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review 2016-09-26 03:34
As Your Attorney ...
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson,Ralph Steadman

I have been meaning to get around to reading this book for quite a while especially since I delved into a couple of Thompson's other works such as [book:Hell's Angels]. However this book sort of sits apart from not only his other works, but other works of non-fiction, though I would probably not go as far as calling it 'non-fiction' because technically the story did not pan out the way Thompson has described it. Sure, he did make a couple of trips to Vegas as a journalist, but his Samoan attorney (who seems to provide legal advice for anything and everything that doesn't have anything to do with the law – as your attorney I advise you to have the chilli burger) never actually existed. Actually, in real life Hunter's companion on the trip to Vegas was Oscar Zeta Acosta, a Mexican activist and lawyer.




In a way this book is somewhat of a laugh – it is about how Thompson, under the alias of Roaul Duke, travels to Vegas with his attorney to first of all cover an off road car race (the Mint 400), and then the District Attorney's conference, but rather than actually doing what he is being paid to do, he simply goes around consuming copious amounts of drugs and causing heaps of trouble. Then again, isn't that what one is supposed to do in Vegas – take drugs and cause trouble? Isn't that why there is a saying that goes along the lines of 'what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas'? Anyway, when I think about it, what does one expect to happen when you give people money and tell them to go to Vegas to do something – I would say not what you have instructed them to do.



The weird thing about this book is that I kept on getting it mixed up with another story about a trip to Vegas – the Hangover. Yet it sort of makes me wonder whether one can actually have any other story set in Vegas that doesn't involve gambling, drugs, and getting yourself into no end of trouble. Well, one sort of wonders whether it is possible to get oneself into trouble in Vegas, particularly since Thompson suggested that he managed to catch a plane by doing an illegal u-turn on the expressway, crashing through the fence, driving down the runway, and then proceeding to drop his attorney off behind a baggage truck. Actually, I'm not sure if you could get away with that these days, not with all the added security around airports, but this was 1971, and people could get away with a lot more back them.


The other rather amusing thing is that before I started reading this book I had just finished another book on American culture – The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. Normally I don't read two books of a similar theme in a row, namely because it can lead to a bit of confusion, but this is what I did, and in a way this is what happened. Well, not really, but it was interesting to see two different perspectives on the American way of life – from from the view point of a child in the fifties, and another from a drug addled journalist in the early seventies. Mind you, both writers are no doubt contemporaries, yet Bryson and Thompson couldn't be more different, not just in their outlook on the world, but also in the way that they describe it – but while they are quite different, in many cases they are simply saying, and perceiving, the same thing.



Well, it does make me wonder a bit because it all boils down to the concept of the American dream, and Bryson in a way saw it in action, and being fulfilled, as he grew up in Des Moines. This is the idea that if you work hard, and are persistent, then anybody can share in the country's prosperity, and if you don't end up sharing in this prosperity then it must be something that you have done wrong. Well, Thompson looks at the other side of this belief, but in a way it is what has come of the dream after the upheaval of the sixties, and if one can point to a result it clearly comes down to one word – Vegas. You see what Vegas represents in the dark side of the American Dream – it is not a question of working hard and living a prosperous life, it is a question of never being satisfied with what you have and always wanting more, and the blowing what you have on incredibly risky ventures so that in the end you have something.



Yet it is also the idea of how one can only participate in the American Dream if one is the right type of person. This is shown with this idea of North Vegas, the part of Vegas where everybody who does not fit the image of what Vegas is supposed to be about lands up. Take for instance the Longhair who was wandering down the strip, and is then arrested for vagrancy – he doesn't fit the image that is trying to be displayed, and because he doesn't fit the image he is taken out of the picture and kept locked up, and is only let out if he can show that he has money. Well, even when he gets money, they decide to take a bigger cut than they are entitled too, and there is little that he can do about it. This in a way also paints the picture of the viciousness of American capitalism – it is not a question of working hard and getting ahead, it is a question of have you got what it takes, and are you willing to tread on anybody and everybody to get ahead.


