Monday, December 1, 2014

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #7

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 of 2013, I offered #2, admitting that there is a small crowd, all of which could be #2. I think that with #7, we are finally past the tie for #2, so this article is not part of that group. Here it is:

Citation: Kline, Michael. "Narrating the Grotesque: The Rhetoric of Humor in John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces." Southern Quarterly 37, no. 3-4, (1999): 283-291.

Annotation:This article explores the mechanisms within Confederacy that generate its humor. Kline argues that the grotesque elements are not enough to carry the “extended narrative humor” (284). He uses the concept of metonomy, which he describes as the figure "responsible for the reader's perception of referential relationships of causality ..." (285) He then outlines the different narrative threads of the novel and shows how they interact. Humor is generated by the reader’s inability to foresee unusual plot connections—metonym mismatches—which are breaks in the causal chains. The reader’s pleasure comes from the balance between the dynamic plot and its grotesque disruption (288). Ignatius, he points out, is responsible for each mismatched situation. He identifies four disruptive operators: disproportion, decontextualization, irony, and inconsequentiality (289). He sees the ending as less a happy ending than “a problematic mythos of Spring …” (286). Like Clark, he points out that Ignatius has a limited understanding of Boethius, and that the narrative itself refutes Ignatius’s limited view with a deeper understanding of Boethius (287). I find Rowan Atkinson’s theory of physical comedy (in the documentary called “Funny Business,” 1992) to be more useful in discussing the novel’s humor, so while I do not agree entirely with his theory of the mechanism of the humor, this is a solid article that touches on many good points.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

I am behind the times, Pugh revised his essay

Back in May, I listed as #5 in my rank ordering of John Kennedy Toole research an essay by Tison Pugh from 2006, see May 2014. Unbeknownst to me, Pugh had published in 2013 a book which contains a revised version of the essay.

The new citation is: Pugh, Tison. "'It's prolly fulla dirty stories': Queer Masculinity and Masturbatory Allegory in John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces." Queer Chivalry: Medievalism and the Myth of White Masculinity in Southern Literature. Louisiana State University Press, 2013.

I have glanced over the new essay to verify that it is in fact a revision, but I have not read it closely. The book as a whole makes an argument about southern culture and literature, and the amendations of the Toole essay seem to be focused on interating it within Pugh's new, larger thesis. But a couple of details I did note: Pugh now states as a certain fact that Toole was gay, and instead of calling what Toole does in the novel "queering medievalism," in which queering isn't necessarily homoerotic, he now calls Confederacy pseudo-homosexuality. While the evidence does not disprove this position, I haven't seen undisputed positive proof for it either. Interesting that the book was published by Louisiana State U. Press, which also published Ignatius Rising, a book which was criticized by those close to Toole for questionable behavior by the authors and which also takes the position that Toole was gay.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review of Reference Book entries on John Kennedy Toole and Confederacy of Dunces

Although searching the Web and using Wikipedia has often displaced going to a library and using the reference collection to look things up, scholars still trust published reference books more than freely available Web resources. But that does not mean that every entry in a reference book is excellent.

Below is a review of the entries on John Kennedy Toole and Confederacy of Dunces from several reference books.

Berman, Milton and Tracy Irons-Georges. The Eighties in America. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2008.

The article on John Kennedy Toole is poorly written and largely dependent on the Nevils and Hardy book.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale Research Company.

This reference source has excerpts from articles about late 20th century or early 21st century literature in English. There are two volumes that have entries relating to Confederacy of Dunces.

volume 19: This entry contains excerpts from: Walker Percy’s introduction, book reviews from Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, NYT Book Review, TLS. These are representative of the initial reception of the novel by critical readers. No scholarly criticism here.

volume 64: This entry includes large excerpts from the scholarly articles by McNeil and Simmons (for citations, see Other References from my annotated bibliography of Toole research). It also has book reviews for Neon Bible. While reading these excerpts might give the user some ideas about the novel, I do not recommend using the scholarly excerpts in a paper, because they give different interpretation of the novel than the originals. For example, the main thesis of the McNeil article is not included in the excerpt and the reader would misunderstand McNeil without going back to McNeil's full article.

Magill, Frank N. (Frank Northen), and Tracy Irons-Georges. Cyclopedia of World Authors. 4th rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2004.

This article is good, but it was written before Fletcher's Ken and Thelma (2005) was published. It takes ideas from McNeil's 1984 article on Toole's use of reverse satire.

