Literary Criticism of Swift’s Poetry Essay

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Literary Criticism of Swift’s Poetry

In her article, "Voyeurism in Swift's Poetry," Louise K. Barnett explores the trend of voyeurism m the works of Jonathan Swift. She speaks broadly about the use of this technique in his work and concentrates on a few poems including "The Lady's Dressing Room." Barnett believes that Swift's poetry tends to be more voyeuristic than it is obsessed with excrement and decay. To support this, she maintains that each poem centers around the experience of seeing the obscenity (i.e. "The Lady's Dressing Room" revolves around Strephon's response to Celia's dirt and dung) rather than the obscenity.

Barnett claims that the act should offend readers more than the content: "What is seen [in Swift] - a pathetic
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. . once removed from the experience depicted and also distanced from it both by our lack of responsibility for it and by the medium of language. Conveniently, there is a primary voyeur who can absorb the opprobrium attached to the forbidden looking, leaving us guiltlessly looking at words. 18 Barnett makes the distinction between active and passive voyeurism. Swift acts as the active voyeur insofar that he had to actually wander around a lady's dressing room or watch a lady strip in order to be able to write his poems. The reader assumes the role of the passive voyeur, the one who simply listens to or reads the exploits of the active voyeur. However, Barnett maintains, the passive voyeur stills looks or reads. "By choosing to read, [continuing to read,] and thus recreate the voyeuristic experience, we become implicated, seeing what the poem sees." (18)) Even though the reader is twice removed from the active voyeur in "The Lady's Dressing Room," (Strephon tells the tale to the narrator who tells the tale to the reader) he or she still becomes a voyeur because he or she continues to read just as the narrator continues his tale despite his protests to the contrary. This voyeuristic technique entraps the reader, drawing the reader in only to shame him or her.

However, Barnett claims, the reader rationalizes the experience. First, the reader recognizes his or her role as a passive voyeur. Then, the
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