Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Feb 11, 2006

Robinson Crusoe

This is a truly excellent book, and I wish I'd read it several years ago. I recommend it thoroughly.

My enjoyment, however, was somewhat diminished by the truly awful introduction,written by L. J. Swingle, in which that notable presumes to explain a thoroughly self-explanatory work to an audience that he supposes cannot grasp the idea of a self-sufficient man. He is most emphatic in asserting that no one in today's culture could find the book even remotely realistic. Defoe is guilty, somehow, of cheating, because Crusoe finds himself in circumstances that favor his survival and even allow him to flourish.

I hasten to disagree. Most men find themselves in circumstances well-suited to their survival; just look at how many of us there are! What is absolutely vital is for them to recognize this fact and apply themselves to making the best use of those circumstances that they can manage.

It is not any surprise, then, that Swingle fails to grasp the purpose and value of Crusoe's religious experiments and explorations, which accompany his physical efforts throughout the book. The religion (in the sense of a sort of philosophy) is in large part just as much a survival issue as food and shelter. Without grasping the idea that he was well-situated on his island and content with its simple pleasures, Crusoe would have doubtless engaged in many fruitless and dangerous escape attempts. He would not have planted his barley and rice or domesticated goats, not anticipating many future years on the island, and his situation would have become dire as soon as he ran short of powder and shot.

Swingle also dwells uselessly on Crusoe's supposed exploitation, both of his natural resources and of the savage he later acquires for his "slave", Friday. I have to say that on reading the book I recieved quite a different impression. Such exploitation consisted of: killing numerous wild animals to protect himself and his stores, and saving a man who was the captive of cannibals from certain death. I know I would be eager to enter into the service of someone that assisted me in that way, especially since he so obviously knew how to provide sustainence for us both. It's called having a job. In a world full of dangerous and untrustworthy men, I'd be in a hurry to cling to the honest ones that I'd found.

Swingle's failure to grasp that Defoe's work is as applicable to the modern day as to any other time is just another demonstration as to how detached modern intellectuals are from the business of living.


Myrhaf said...

Excellent review. Swingle sounds all too typical of today's academics.

You read fast.

Jennifer Snow said...

Thank you!

I think that my speed is more the fact that I don't have anything to do with my personal time other than read.

Well, that and I really, really like to read. It's amazing how fast you can clear through a book when you have no distractions.

EdMcGon said...

It is amazing that they would let someone write an introduction who has no understanding of the book's virtues. Jenn, your post would make a better introduction.

Jennifer Snow said...

I've found it's kind of been hit-or-miss with the introductions to these reprinted classics, but this one by Swingle was ridiculous. He spent like 3 pages talking about Alice in Wonderland, which isn't remotely related to Robinson Crusoe: it belongs to an entirely different literary period, time, and style.

I got the impression that he needed to write SOMETHING in order to flesh out his resume.

EdMcGon said...

Writers who write just for the enjoyment of seeing their words in print are exactly like people who talk because they enjoy the sound of their own voice.

This guy sounds like one of them.