The American Dream of the fifties is dead, even if it was ever actually in existence – if you were a Negro, or Hispanic, then the American Dream certainly didn't apply to you – only if you were white, and male. However things have changed, and if you don't have the right connections, are not born in the right family, or even have the charm and charisma (or the ethics) to move into the upper classes, then you are probably going to find yourself falling further and further behind. Sure, we may live in an era where those of us in the west are wealthier than anybody has ever been before, but we are also witnessing the slow death of the middle class, and the gap between the haves and the have nots grows ever and ever wider.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1763563541
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review 2016-09-08 07:27
Life Below the Poverty Line
Down and Out in Paris and London - George Orwell

There is so much in this book and it is actually really hard to know where to start, however I will start off by saying that it is not strictly an autobiography. Sure, Orwell did land up in a situation in Paris when all of his money had been stolen and had to work as a plounger, which is basically another name for a minimum wage kitchen hand (if the minimum wage actually existed back then), and he did live for a time on the streets of London as a tramp, but he did so not by necessity but rather because he was looking for something to write about. However it is certainly going to the opposite end of the spectrum from Mrs Dalloway, the previous book that I read, which dealt mainly with the upper eschelons of society (and their first world problems).


Actually I'm starting to wonder about this whole idea of the first world problem. Sure, my issues at the moment relate to the fact that I am in a small hotel room with no wifi, limited credit on my mobile phone, and the fact that the cord for my laptop not only doesn't reach from them socket to the bed upon which I am sitting, but it also has a European adaptor which means I am going to have to spend money on an adaptor for Australia so I don't have to fork out the money for a new power supply once I get home. I'm sure that these problems are minor compared to the beggar sitting on Praed Street in Paddington with a cup in his hand relying upon the generosity of those walking by, or the guy on Paul Mall that could hardly stand up because his legs were simply not working and the men that were dressed in suits that were worth more than he would ever earn in his lifetime simply threw their noses up and him and wandered to the nearest wine bar.


While the issues that Orwell raises in this book certainly apply to Australia, since I am currently in London (though I am leaving very soon), and have recently travelled the continent (even if it was only the Low Lands and France), I will try to stick to what I have seen here. Also, the book can be easily divided into two parts – the life of a tramp, or a beggar, and the life of a minimum wage worker (if such a thing actually existed back in Orwell's day). The thing with what Orwell experienced is the harsh reality of capitalism where human beings are simply given a worth based on their productive capability, and when we have unskilled labour, and plenty off it, then the laws of supply and demand simply say that their wages are based upon the available workforce, and when there is a lot of people going for the same jobs, then the laws of economics simply say that their pay should be based as such. This is why we have minimum wage laws, because people who work should be able to earn enough money to at least be above the poverty line.


As with beggars though; things have changed since Orwell wrote this book. We no longer have spikes, or work houses, where the beggar would get a room for a night, and a simple meal, in return for half a days work, and then had to move on to the next one. What we do have is an allowance that theoretically should put them above the poverty line, so that they at least can have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over their head. The problem is, and this hasn't changed at all, is that many of the people that rely on these benefits are uneducated, which means that they are idle. As such the free money, and in reality it is free money, means that it is going to be used to relieve that boredom – cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Governments are attempting to deal with that through a basic income card, but what is happening is that the store keepers, much as was the case in Orwell's time, are adding fees on top of purchases to basically skim off to the top these people who aren't actually able to use this income card in any place other than places that accept this card.


Then there is a term used in Australia called 'Work for the Dole'. That is a recipient of unemployment benefits has to do a set number of hours of work a week to receive their benefits. I'm actually in favour of this, but it is open to abuse. First of all left wing agitators are dead against it claiming that it not only puts other people out of work, but it creates what is in effect a slave workforce. Mind you, they are generally guiding the lily a lot because McDonalds simply cannot sack its entire workforce and use 'work for the dole' labour, namely because only certain organisations, those who rely entirely on voluntary labour, can actually employ somebody through a work for the dole scheme. However, if somebody is doing such work then I feel that they should be entitled to an increased payment than what they are receiving, especially if it hinders their ability to find a full time job.


