Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Review of a new obscure article on Toole

In the last couple of years, I have not kept up on reviewing articles on Confederacy of Dunces that do not appear in the MLA Bibliography. Here is a new review.

Pal, Abhijit. "A Confederacy of Dunces: Mental Illness in the Life and Work of John Kennedy Toole." Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 19, no. 6 (2013): 467-469.

This brief article simply reviews the evidence of mental illness in John Kennedy Toole's personal life and compares it to the attitude portrayed in A Confederacy of Dunces toward mental illness. The author points out that it was becoming fashionable in the scholarly literature and in popular narratives to question the effectiveness of psychiatry and to relativize mental health at the time that Toole was writing Confederacy. Not bad, but not groundbreaking. Light on scholarship.
The other reviews of obscure articles can be found at:

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Thursday, December 1, 2016

My research cited by other texts: Parsons

Here is another text that cites my John Kennedy Toole research.

Parsons and Magnani (2014). "Late Medieval: Chaucer." The Year's Work in English Studies. v. 93 (1): 257-276. This article cites on page 274 my article "A Refutation of Robert Byrne" article.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, the Occasional Series, Part 24: Franny and Zooey

Thesis #24: Franny and Zooey and Confederacy

One of the books that Toole possessed was J. D. Salinger's Franny and Zooey. Several studies have explored the thematic connections between A Confederacy of Dunces and Catcher in the Rye. The evidence is solid that Toole held Catcher in the highest esteem (see the discussion of this in my paper Evidence of influences on John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," including Geoffrey Chaucer, page 20 in version 2.0), so one could readily argue that the thematic connections are in fact evidence of the influence on Toole of Salinger's book. However, there has been no exploration of the connection between ACoD and Franny and Zooey. For example, Franny is apparently an attractive young woman, but she finds the world around her shallow and cannot bring herself to participate in the society around her. Confederacy has its own recluse who rejects his society and who is sometimes mistaken for being female.

Thesis: Explore possible connections between Confederacy and Franny and Zooey.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #14: McCluskey

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 fourteen:

Citation: McCluskey, Peter M. "Selling Souls and Vending Paradise: God and Commerce in A Confederacy of Dunces." Southern Quarterly 47, no. 1 (2009): 7-22.

Annotation: This article offers a detailed comparison between Confederacy and Thoreau’s Walden. McCluskey does an excellent job of discussing the pervasive theme of the corrupting influence of the pursuit of money on the soul. He demonstrates parallels of thought between statements by Ignatius Reilly and Walden’s narrator. He asserts strongly that “the resemblance cannot be coincidental” (8). The basic problem with the thesis is that many varied prophets and sages have been taking very similar philosophical positions for millennia, and the question is: why pick Thoreau? McCluskey admits that there are no direct references to Walden, but he claims that Ignatius’s bean plants refer to the beans that Thoreau grew at Walden Pond. As much as I myself enjoy such speculation, that is a thin reed for supporting the thesis. McCluskey claims that the beans Ignatius grows at Levy Pants might be a species of bean with the scientific name Strychnos ignatii, which happen to be poisonous. But there is no clue in the text that they are poisonous; instead, their function seems to be a hint that Ignatius does no productive work at Levy Pants, by entwining the handles of the file cabinets. Interesting, McCluskey quotes a passage from Chaucer about the corrupting influence of money, but he does not suggest that the influence on Toole was Chaucer. The Toole Papers at Tulane contain no references to Thoreau; whereas, they contain three assignments regarding Chaucer. While this fact does not prove that Toole was not influenced by Walden, it nevertheless withholds evidentiary support for McCluskey’s thesis. This article does a better job of analyzing the corruption theme in Confederacy than other articles (for example, Daigrepont), but the connection to Thoreau is not compelling.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

More comments on Purdie's Comedy: Mastery of Discourse

In August, I offered criticism of Purdie's Comedy: Mastery of Discourse. I actually had not finished the book at that time. Now that I am done, I want to comment on the ending.

Purdie laments the heavy influence of the Northrup Frye school of theory on comedy, and the related theories of Frazer's Golden Bough and Samuel Barber's theory of Saturnalia, complaining that many critics accept the paradigm uncritically even though it is unproven. I will not argue with her assessment. I have not studied carefully enough the positions of the critics of Frazer and the Golden Bough to have a sense of whether her criticism is fully warranted.

By the same token, however, her own book accepts the paradigm of Lacan just as uncritically, and Lacan's theories are just as unfalsifiable as Northrup Frye's are. Alas.

My own criticism of Toole's Confederacy of Dunces does use the Saturnalian theory of carnival. However, I do not make claims that the theory is itself a valid way to interpret all carnival events. My claim is that Toole himself was aware of the saturnalian theory and wrote Confederacy with an eye to that theory. So the Saturnalian theme is in the book, whether or not it is a valid way to analyze all comedy. One can make that claim in the same way that one can analyze Eliot's "Waste Land" using Frazer's Golden Bough, without necessarily endorsing Frazer's theory. One can do this because Eliot was so explicit about being influenced by Frazer. Frazer's themes are in the poem, whether or not Frazer's theory validly explains all primitive agricultural rituals and all comedy based on those rituals.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Theory of Humor, Purdie's Discourse Theory

I have been chipping away at a paper on the humor in Confederacy of Dunces. I have not made much headway. However, I can comment on some of the texts which I am studying.

Recently, I have been reading Susan Purdie's book, Comedy: The Mastery of Discourse (University of Toronto, 1993). I find much to like in its examination of disparaging humor. However, she comes to the topic from Lacanian psychoanalysis and theory of language. I find Lacan to be largely bogus, so in her grand gestures toward a philosophy of humor, I find I disagree with her on the most fundamental level (although she might say that this disagreement is a display of my patriarchal discursive power). Still, at the level below the largest scale, I find she makes many good observations and will probably quote her if I ever get this paper written.

Things I like about the book: I like the point that there is a power dynamic in social relationships and that humor can be used with in that dynamic. So she makes a good point that we laugh at someone who is aspiring to an undeserved status. I can even go along with her distinction of the inept-speaker construction versus the low-status-person construction. Her analysis of gender and humor is good.

Things I do not like about the book: Purdie sees all human thought and subjectivity as being mediated by language. So all humor is language-based. I follow Steven Pinker on the division of thought and language. Purdie also brings in Freudian and Marxist ideas that are unnecessary to her immediate arguments and that do not stand up well to scrutiny, even her own scrutiny.

The book's basic thesis is that all joking (all humor folded into language) is a violation of the normal rules of discourse; however, both the Teller and the Audience understand the violation, so the violating language is marked off and acknowledged to be violating. So the Teller proves his or her mastery of language by a controlled violation of its conventions. I much prefer Mulkay's book On Humour (1988). It divides communication (and mental states) into serious mode and humorous mode. The controlled violation in Purdie's book can be seen as humorous mode in Mulkay's construction.