Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Frazer's Dying God found Dead (or Alive)

Okay, this blog post is not directly related to Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, but it is related to the theory of Carnival that I believe Toole was using.

In 2014, the PBS series NOVA aired an episode called "Ghosts of Murdered Kings." The show discusses corpses that have been found buried in peat bogs in northern Europe. Careful study demonstrates that the bodies are of high-status individuals, possibly local kings, who were intentionally killed. Not only were they killed, they were subjected to several different kinds of fatal attack. One might have been drowned, then hung, then severely stabbed. That style of multiple death is called "overkill."

The evidence suggests that these kings were culturally Celtic. In that culture, if there was a serious failure of crops the king was taken to the local fertility goddess's sacred spot (possibly in a bog) and was overkilled to appease her.

That NOVA episode could have been written by James Frazer for his 1890s book, The Golden Bough. His work, which eventually stretched to 12 volumes in the third edition, was all about a local person being designated as the representative of a fertility god, and that person being sacrificed as the god died, in order for the god to be born again to allow the crops to return. Frazer was very influential in the early 20th century, among writers such as T.S. Eliot and James Joyce.

The URL to the NOVA epidsode is: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/ancient/ghosts-murdered-kings.html

This relates to Confederacy because one theory of Carnival is that it is derived from Saturnalia, a Roman festival with some similarities to these Celtic rites. In Saturnalia, a Lord of Misrule, a representative of the god Saturn, was killed to restore the fertility of the land. Ignatius in Confederacy can be seen as a scapegoated Lord of Misrule. His almost being killed by the streetcar is a type of mock death.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #4

As I said in June 2013, I would like to offer an annotated bibliography, one citation at a time, of the best of the scholarship on Toole's Confederacy that is findable via MLA Bibliography (as opposed to obscure).

In August, I offered #2, admitting that there is a small crowd, all of which could be #2. My pick for #4 is part of that group. Here it is:

Citation: Lowe, John. "The Carnival Voices of A Confederacy of Dunces." In Louisiana Culture from the Colonial Era to Katrina. Edited by John Lowe. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State UP, ix, 2008, 159-190.

Annotation: This book chapter discusses the ethnic humor found in Confederacy in relation to Carnival. Like other critics, Lowe sees New Orleans portrayed as being in perpetual Carnival. Ignatius is a Lord of Misrule. Rare among critics (except Helga Beste), he discusses the theme of Ignatius being insane, pointing out the literary tradition of divine madness. Lowe uses Bakhtin’s theory of Carnival and draws parallels between Ignatius and Rabelais’ Gargantua in a style of Grotesque Realism. He claims the bodily humor works closely with ethnic markers. Irene is associated with chaos, and her love of alcohol references the Irish stereotype (162). Lowe discusses the resemblance between Confederacy and Melville’s White Jacket and Sterne’s Tristam Shandy. Ignatius’ valve is an oracle. Lowe notes the explicit references to Heart of Darkness. In Ignatius’s mock chivalry, Lowe compares him to Spenser’s Red Cross Knight. Lowe then speculates that Toole “likely admired and imitated” Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (167).

There are further unique discussions in this chapter: no earlier critic discussed the explicit references to Freud in the text, and Lowe is the first to suggest that the description of the decay surrounding the Reilly home echoes the Romantic poets, in particular Keats’ ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ (168). He sees Ignatius as Tristan and Myrna as Isolde. Lowe then compares Confederacy to ethnic drama, such as “The Life of Riley,” “I Love Lucy,” “The Melting Pot,” and “Abie’s Irish Rose” (171-3). Humor in Confederacy comes from ethnic mixing and juxtapositions (174). Gays, lesbians, and the mentally ill are also treated as ethnic characters (183-4). The search for a scapegoat is a common theme in ethnic comedy, where all of the different groups can unite against the victim. Such dramas often end in an ethnic melee. Confederacy’s ending replays the ending of “Abie’s Irish Rose” (188). Lowe’s claim of ethnic comedy comes closer to the core of Confederacy’s slapstick humor than some other theories (such as Kline’s). Also, though Lowe doesn’t cite them, the Toole papers at Tulane confirm that Toole was familiar with Freudian ideas, that he took a graduate course in Spenser at Columbia, and that he wrote a half dozen papers on the English Romantic poets as an undergraduate.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 19

Thesis #19: Toole and Eugene O'Neill

In the Tulane University student magazine Carnival (no. 9, 1956) Toole discussed the fact that Yale published O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey into Night," which he described as "a brilliant autobiographical play." The play describes the disintegration of family fortunes. "The miserly actor-father, the dissipated older brother, the vague and mercurial mother [...]" Toole stated that if it were not based on facts, it would be too melodramatic. He concludes that in the end there is "some sort of redemption for the family in general." (pp. 13-14)

Thesis: Discuss similarities and differences between O'Neill's play and Confederacy of Dunces. Does Confederacy have the same relationship to Toole's biography that "Long Day's Journey" has to O'Neill's biography?

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #3

As I said in June 2013, I would like to offer an annotated bibliography, one citation at a time, of the best of the scholarship on Toole's Confederacy that is findable via MLA Bibliography (as opposed to obscure).