One interesting thing that I discovered as I wandered through Europe is that on the continent you find a lot more beggars that will be carrying babies, or have children with them. This is simply not seen in either England or Australia. On the continent you do need to watch out for them, especially since they train their children to steal from you. For instance if somebody approaches you at the Eiffel Tower with a clip board and asks if you speak English, scream at them in a language that is neither French, nor English, and get as far away from them as possible.


Another thing that I picked up from this book are the type of beggars. Many of us simply consider that a beggar is somebody who is sitting at the side of the road with a cup in hand. This is not always the case – for instance Orwell suggests that those people who busk in the local public space, draw pictures on the sidewalk, or make sculptures out of sand, are basically in the same position, except that they have some artistic ability. In fact I remember wandering through the streets of Brussels and seeing a couple of girls playing the violin. They were good, really really good, but it makes me wonder whether they spent all that time at university learning how to play the violin only to land up on the streets of Brussels begging for small change. Actually, I remember sitting at a cafe in Naples once and a guy wandered through the streets playing an accordion. Now, my brother loves the accordion, and started giggling and looking at the guy, much to the horror of the waiters. Sure enough he comes up to us, and plays in front of us until we actually give him money. It sort of reminds me of that Cheech and Chong film where they set up in the middle of some French town, start playing rock music, and everybody comes out of their houses and throws money at them to make then shut up.


Now the minimum wage thing is also interesting because there is one thing that I discovered as I was wandering around London – that is that I would land up with a lot of small change, change that would eventually become useless. Normally I just tell the service attendant to keep the change, but in places like Sainsbury's, McDonalds, and such, they actually can't do that. In fact if you tell them to keep the change they have to put it in a donation box on the counter. Personally that absolutely appals me, particularly since these guys are being paid a minimum wage (which is about seven quid in England). I don't mind the tip jar, where the staff divide the tips among themselves at the end of the night, but after discovering that the small change at KFC goes to their 'special charity' I decided that I would pass on that and give it to the guy with his cup in his hand. Sure, he might end up using the money to go and buy drugs, but then again at least I know where that is going – I really don't know what KFC are doing with the money that they are refusing to give as tips to their staff.

Oh, English beer – I should mention English beer since Orwell made a comment about it as well. What he was doing was that he was debunking the myth that the tramps use their money to get drunk. Well, as it turns out English beer is little more than coloured water, which means you need an awful lot (something like thirty pounds worth) to actually get tipsy. However, he is gilding the lily a bit there because while it is true that English beer is pretty weak, gin is not – and it is also pretty cheap. If you want to get plastered in England, you don't go for the beer, you go for the gin – that will definitely do the job for you. In fact, I'm just going to pop down to the off license just to see how much a bottle of gin will actually set me back (about twelve pounds for a small bottle, so no, it's not cheap now, but it probably was back in Orwell's day).


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1748969947
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review 2015-12-25 23:43
Society's Burdens
The Metamorphosis - Franz Kafka,Stanley Corngold

Normally I would try to write my post fairly soon after I have read a particular piece of literature, however in this instance I was meeting up with a book club today so I decided that I would hold off until after I have been to the group. I must say that this group is quite different than the other book club I attended because the other one spends an hour talking about the book, and when finished they move on to the reading circle in which we all share the books that we have been reading after which we all pack up and go home. This new group talks about the book, and then goes off and starts talking about a bunch of other stuff, sometimes connected, sometimes not. For instance we ended up talking a lot about language, probably because we find language fascinating, and a number of us do know more than one language.


