he managed to get along and he answered, ‘Like a bar of soap, I am getting less and less’.”

The fourth has to do with funerals: “He, who walks through the streets with open eyes, will undoubtedly see the happiest faces in funeral processions.”

I couldn’t tell you the fifth… suffice to say it was about the clergy.

Jonathan Swift was born in Dublin on November 30, 1667 and died in Dublin on October 19, 1745. He was a poet, wit, critic, priest, a brilliant writer of political pamphlets and above all, the greatest satirist in the English language. In this sense we must recognize our lack of discrimination in allowing Gulliver’s Travels to become a classic of children’s literature. This work, which shows the absurdity of man immersed in a life of triviality and vice, constitutes an implacable, misanthropic and pessimistic criticism of society in Swift’s time.

Satire is verbal caricature that deliberately distorts the image of a person, institution or society. The traditional method is to exaggerate the characteristics that are considered typical of the victim’s personality and to simplify whatever is not relevant to the purpose. Essentially, satire is an illustration of Utopia. In Swift, for example, we observe the utopian element in his frenetic search for justice. It should be no surprise to us either, when we discover the similarity between Swift and Sir Thomas More, the author of Utopia, at least as far as basics are concerned.

In the twentieth century, when Utopia seemed to have vanished, Aldous Huxley wrote his Brave New World, an exceptionally fine satire about the alienation of contemporary man, who, conditioned by technology, has lost his sense of direction, lives half awake at night and half asleep by day, is superficial and uncommunicative, seeks out the herd, since he is nobody on his own, lacks ideals and, even if he is generally considered “cultivated,” is nothing but an imitator who masturbates because Henry Miller masturbated or drowns himself in drink because Hemingway was a drunk.

It is said that in his last few years Swift lost his mind. As like as not, he ended up a madman who lost everything but his reason.

-

Published in La Bicicleta — Arte y Literatura

“We have published Lida Prypchan’s amusing accounts in previous editions. Here is another of her short essays proving that she is as deft with words as she is well-read.”

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Lida Prypchan

Lida Prypchan

29 Followers

Psychiatrist & Writer — Writing and meditating at the intersection of psychiatry, philosophy, Buddhism and the arts. More information at www.lidaprypchan.com