In August, I offered #2, admitting that there is a small crowd, all of which could be #2. My pick for #3 is part of that group. Here it is:

Citation: Clark, William Bedford. "All Toole's Children: A Reading of A Confederacy of Dunces." Essays in Literature [ISSN 0360-7062] v. 14, no. 2 (1987): 269-280.

Annotation: A solid and important article. Clark argues that Confederacy’s main theme is the corruption of childish innocence. Santa was abused as a child and is abusive toward children, and she tells Irene that she should have beaten Ignatius more as a child. Ignatius plays the role of a grotesque, immature man-child (Daigrepont), and Santa eventually convinces Irene to have him committed to a mental ward, hoping they will abuse him. Further, Lana and George corrupt children with pornography, and Gus thinks of his company as a neglected child. In the history of Toole criticism, Clark is the first to point out that Ignatius only has a limited understanding of Fortune and Boethius, and that the narrative itself refutes Ignatius’s limited view by using the view of Boethius’s Lady Philosophy. The critic Wesley Britton, for example, would be incapable of writing: “We are not tied to Fortune's Wheel, but indeed play out our lives as part of a higher design which allows for the reality of free will ...” Another quote: “Properly speaking, we ought to view Toole's account of the punishment visited upon the child-molesters … as a deus ex machina only if we place adequate stress on the deus” (273). There are brief comparisons of Confederacy to Dante’s Divine Comedy (278)--with Ignatius and Gus headed for Purgatory--and Twain’s Tom Sawyer (275).

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 18

Thesis #18: Joyce's Ulysses and Toole's Confederacy

Okay readers, I am not going to spoon feed you a paper this time. In theses #11, #13, and #14, I investigated the possible relationships among Toole and Waugh and Proust. But I gave so many details, that I virtually wrote an article for you, or at least a paper of a length suitable for the journal Notes on Contemporary Literature, if not longer. So I will truly try to give the idea without giving many details.

In the Toole Papers, the bibliography of Toole's library included both James Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. Toole also wrestled with Catholicism, gentile poverty, and Irish ancestry. My "Dialectic" paper argues that Toole built a complex symbolic connection between Ignatius Reilly and the Medieval and Renaissance ideas about the planetary god Saturn. As I have argued in Evidence of Influences version 2.0, 30n16, and in the "Dialectic" paper, one can study Confederacy's use of Carnival using the framework of Saturnalia from Frazer's Golden Bough.

Critics have discussed at length the connection between Joyce and Frazer. For example, Vickery devotes five whole chapters of his book on The Literary Impact of the Golden Bough to James Joyce, more than for any other writer. (Admittedly, Vickers wrote after Toole, so Toole could not have been influenced by Vickers himself.) Both in general symbolism and the Frazer connection, Toole seems to be more in the literary school of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce than in the literary tradition of writers like Toole's contemporary Thomas Pynchon.

Thesis: Explore the possible connections and influences of Joyce on Toole's work. If you are ambitious, compare Joyce's Aristotelianism to Toole's dialectic between Neoplatonism and Pragmatic Humanism.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Q: Who wrote A Confederacy of Dunces? A: If not Ken, then Thelma.

I may turn this into part of a scholarly paper myself, but I already have my initial statement out there at the end of my posted script for my lecture called: John Kennedy Toole Papers: A cautionary tale of scholarly research. I think it is worth repeating here. The thought was prompted by a question from the audience. Here is the text from that script:

Question from the audience: Could Walker Percy have written Confederacy?

My answer in the lecture: That is sort of the "grassy knoll" conspiracy theory of Confederacy. (I then explained Giemza's article from Southern Cultures about how the pattern of Percy / Toole is similar to the pattern of Kierkegaard / Kierkegaardian hoax.)

My Ultimate Answer [which I thought of after the audience had left]:  Thelma Toole was obsessed throughout Ken's life that he was a genius. She was the first reader of Confederacy, she loved it, and she was its ultimate editor, as she probably destroyed the revisions Ken had made for Robert Gottlieb and preserved only the original first draft (according to Fletcher). Once it was published, she would be invited to parties and would recite passages from memory. Her notes in the Toole Papers show that she compared the book to the writings of Flannery O’Connor and others. She wrote lyrics called "My Worldview" in which she identified Dante, Chaucer, Milton, and Ben Jonson as predecessors to Confederacy. She immediately understood the quality of the analysis of Confederacy by Patteson and Sauret. The idea that she would not have noticed or would have allowed Percy to change a comma of the text is ridiculous. Thelma is a more plausible candidate for being called the author of Confederacy than is Walker Percy.

My further comment here: I say Thelma may be called an author because some may argue that authorship in the abstract includes the editor. (For more theoretical discussion of textual editing and the nature of the editor in the process of constructing the meaning of a text, see the works of Peter L. Shillingsburg, especially From Gutenberg to Google: electronic representations of literary texts.) If one claims that the editor has a hand in the creation of the text and should therefore be called an author, then Thelma was an author of this text.

(Finally, note the "grassy knoll" tie-in to the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination?)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Web of Knowledge fixed the URL

Since I reported earlier, in Web of Science Botches Citation, that ISI's Web of Science (or rather Web of Knowledge) had mangled my self-citation to my Evidence of Influences paper, I have a duty to report that they have fixed it. I do not know when it was fixed, but I learned about the repair a couple of weeks ago. Thanks Thomson-Reuters.