As for this particular novella I must say that it has layers upon layers of meaning, but the main essence of the story is what could be considered to be an attack against utilitarianism. The basic premise is that the protagonist of the book, Gregor, wakes up one morning to discover that he has changed into a filthy vermin (ungeheueren Ungeziefer), which some have translated into a giant insect. Though I initially pictured him as being a preying mantis I feel that a cockroach is probably more appropriate (since he does climb over the walls, has a lot of difficulties turning over when he is lying on his back, and it is probably one of the more filthier insects around).


It appears that this particular story could be an attack against the more utilitarian aspect of society, particularly in the sense that unless you have a use in society then you are not needed: are a burden and should be discarded. It is interesting to note that it is only Gregor who is consider to be the burden because it appears that he is the only bread winner in the family. However, there is also the aspect of illness and disease back in those days. Okay, this book was written in 1915, and medical science was quite different, but you still get the impression that unless you are fit and healthy then you are a burden, and a problem, which is the case with poor Gregor. Firstly we notice that because of Gregor the family is effectively outcast (the boarders do not want to have a bar of the family once they discover Gregor living in the room), and then they also keep him locked away, and Gregor learns his place by remaining hidden whenever the door is opened.


In a way Gregor, who is diseased, disabled, or whatever (which is what the metaphor of the filthy vermin means to me), it is clear that his family do not want to deal with him, and society doed not want to have to deal with that family either. As such the family is outcast until such a time as they can dispose of Gregor. Yet he is slowly being turned into a beast, and a monster despite the fact that he clings onto his humanity. For instance he grabs hold of the painting of the woman, the last human item that has been left in the room, because of that desire to try to remain human, however this fails because he knows that he has become an outcast and can no longer interact with, or even communicate with, other humans.


One sometimes wonders if much has changed since those days. Living in Australia (up until recently that is) we had considered ourselves a lucky country, however as one particular member of parliament has said, 'the age of entitlement is over'. This suggests that the government of the day has developed this belief that it no longer wants to support those who cannot support themselves, and has taken that attitude that these particular people are little more than a burden to the state, a burden that the state simply cannot afford. While this has began to change in a number of states in the Anglo-sphere, it appears that this has always been the case in the United States, which is why you have such a high rate of homelessness. I am not speaking about the lazy and the indolent, but rather those that simply cannot work and now have no means of supporting themselves. In a way we are viewing them as Gregor's family viewed him, as ungeheueren Ungeziefer, people that have no use to the society and are simply vermin. The question that I raise is have we now gone full circle? It was not long ago that disabled and diseased people where simply thrown out of the city and left to die. Is this the case now, that those of us who do not have a family, and do not have any care or support, are simply thrown outside and forgotten, left to struggle and die, lost, alone, and unloved?


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/936319008
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review 2015-10-12 11:40
The Tyranny of Pleasure
Logan's Run - William F. Nolan,George Clayton Johnson

I was wondering through a second hand book shop one day and found a book called 'Logan's Search'. I picked it up and discovered that it was the third book in the Logan trilogy, which made me realise that that really awesome movie that was made in 1975 was actually a book, and in fact the first in a trilogy. So began my quest to find a copy of the original book (as well as part two, which was easier than finding the first book, which I did eventually accomplish, otherwise I wouldn't be writing this commentary). Anyway, I found it, and I read it, and I must say, I so much preferred the movie, which is generally odd because it is that the book is supposed to be better.


Now, I could give you a run down of the plot to this book, but I won't waste my time. Rather I will direct you to the IMDB page relating to the movie which was made of the book, and if you want to read my review of the film you can do so here. So, rather than go over old ground, I think I will simply jump straight to what this book is about and the themes which arise from it. In a way this book (I keep on wanting to write movie because, as I have said, the movie is substantially better than the book) is very much like 1984, though unlike that novel this book has a happy ending because the blinkers are taken off of the eyes of the people and they are freed from their dystopian world to be able to think for themselves.



