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.

Thanks.

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.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Pamuk and Neoplatonism

This is only marginally related to A Confederacy of Dunces. I just enjoyed the novel My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk. One of that novel's main themes is the nature of art and its relation to Islam. It is clear from the philosophical ideas espoused in the book that these Islamic illustrators had been influenced by Platonic and Neoplatonic ideas. Confederacy's use of Neoplatonism is Pamuk's connection to this blog.

In "Red," set in the 1590s, the Ottoman Sultan wants his illustrators to create a book with illustrations using the new artistic techniques being pioneered by the western Renaissance. Because of the traditional proscription against idols, many Muslims are suspicious of any representational art. Those illustrators who do create representational art often follow a Platonic theory of representation. You should not draw the horse that is in front of you; you should draw the ideal horse as God envisions it. Illustrators should not have their own individual style but should try to follow the old masters as perfectly as possible. Old illustrators who have mastered their art will even take a stylus and poke out the lenses of their eyes and blind themselves. They then create illustrations from memory, holding in their minds the ideal leaves on the ideal trees. The plot revolves around the disruption in society stemming from the introduction of empirically driven, western artistic techniques.

A Confederacy of Dunces also draws on some Arab influences. I posit in my Dialectic of American Humanism that Toole learned his Neoplatonic ideas and his astrological personality characteristics from Paul Oskar Kristeller, a professor at Columbia. Kristeller was a scholar of the Italian Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino. With regard to Ficino's theories of personality, Kristeller looked favorably on the research of the art historian Erwin Panofsky. Panofsky showed that Renaissance astrology was influenced by the Arab astrologers such as Abu Masar, who created a system of personality characteristics influenced by the stars. Both Ficino and the Arabs held Neoplatonic ideas. By way of Kristeller and Panofsky, Toole used the Arab characteristics of the "child of Saturn" when crafting the character of Ignatius Reilly. In Confederacy, however, this Neoplatonism is mocked in the funhouse mirror of New Orleans Carnival.

I do not necessarily fully understand what Pamuk is striving for in his book, but he seems to treat the Neoplatonic worldview with more respect than Toole does. That having been said, there is a full awareness of the merits of both the more Aristotelian, empirical worldview of the West and the other influences on Islamic culture from China and the East.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #8

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 eight:

Citation: Simon, Richard Keller. "John Kennedy Toole and Walker Percy: Fiction and Repetition in A Confederacy of Dunces." Texas Studies in Literature & Language 36, no. 1 (1994): 99-116.

Annotation: This is a solid article, but it is a very dense and complex article, so every sentence should be read with care. I may be butchering the subtlety of his concept, but Simon uses the concept of repetition throughout the paper, so it is useful to define it. Repetition seems to be an echoing of a previous work by the work under study. It does not necessarily imply that the earlier work influenced the author of the later work, or that the author of the later work intended said work to be a parody or to reference the earlier work. Nevertheless, repetition does seem to hint at parody or literary reference. Simon shows that Walker Percy’s Moviegoer is a repetition of some of the texts of Soren Kierkegaard, in particular Kierkegaard’s Repetition. He then sees A Confederacy of Dunces (Confederacy) as a repetition of Moviegoer, which allows him to make this rather amusing sentence: "Toole's story is a repetition of a repetition of Repetition" (100). To outline the contents: Simon begins the article with a rapid-fire list of other authors and works that may have influenced Toole, including Don Quixote, Gargantua, Gulliver’s Travels, Tristam Shanty, Joseph Andrews, and Gone with the Wind (100). The comparison of Confederacy with Moviegoer (102, 110-111, note on 114) is thorough and compelling. Simon then explains (105-106) how some readers have interpreted Confederacy as a hoax written by Percy. The comparison of Confederacy to the Consolation of Boethius is less compelling (108-109). The three-way comparison of Confederacy, Moviegoer, and Repetition is not compelling as something that Toole may have intended, but it is still interesting (113). The identification of Ignatius with Fortuna herself (113 note 1) is very good. The most unfortunate part of the paper is the theory that Toole’s suicide was planned as part of his repetition of the earlier works which contemplate suicide (100, 104). Considering his family history of mental illness, this idea is the one poor part of an otherwise strong paper.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, the Occasional Series, Part 22

Thesis #22: Ignatius and H.P. Lovecraft

I have to admit, even after long study of Toole's Confederacy of Dunces, there are some aspects of the tale that are still beyond my understanding. One has been Ignatius Reilly's fascination with destruction and apocalypse. I think I now have the beginning of a connection, and it is tied to the phrase "wrong theology and geometry." According to the interview that Robert Byrne gave to Carmine Palumbo, Toole got that phrase from Byrne, and Byrne got it from H.P. Lovecraft (see the discussion of this in my paper Evidence of influences on John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," including Geoffrey Chaucer, page 7 in version 2.0).

I personally have never read H.P. Lovecraft. However, in the December 18, 2014, New York Review of Books, Charles Baxter has an essay discussing Lovecraft in relation to the new annotated volume of Lovecraft's writings. The essay is freely available online at this URL: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/dec/18/hideous-unknown-hp-lovecraft

The passage from the essay that caught my eye and made me think of a deeper connection to Ignatius Reilly was this one: "As for Lovecraft, who died in 1937 at the age of forty-six, he never really grew up. 'Adulthood is hell,' he once wrote in a letter." That certainly describes Ignatius Reilly. And Reilly fantasizes about violence and destruction, much like a goth fan of Lovecraft. I could say more, but I don't want to write your paper for you.

Thesis: Discuss the psychology of Ignatius Reilly in comparison to the themes present in the works of H.P. Lovecraft.