In Gulliver’s Travels, the titular character visits many strange, foreign lands in the service of satirist Jonathan Swift’s desire to poke fun at the flaws of the culture of his time and to talk regularly about human excretions.
Adaptations, especially those aimed at children, tend to only reproduce the book’s evocative imagery of being a giant among the tiny Lilliputians and being doll-sized among the towering Brobdingnagians. They leave out the scenes of defecating enough to fill a miniature church or being forced to watch colossal serving girls urinate. Laputa, the floating island of scientific wonder, sometimes appears in other contexts such as Japanese animated film, but without the associations of trying to turn digested food back into something edible. The humanoid primitives, Yahoos, survived into common parlance better than the rational, equine Houyhnhnms, but without the association of feces-flinging.
One brief, excreta-free section from Gulliver’s Travels is not among those often reproduced whatsoever: Gulliver meeting the immortal struldbrug. These are a special breed of human who are able to live essentially forever but without eternal youth. Their teeth fall out, their eyesight and hearing fail, their memories dull, they aren’t allowed autonomy or property ownership, and eventually can’t communicate even with each other because their dialects grow indistinguishable. The people of the land of Luggnagg are thankful for death because they’re constantly reminded of what the real alternative is.
I’m not the first to point out the similarity of modern medicine in creating cursed immortality as a reality for us, but our appreciation for the inevitability and even relief of death continues to lag behind for most.
Barbara Ehrenreich is definitely not counted among such people, and her latest book Natural Causes is a short, solid piece of prose about what it means to suffer from age, accepting the reality of death, and the sorts of things a person ought to consider when weighing both.
Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: Barbara Ehrenreich is old enough to die, but still has plenty to say” →
Getting older is a bizarre experience.
When we’re young, we are, understandably, not very good at anticipating the sort of person we’ll one day become; only in hindsight do we realize that. More surprising, or at least challenging to our sense of continuity, is that once through the veil of maturity, we’re just as poor at retrospection. It’s as if we’re reincarnated with mostly vague recollections of our previous life—we retain something of before, but we’re no longer the same person.
Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s book Inventing Ourselves is a fascinating examination of what recent decades of technological progress and investigation have shown us about the teenage brain.
Continue reading “BOOK REVIEW: The past is a foreign country, but youth is a different species” →
‘The feeling of intense joy at sacrifice & action, that you can be a part of shoving the fulcrum of history toward its natural conclusion gives way to a realization that it’s a pendulum swinging back, and no matter how much you put your shoulder into it, you’re too small against this bigger thing. You & everyone you know & care for are too small for this thing.’
- I raise my eyebrows.
- It’s almost embarrassing to witness.
- ‘You’re tired.’
- ‘Did you get me tipsy on purpose?’
- ‘And please, let’s try it for three months.’
- I feel unbearably shy when I open the door.
The other day, I got a pain near my mid-lower back like some awful thing was trying to grab and pull off a handful of flesh, for what nefarious purpose I fear to speculate even within the realm of this simile.
Continue reading “However, I cannot use my knee to tell when it’s going to rain” →
Today is unofficially the end of summer, although really Saturday was because, well, there’s no time left to recover from anything you could do in the time you’ve got left.
For several thousand kids and teachers It Begins, and the marathon of the school year that seems like it just ended the other day starts up again, ready or not. The butterflies are already colonizing your stomach at the thought.
But it’s OK. Labor Day is just around the corner, and the weekends come remarkably fast when you aren’t looking for them, quick as the boiling of an unwatched pot.
Continue reading “There’s still plenty of summer left, don’t worry” →
My birthday was Saturday. I turned 22 and no longer feel young.
No, you’re right to say it. But I always did feel older than I was. Not more mature. I stopped maturing sometime in the seventh-grade (unless maturity is the ability to better-stifle your laughter at fart jokes), but I always could see what was up ahead and fear it.
Twenty-one is the last birthday that means anything for a very long time except that continuing to get them is better than the alternative. When you’re a child, they’re all important, and when you’re a teenager, you look forward to the new things you get to do, but after 22, what is there? My dad couldn’t wait for his senior discount, but that’s quite a ways from here.
Then again, life comes at you fast.
Continue reading “Young people don’t know anything, especially that they’re young” →