This book (or movie) is about freedom and how, in many ways, what we think is freedom may actually enslave us. In this dystopian world people live a hedonistic life. While there are basic laws (I suspect murder is still illegal) there is no barrier to any hedonistic desire. There is no marriage, no commitment, and no property. Everybody has everything they want and they can take anything they want. However, there is still some barriers, because it appears that people have a right to say no (as Jessica does to Logan's advances). However, there is a catch: they must die at the age of 30 (21 on the book).



I suspect the age of 21 is more relevant, and by raising it to 30 in the movie undermines this somewhat. Basically what is happening is knowledge is being destroyed. The only knowledge that is stored and allowed to be stored, is by the computer (while there appears to be no government, there is a government and it is a dictatorship of the machine). Simply put, by preventing people from growing old, and in fact by preventing multiple generations from being alive concurrently, the machine is able to control knowledge. Nobody is able to pass knowledge down from one generation to another, and thus people live in blissful ignorance.



Society, in Logan's Run, is stagnant. It simply does not move. There is no incentive to learn, and in fact it is quite clear that one of the major crimes is to think. Further, by destroying marital relationships the machine is further able to control society. There is no bonding, no friendship, and thus no ability to rebel. Further, there is no family unit, which is another means of control and another means of destroying knowledge. Without a family unit, there is no respect, and no older person from which one can learn, and as such the computer once again controls the people.



I have seen that this is the case in this world. In one way the sexual revolution in the sixties freed us from the tyranny of the religious right only to enslave us in the tyranny of the hedonistic world. Fifty years on we can see that the tyranny of hedonism has become almost complete. We are bombarded with advertisements telling us that what is important is to feel good. While we have legalised abortion and prostitution, which in one sense frees us from one form of tyranny, it also enslaves us in another form. I am not one to seek to overturn those laws, I believe those laws are necessary, but what we need to do is to realise that our desire for pleasure is what enslaves us, and this is a tyranny of the mind, a tyranny that convinces us that we do not need to think, that we do not need to open our minds, and that we only need to live for the now and for what makes us feel good.



The second tyranny is the tyranny of the generation, and that is where we are denied the wisdom of the older generation and only able listen to those of our peers. Let us consider the first chapter of the first book of kings. The son of king Solomon, is faced with a choice. The people approach him and ask him to release them from their burdens and the older generation tell him that it is wise to do that because if he does that the people will respect him as a king. However, the younger generation tell him that if he were to release them of their burdens then they will be uncontrollable, and the fact that they are free to grumble about their predicament indicates that they are a danger and therefore they need to be oppressed more. The choice the king has is whether to listen to the wisdom of his elders of the wisdom of his peers. He chooses to listen to the wisdom of his peers, which results in a disaster for him.



I see this problem in some churches that I have attended. The generations are separated, and are led by their peers rather than their elders. As such, the young Christians are deprived of a vital source of wisdom and their minds are clouded by the ignorance of their peers. I suspected that this was a problem and noted that none of my peers would listen to me, coming up with half-cocked excuses as to why it could not work. So, I decided to test the theory out myself, and found a church of elders rather than peers, and have since discovered that I have learned more in eleven weeks amongst my Christian elders than I did over eleven years amongst by Christian peers.


In a way, many religious people actually fear knowledge because knowledge causes us to think, and then to question. Thus to prevent us from thinking and from questioning, they starve us of a vital source of knowledge, and that is the wisdom of our elders. Consider this picture (which many of us have probably seen already, but I think that it illustrates my point quite clearly):


Weapons of Mass Instruction


Granted, it deals with the Taliban and the education of women, but I believe that it extends quite further beyond that. In fact it extends even into Christianity, and not necessarily the Religious Right. A church that I have been too would regularly encourage us to read the Bible, but only prescribed texts relating to the Bible. Further, they would tell us before the sermon that we should look in the Bible so that 'we should see that what they were saying was true'. One thing they did not have at the end of the sermon, though, was a question time. This was something that I pushed for because I believe that being able to ask the pastor a question in front of the congregation is a means of holding him accountable. However, the catch was that when they did open the floor to questions they would be filtered through a mobile phone. Further, only the experienced pastors would field the questions because they could be assured to be able to follow the party line. When I asked why one of the junior pastors did not field questions I was simply told that it was because he would find answering questions a little too difficult.


