30 November 1667
Dear Mr. Jonathan Swift,
If, either through force of habit or mere happenstance, your eyes ever rest upon this virtual ink devoted to you, I shall consider myself a fortunate soul.
As much as I ardently seek to provide an enchanting picture of our times, I realize that you might prefer ironies of reality to fantasied ironies. But before I lead you to raise your veil of scepticism and smile in acknowledgement, I beseech you to temper your expectations, for numbers of your satire aficionados are few.
Much has changed, and much hasn’t, since your passing.
It is not commonplace to associate timelessness with posthumous immortality, the true meaning of the word notwithstanding. Almost everything in our present times, Sir, unlike yours, comes with an expiry date. Most of us mortals even manage to wear a smile at the paradox of recognition. In our present times, the Dead are remembered, while the Alive are forgotten. Some of the Alive are bestowed recognition but only after joining the ranks of the Dead. There are no known instances of the opposite.
Your prescience in The Difficulty Of Knowing One’s Self is commendable. More than three centuries later, we continue to be faithful to your observations. We specialise in running headlong into sin and folly, against our reason; even deifying the process. In this respect, we can honourably lay claim to upholding the traditions propounded by your generation.
I recount with great fondness the excited hands that flipped through the pages of Gulliver’s Travels, in my childhood. With the progressive reduction of my ignorance about the world and its history (a process by no means, complete), my perception towards Gulliver’s Travels underwent a metamorphosis. The many facets to one story came as a remarkable discovery to me. Much of our world today is in the early stages of Gulliver’s journey, as he transformed from an enthusiastic fellow to a misanthrope. A few knock on the doors of the final stage but societal pressures impel them to assume the countenance of the early-stage Gulliver.
I discovered the beauty of sustained irony in The Battle of the Books, your satirical account of the battle between the writers of the Ancient and the Modern world. As I laboured to unearth contemporary writing, I found myself on a journey backwards in time. Somewhere in the early 20th century, Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw and Vu Trong Phung (who nobody knows ever lived) reminded me that my journey to Aristotelian times to find stimulating pieces was unnecessary; even as PG Wodehouse gently encouraged me to return to the stillness of my times. The Battle of the Books – II, if written, would be a triviality, for we Moderns are an ill-armoured lot, acutely susceptible to literary attack. Beware, Sir, for should you decide to launch an assault, you might encounter some serious resistance in the form of Social Networking.
As regards your Modest Proposal, of selling toddlers of the poor to the rich as food, I report that my contemporaries have, so far, stayed away from cannibalism. Much of this is attributable to advances in food science, which has ensured that food is abundantly available to feed the entire planet. At 257 kg of grain per earthling, it should be a while before cannibalism overpowers civility. But times are bad and the economic downturn which is upon us for the past 4 years, overlapped on increasing inequality, might stoke anthropophagic feelings in hungry humans. You may be happy to learn, though, that politics and, more significantly, politicians have not changed an iota since your times.
Our life expectancies have received a major boost due to progress in medicine. As the world grows older, youngsters feel a sense of resentment at having to support the growing dependent population, apart from compulsions of subsistence. Given the horrid times, it seems that a modified version of your Modest Proposal, aimed at monitored rationing of the very aged, instead of the very young, may find some cheerleaders.
This, Sir, is a short picture of the state of our times.
344 years since the world was fortunate to have played host to you, you continue to live and breathe satire, in our minds.
Thank you for having lived amongst us, I remain, your humble admirer,
….Of beasts, it is confessed, the ape
Comes nearest us in human shape;
Like man, he imitates each fashion,
And malice is his ruling passion:
But, both in malice and grimaces,
A courtier any ape surpasses.
Behold him humbly cringing wait
Upon the minister of state;
View him, soon after, to inferiors
Aping the conduct of superiors:
He promises, with equal air,
And to perform takes equal care.
He, in his turn, finds imitators,
At court the porters, lacqueys, waiters
Their masters’ manners still contract,
And footmen, lords, and dukes can act.
Thus, at the court, both great and small
Behave alike, for all ape all.
— Jonathan Swift, Excerpt from The Logicians Refuted