Thursday, October 1, 2015

Who wrote Confederacy, Addendum

In my posting of November 1, 2013, I argued that Thelma Toole, John Kennedy Toole's mother, was instrumental in shaping the final version of the novel. In that posting, I suggested that one could consult the book From Gutenberg to Google: electronic representations of literary texts by Peter L. Shillingsburg for a discussion of the gray area between authorship and editorship. The point that the editor can approach the role of a co-author has been made many times in the past. An earlier text that discusses that point in more depth than Shillingsburg is:

Thorpe, James. “The Aesthetics of Textual Criticism,” PMLA 80.5 (December 1965): 465-82.

“In a quite literal sense, the literary work is often guided or directed or controlled by other people while the author is in the process of trying to make it take shape, and it is subject to a variety of alterations throughout its history. The intentions of the person we call the author thus become entangled with the intentions of all the others who have a stake in the outcome, which is the work of art.” (Thorpe, 475).

As I discussed in the earlier blog post, according to Fletcher's book Ken and Thelma, Thelma preferred the original first draft of the novel. In his efforts to get the book published, Ken wrote several revisions. After his death, Thelma told Fletcher that she had destroyed the revised versions and eventually published the original first draft.

One interesting aspect of this textual history is that most contemporary writers have their original vision altered by editors in part to try to market their work to a broad commercial audience. Writers like Chaucer did not have to revise for the expectations of a mass audience. In the end, Toole's original intention for the text was preserved by the initial rejection by Gottlieb and by Thelma's subsequent actions.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Carl Jung: Another contemporary who saw agent of chaos as an agent of order

In my paper Evidence of Influences, I argued that during Toole's academic career, Chaucer scholars, such as Charles Muscatine in 1957, argued that the character of Saturn in "The Knight's Tale" was an immediate agent of chaos, but ultimately was an agent of order within the larger pattern of the narrative (Leighton, 25).

I am currently enjoying the book Comedy, by Andrew Stott (Routledge, 2005). In the section on the Trickster character, he points out that Carl Jung saw the trickster archetype as a mirror of the development of human consciousness from savage to sophisticated, and as such, it was an immediate agent of chaos who ultimately is an agent of order and comic resolution (Stott, 54). The quote from Jung is from his Collected Works from 1959, though the text was probably written much earlier. Nevertheless, 1959 was just about the time Toole was formulating the ideas for Confederacy, and Jung's ideas may have been more prominent in the intellectual ferment of that time.

The quote from Jung is: "The marks of deepest unconsciousness fall away from him; instead of acting in a brutal, savage, stupid, and senseless fastion, the trickster's behavior towards the end of the cycle becomes quite useful and sensible." (Collected Works, v. 9: 266, as quoted in Stott, 54). So the concept appears to have been broadly present in literary culture at the time when Toole was creating his novel.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #11

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). Here is item number eleven:

Citation: Robinson, Michelle. "Two Men Walk into a Bar." In Detecting Detection: International Perspectives on the Uses of a Plot. Edited by Peter Baker and Deborah Shaller. New York, NY: Continuum, 2012, 59-79.

Annotation: This chapter approaches Confederacy from the perspective of the detective genre with Burma Jones as detective. It also compares Ignatius and his Journal of a Working Boy to John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me, which was published in 1961 and which possibly could have influenced Toole. Robinson claims that "What makes Toole's work particularly interesting, however, is that its detective plot is a foil for the dubious practice of activist 'ethnojournalism'" (62). This statement seems accurate to a point: there is a thread of the detective genre here, and Burma is effective where Ignatius is preposterous. But it ignores many other narrative threads, such as the story of Levys, and it misses more fundamental themes of the book, such as the critique of humanism and the use of carnival. This article is valuable but limited. It puts the Burma Jones / Ignatius Reilly relationship at the center, which I feel is unwarranted. She corrects the critical view of Jones by showing his influence over the end of the novel, but she overcorrects and ends up exaggerating that influence. I found valuable the discussion of the Freedom School curriculum, Griffin's book, and Norman Mailer's "White Negro." That critique probably was part of what Toole had in mind, and I agree that Confederacy stands as a critique of those fixtures of the 1960s. Finally, Robinson describes the scenes of the novel in excessive detail, so the article feels padded. Good, but limited.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Personality Traits of the Hero in a Physical Comedy

I have been working on yet another John Kennedy Toole paper for a couple of years now. This one is centered on the nature of the humor in Confederacy of Dunces. I want to expand on my remarks from my Amazon review about Ignatius being a physical comedian. Click here to view my Amazon review.