I want to finish this off with the question of abortion. You may ask what this has to do with knowledge, and I will simply say it has more to do what what they don't say than what they do say. Now, before I continue, I will say that I do and always will support the voice of those who do not have a voice. That includes the unborn, however, the pro-life movement cares less for the rights of the unborn than they do for the oppression of the rights of women. Consider this, would a ban on abortion turn an unwanted pregnancy into a wanted pregnancy? Highly unlikely. Either it will force the woman to have an unsafe abortion, or force a child into a horrible existence. In fact, by banning abortion, it is more likely that poverty will increase, as a single mother looking after a child will be unable to work therefore leaving both of them in poverty.


Now, you notice how I said single mother? Guess what, a woman seeking an abortion is much more likely to be single than to be in a relationship. The reason I say this is because pregnancy punishes the woman more than it does the man. So, why should a woman be punished more for engaging in fornication than the man? Does that seem just? To me it is not, because the man can simply disappear leaving the woman carrying the burden of his lust. Sure, the man will no doubt face judgement come judgement day, but the woman is left in a situation that in reality is untenable. This is what I mean about the denial of knowledge and the denial of the ability to be able to think. Thus, while they scream and cry about the rights of the unborn, they distract us from the fact that what they are really doing is oppressing women. What needs to be done is to make birth control more readily available, and moreso, a change in thinking about the pleasures and the desires of sex. What we really need to do is to turn away from our hedonistic thinking and actually open our eyes up to the world around us. We need to stop living for the now, and actually start living for the future.


Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/449798145
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-09-09 13:36
Biting political satire
GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. - Jonathan; Dixon, Peter; Chalker, John Swift

I'm sure many of us are familiar with the tale of the sailor from England who after a shipwreck finds himself bound to the beach on an unknown island surrounded by a race of people who are substantially smaller that him.


Gulliver in Chains



Some of you are probably even familiar with the not so recent Jack Black film (which I have seen but can't remember much of it beyond Jack Black heading out in a speed boat from Miami and getting caught in a storm).



Jack Black is Lemuel Gulliver


From a very young age I have always seen this story as a children's book, however it wasn't until I reached university that I discovered that it is actually biting political satire. It is interesting how a book is released in one age and people see it for what it is however as time passes the original intention of the book takes a back seat and the story ends up taking an entirely new meaning. Mind you, the children's tales that we tend to be familiar with are quite watered down to the point that the original meaning has been lost (and most of them only tell the story of Lilliput).


It was quite coincidental that in Bible study were were looking at the book of Revelation, another text whose meaning has completely changed throughout the ages, and I immediately thought of Gulliver's Travels. What was originally supposed to be a book that was designed to provided comfort to persecuted Christians in Asia-minor has suddenly become, in some circles, a detailed description of the end of the Earth.


However, I'm not writing about the book of Revelation, I'm writing about Gulliver's Travels, so I will try to remain focused on the task at hand. The problem with this book is that there is so much in it that simply writing a review on Booklikes cannot do it justice, so I have decided that it will go onto my 'read again at sometime and write a detailed blog post' pile (though the only other book currently on that pile is Plato's Symposium). Anyway, what I will attempt to do is look at each of his journeys individually and make some comments therein.


Before I do that though I probably should say a couple of things about the book as a whole. Okay, it is not the first travel narrative around (the Odyssey pre-dates it by a long shot, and Robinson Crusoe was also written tad earlier – a book that Swift does draw upon in parts), however it does seem be one of those books that has influenced the science-fiction/fantasy genre since. Here we have a traveller heading off into the unknown and discovering societies that are completely alien to our own. At the time much of the world was still unexplored, so Swift creates these undiscovered societies that exist in the unknown corners (most of them being islands in the uncharted ocean). Parts of it even reminded me of Star Trek, where we have the crew of the Enterprise heading off to alien planets and discovering many and varied civilisations thereupon.