Travisano, Thomas. "The Confederacy of Dunces." In Masterplots II: American Fiction Series. Edited by Frank Magill. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1986, I-319-324.

The summary and perspective are good but not excellent. The entry misses some aspects of the book. Travisano is correct that Confederacy has a traditional comic structure. The bibliography is very poor and should not be used.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, the Occasional Series, Part 21

Thesis #21: Myrna as Leftist Humanist

My work with Toole's Confederacy of Dunces and Ficino has not caused a huge buzz of activity surrounding the topic, or at least, not a buzz that I can hear. One aspect of Confederacy and Humanism that I did not explore in the "Dialectic of American Humanism" paper, and which I had expected to appear when the chatter went viral, was the issue of more politically and socially leftist versions of 20th century humanism. I am very disappointed in all my blog followers (wait, I have no blog followers!) that I have to bring this topic up myself.

In my Dialectic paper, I discussed the influence of Paul Oskar Kristeller on John Kennedy Toole. I cited the work of James Hankins. However, Hankins also studied the ideas of Eugenio Garin, an Italian leftist, who formulated a more culturally leftist form of philosophical humanism. In Hankins's essay, "Two twentieth century interpreters of Renaissance humanism," he compares Kristeller's ideas to those of Garin. That essay is found in volume one of his opus, Humanism and Platonism in the Italian Renaissance.

Within Confederacy, Myrna and her more socially leftist worldview stands as a counterweight to Ignatius and his Neoplatonic worldview, both offering a critique of mainstream American culture. This counterweight is somewhat similar to the counterweight Garin offered to the ideas of Kristeller.

Thesis: Discuss the possibility that Myrna and her worldview are a carnivalesque version of Garin's humanism. You could even speculate on why I chose not to include Garin in my own paper on Toole's use of humanism in Confederacy of Dunces.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #6

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 of 2013, I offered #2, admitting that there is a small crowd, all of which could be #2. My pick for #6 is part of that group. Here it is:

Citation: McNeil, David. "A Confederacy of Dunces as Reverse Satire: The American Subgenre." Mississippi Quarterly 38, no. 1 (1984): 33-47.

Annotation: This is a solid article. McNeil shows that Toole used a technique in Confederacy of satirizing a satirist which he calls reverse satire. “Unlike conventional satire, reverse satire does not point to a right while ridiculing the wrong; it points to the human fallibility of naively trusting in right over wrong, or in reformative schemes” (40). Ignatius decries the consumerism of his society, but he “epitomizes the very perversions against which he rages” (35). Others have criticized this article, because it waffles between seeing Confederacy as ultimately positive and ultimately negative. Indeed, McNeil says that Confederacy is “truly comic in a positive and celebratory sense” (46), but that it “teeters on the brink of unredeemable pessimism” (47). He sees the entire reverse satire genre as deriving comic energy from a merry-go-round existence. He compares Confederacy to Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in detail and to Cook’s Sotweed Factor briefly. He calls Ignatius “a debased caricature of St. Ignatius Loyola” (43). He lists other practitioners of reverse satire such as Jonathan Swift. He does not seem to be aware of the theoretical discussion of the use of what amounts to reverse satire in the genre of parody in contrast to straight satire (for example, Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody, p. 16). This lack of awareness of the parody and the carnival dimension of Confederacy is criticized effectively by Karen Williams (190). McNeil mentions that Confederacy is an hegelian dialectic, but he doesn't say what theme it handles dialectically.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Just trying to make an honest living

The fine folks at are selling copies of my paper, "Evidence of Influences on John Kennedy Toole's 'A Confederacy of Dunces', including Geoffrey Chaucer," for a mere $8.99. This despite the fact that I give away the paper free on my website. This behavior reminds me of the accounting firms that sell copies of the IRS publication 17, which happens to be free from the federal government. Please do not follow this link to buy my paper:

Follow this one instead to get the free copy:

P.T. Barum would be proud of them.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

New version of Evidence of Influences on John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces

My website for John Kennedy Toole Research moved to a new location. Because my "Evidence of Influences on John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces" paper includes within itself its own URL, I decided it was time to create a new version of the paper. Version 2.1 includes references to MacLaughlin's Butterfly in the Typewriter, as well as an acknowledgement of my other work, such as my "Dialectic of American Humanism" paper. I have removed version 1.3 from the server and have kept a copy of version 2.0 there for download. I will try to keep a copy of 2.0 available, because it is the version that has been cited in the literature.