For humor theory, I have been reading work by Michael Mulkay, Weems, Alan Dale, and others. However, I was quite taken by the video documentary made with Rowan Atkinson called "Laughing Matters." It was part of the series called "Funny Business." In it, the personality traits of the slapstick hero are listed. Here is the list from the documentary:

  1. He is alienated from the society around him: Ignatius stays in his room in his mother's house.
  2. He is childish: Ignatius thinks his mother should still support him at age 30.
  3. He has to fight with ordinary objects: Ignatius cannot even ride in a bus.
  4. His body can be humorous by itself: Did I mention Ignatius is obese?
  5. He is uncivilized and cannot or will not conform to social rules: Ignatius's first act in the book is to hit a policeman in the head with a rolled up sheet of music.
  6. He is a threat to respectable people: On first seeing him, the policeman immediately tries to arrest him. Even a strip-tease club wants to get rid of him.
  7. He mocks authority and politeness: Ignatius is rude and heaps scorn on everyone.
  8. He spreads confusion: Ignatius causes the climactic chaos of the book.
  9. He always survives his travails.
I have not been able to find a comparable list in any scholarly study of physical comedy. So I appeal to readers of this blog: if you know of the scholarly study upon which that video was based, please send me the citation.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #10

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). Here is item number ten:

Citation: Reilly, Edward C. "Batman and Ignatius J. Reilly in A Confederacy of Dunces." Notes on Contemporary Literature 12, no. 1 (1982): 10-11.

Annotation: This brief article discusses the references to Batman in Confederacy. Reilly shows that Ignatius sees himself as a crusader, just like Batman. And just as Batman appears from nowhere, Ignatius, the green capped mother, really does appear when he is needed and saves people from their bad situations. Reilly analyzes the Batman references more accurately than Gardner (Comedy of Redemption in Three Southern Writers (1995) 117). He does not discuss the possibility that the Batman / Robin relationship is gay and the possible double entendre of Batman's "rigid" morals. Reilly concludes: “As do Salinger, Kesey, Heller, and Bellow, Toole believes that man must actively contend with the absurdities and injustices of life instead of isolating himself from them” (10). This conclusion is true for the other characters in the novel, but it ignores the fact that Ignatius in the end does not face the absurdities and injustices of life. His first impulse upon seeing Myrna is to strangle her. He is a force of disorder and only ends his isolation in order to escape. A good article, despite the problematic conclusion.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, the Occasional Series, Part 23

Thesis #23: Confederacy and Magister Ludi

Hermann Hesse published Magister Ludi, or The Glass Bead Game, in 1943. Not a great time to be writing in German. The novel is set in a utopian future where an organization of scholars, the Order, controls an educational and intellectual establishment. That organization is a lot like the Catholic hierarchy and monastic orders of western Europe during the middle ages. Members of the Order, apparently all male, remain poor, do not marry, and devote themselves to intellectual pursuits. All knowledge converges on an ultimate truth that is articulated and manipulated by the glass bead game. It is a very Neoplatonic vision, worthy of Ficino. There is early in the novel an explicit dialectic between the ideal, the Geist, and the worldly, called Natur, as represented by Knecht's friend Plinio.

A Confederacy of Dunces, as I have shown in "Dialectic of American Humanism", is a send up parody of Ficino's Neoplatonic ideas. It also features a dialectic with worldliness.

Thesis: Contrast the dialectic between Geist and Natur in Hesse's Magister Ludi with Toole's dialectic between worldliness and "Neoplatonism in drag."

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #9

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). Here is item number nine:

Citation: Patteson, Richard F. "Ignatius Goes to the Movies: The Films in Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces." NMAL: Notes on Modern American Literature 6.2 (1982): Item 14.

Annotation: This brief note tries to identify temporal markers in Confederacy through movie references. As Patteson points out, Confederacy does not name a date, but it still achieves chronological specificity through film. Unlike Joyce, who was extremely specific, “Toole deliberately blurs his image by combining the very specific with the relatively vague. In this way, he manages both to approach graphic realism and to suggest the timelessness of fable.” The first film described must be “Jumbo,” which was shown in the Prytania Theatre from February 22 to 28, 1963. This matches the references in Toole’s letters to when he began writing Confederacy in earnest. But other films could not have been shown when the action in Confederacy takes place. Ignatius was conceived after his parents viewed “Red Dust,” which showed in New Orleans in the winter of 1932-1933. This is the only article that has offered dates for some of the events in Confederacy, so it is a brief but important contribution to the literature.