Another that I picked up as I was reading some of the commentaries was how it stands apart from Robinson Crusoe. In Dafoe's book we have a story of the individual overcoming his struggles to make a life for himself. However it is suggested that Gulliver is different in that Swift is suggesting that it is not the individual but societies that count. However, as we shall see, none of these societies is worthy to be called some sort of Utopia. Even the Houynhnhnms have a dark side about them. The other thing we see is the slow descent of Gulliver into madness. At first he decides to head off to sea for an adventure, particularly since his business in London failed, however after he returns every time he immediately wants to head off again. In fact it seems as if the time he remains in England becomes ever shorter. When he returns the final time, after being exiled by the Houynhnhms, he becomes a recluse and spends the rest of his life talking to horses.


This descent is also mimicked by the way he lands up in each of these lands. The first time it is due to a freak storm, the second time he is abandoned, the third time he is attacked by pirates, and the forth time his crew mutinies (which is probably not surprising since the crew that he ended up collecting were probably the last people you would want as the crew of your boat).


Gulliver in Lulliput




This is the first realm, and the most well known since most of the productions use this section of the book. Lilliput is probably the closest realm to that of England, and in fact each of the characters represent one of the major figures in English political life at the time. They even have the land of Blefuscu, which is a representation of France. In a way the realm, and in particular the politics, of Lilliput is nothing short of farcical. Swift does not hold back in his criticism of the landscape in which he lives. In a way it is no difference than the world we live in today, and many of us have little respect for our politicians, seeing them as nothing more than a bunch of corrupt clowns.



The people of Lilliput and Blefuscu are at war, and the reason behind the war is one of the most absurd reasons around – they both hold different interpretations of a holy book. While we might laugh at the fact that the Lilliputians and the Belfuscians fight over how an egg should be opened, this is sadly what we see with religion today. Everybody has their own interpretation, and sadly there are people who are willing to go to war with each other over their interpretation. The problem with religion is that followers generally resort to a higher power to support their beliefs, and because it is such a fundamental part of their lives, to challenge such a deeply held belief can cause some quite adverse reactions. It is sort of like confronting somebody on meth – the drug causes them to create this reality that is not necessarily true, and when that reality is challenged, the result can be incredibly violent. Sometimes I wander whether many Christians, especially the violent ones, remember Jesus' saying about turning the other cheek.


Swift also seems to have a problem with imperialism. When the Belfuscians launch an invasion of Lilliput, Gulliver heads out, grabs all of their boats, and brings then to shore, effectively castrating them in one swoop. Upon seeing victory, the Emperor of Lilliput immediately wants to subjugate the Belfuscians, however Gulliver steps in and forbids it. Sure, he may have saved the Lilliputians, however occupying their land is not going to solve any of their problems – it's only going to make it worse. As such the emperor is not happy and finds Gulliver guilty of treason – it seems that kings and emperors are just as blind when it comes to war and politics.


The King of Brobdingnag




One of the things that you will notice about Gullivers travels is that it is a story of contrasts – in fact it is a story of opposites. In Lilliput Gulliver is the big man around town. His towering presence dominates the scene - to the point where he is recruited as a weapon of war. Further, he is uncontrollable by the Lilliputians. The opposite is the case when it comes of Brobdingnag. Here he is tiny. In fact the entire situation has been reversed to where he is the size that the Lilliputians were to him. Also the political situation differs as well – in Brobdingnag there is no political maneuvering, and in fact the king and queen are seen as innocent rulers (innocent in that they have no understanding of the political world – and neither do their subjects).


