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"To be equally diverted and informed by every line": The Ambivalent Act of Story-Fashioning in A Tale of a Tub


In this paper I examine narrative technique in Jonathan Swift's Tale of a Tub (1704) to offer a methodology for his satire. I foreground my reading of the Tale with two events that informed the work: the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, and the Repeal of the Licensing Act of 1662, a measure that substantially deregulated the British Press. Both these events call knowledge production into question, specifically, what kind of knowledge is valuable and how it should be disseminated to the literate public. The Tale does not answer these questions, but enacts the tension sparked by their debate, and reflects a major shift in print culture at the turn of the eighteenth century. Hasty, plagiarized, and digressive, the Tale is meant to echo a misinformed society. I argue that Swift mimics information overload by use of constant ambivalence, which then exposes the limitations of expression in print.

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