In a world where newspapers, philosophers, and thinkers are declaring the twilight of a certain system and heralding a new one, whose shape remains unknown, the metaphor of the Brobdingnagian and Lilliputian man acquires a special meaning. Are we supermen in control of nature and lords of all we survey, or ants living in the shadow of impending doom? Perhaps the end is inevitable, and only its form remains a mystery. Will the sun snuff out, or will there be a wind so powerful that no one will be left standing? Or perhaps the doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction will lose its sinister power, and some furious madman will finally push the forbidden button? In a world where a few bombs suffice to destroy the entire planet, the right perspective can be hard to find. It remains an open-ended question if we are giants or flecks of dust. Only the depth of our anxiety is beyond all discussion: it is huge, and growing every day.
Are we capable of imagining a better world if every effort of our imaginations resembles what we know already? After the experiences of twentieth-century totalitarianisms, Gulliver’s journey to the land of the Houyhnhnms does not give us optimism. So how to build a better world if we have such trouble even imagining it? It seems no one can predict what tomorrow might look like. The fiasco of Swift’s alternative repeats itself in every contemporary design for a better world. The most ordinary gesture imperceptibly becomes a shrug of the shoulders, and an inkling of the most universal anxiety. In the future, the vital question may not be if we can create a new system to put an end to the catastrophes and failures that oppress us, but if we are able to imagine such a system at all.
Although “Gulliver’s Travels” was written for adults, it has long been regarded a children’s book, cut and adapted to highlight the appealing plot and the charm of the lands Gulliver visits. Yet Jonathan Swift was a scathing and pessimistic writer, and the lands into which the protagonist is cast by fate and the tide are, upon closer inspection, flawed and oppressive.
Joanna Targoń, Gazeta Wyborcza