Being tiny Gulliver is an object of curiosity, and in fact he spends time as being little more than a carnival attraction. The roles have been completely reversed. In Lilliput he was the big man, and even though he couldn't necessarily change the ideas of the Lilliputians, he did have an influence. Now this has all been taken away from him and in effect he is powerless. Sure, he does tell the queen about his homeland, however this is more quaint curiosity than anything else. Furthermore he is at the mercy of the elements, as is seen when he is attacked by a giant rat, and his food is covered with insect slime.


Beauty is another thing that is challenged in this section. This is shown in the scene where he sees the two naked women. While those of us who are normal size may be enticed by such an encounter, to somebody of Gulliver's size all he can see are the blemishes. In fact they are so noticeable he is left horrified. The section also works to humble Gulliver, since after visiting the Lilliputians he has trouble adjusting back in England to the fact that he is the same size as everybody else, where as this idea of being the big man is suddenly taken away from him. In a way he goes from being the big fish in the little pond to the little fish in the big pond.


The flying city of Laputa




Here we come to see Swift's dislike of the modern scientific community. Laputa is a flying city that dominates its regions by flying over and dropping rocks upon them. It seems that two centuries before the Wright Brothers took to the sky Gulliver was speculating on the power of air superiority. Granted, air superiority isn't all that it is made out to be (the Americans seem to be having a lot of trouble bombing ISIS out of existence, and despite having complete control of the air, Hitler was not able to capture Stalingrad), but here Swift is giving a demonstration of its possibilities.


However, it is not the air superiority that he is exploring, but how he views the ridiculousness of scientific enquiry. This is brought out clearly with the guy who has been charged with extracting sunlight from cucumber and the amount of time it would take to actually get any benefit out of it. It sort of reminded me of my method of turning lead into gold through the use of a nuclear reactor.


Swift really didn't like the scientific movement, one that was taking England by storm at the time. These days he would probably fall into the category of the Creation Scientist, the one who is mocked at by the scientific community for their dogmatic belief that humanity was created from clay (though I could argue that that is what evolution is suggesting anyway: it is only giving us a process of how it could have come about). However, scientific research was limited to the upper classes, while many of the middle of lower classes were still satisfied with the explanations given to them by the church.


The thing with the Laputians is that they consider themselves to be wise but through their actions they show themselves to be foolish. In fact as he wanders through their university he cannot help but see some of the stupid experiments that are going on, such as the attempt to mix paints simply through the use of smell (the people doing the research were blind). Mind you, back in those days the scientific movement had come out of what had originally been considered magic – Isaac Newton had a fascination with Alchemy. My belief is that because there was a perception that the scientific movement would challenge the authenticity of the Bible (or one group's interpretation of the Bible) they felt that they needed to relegate it to the realm of the dark arts.


Gulliver farewelling the Houyhnhnms



The land of the Houyhnhnms

While we had a bunch of idiots running around in Laputa, in this place we have a form of idyllic utopia. The Houyhnhnms are actually evolved horses who live in what is effectively an idyllic society. They are wise in their own ways in that they are peaceful and have no understanding of war. One section of this part, were Gulliver is telling them about war, reminded me of a number of other stories where a visitor from an alien planet comes to Earth and is appalled at the fact that we insist on running around and killing each other.



However, the Houyhnhnms are not a perfect race since they subjugate the humans of the region, whom they refer to as yahoos. In fact this is where the term entered the English language (these these days when we hear about Yahoos we automatically think of that internet company have ended up becoming second best to Google). The Yahoos are an uncivilised and barbaric lot, and in a way it seems that the Houyhnhnms want to keep them that way because as long as they remain uneducated they don't pose all that much of a threat.


Gulliver seems to find himself at home here because these creatures live out what was speculated as far back as Plato. We have a communal society that lives at peace, and it is that community that gives them strength. However they are an incredibly racist lot because despite Gulliver being enthralled by their way of life, to them he is nothing more than a sophisticated Yahoo.







Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1378353564
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