Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Just trying to make an honest living

The fine folks at scribd.com 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.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, the Occasional Series, Part 20

Thesis #20: Toole and Rowling's Casual Vacancy

J.K. Rowling's recent novel Casual Vacancy appears to use elements from the Frazer dying god / Saturnalia tradition: sausages and obesity (Howard Mollison), a scapegoat (Fats Wall), death associated with regeneration (Krystal and Fats having sex near Barry's grave), gender ambiguity (Sukhvinder), a mask-like obsession with looking youthful and sexy (Samantha), and a withered woman who is grotesquely sexual (Maureen). Confederacy of Dunces also shares such elements: Clyde the king of sausages, Ignatius as a mock scapegoat with gender ambiguity, Mrs. Levy's mask-like appearance, and the withered Trixie.

One huge difference is the sense of collective responsibility in Casual Vacancy. People do die in that book, and others share blame. Many people could have saved Robbie's life, but they were too wrapped up in themselves to take action. There are evil people, such as Obo, and unscrupulous ones, such as Simon Price. Fats as scapegoat takes on the sins of the community, and there are a lot of them. By comparison, Confederacy is a carnival romp with a largely happy ending.

Thesis: Compare the tragic use of Saturnalian themes in Rowling's Casual Vacancy to the comic uses thereof in Confederacy of Dunces. See if you can fit in some concepts from Marsilio Ficino (you can).

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #5

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 #5 is part of that group. Here it is:

Citation: Pugh, Tison. "‘It’s Prolly Fulla Dirty Stories’: Masturbatory Allegory and Queer Medievalism in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces." Studies in Medievalism 15, (2006): 77-100.

Annotation: Pugh focuses in on the gender boundary transgressions in Confederacy (87-95). Pugh uses “queer” to mean simply any distortion of traditional sexual norms, and not necessarily a homosexual orientation. His thesis is, first, that "sexual desires disrupt normative constructions of identity and allegorical meaning within its fictions," and second, that “Ignatius's medievalism, as it estranges him from the social world around him, also models for the reader the sheer pleasure of queering medievalisms” (77). Confederacy is an allegory of perversion and a perversion of allegory. Pugh compares Ignatius to Ignatius Loyola in detail and Christ and Cain briefly. He briefly compares Confederacy to Dante’s Inferno and to Arthurian quests for a grail. While I disagree with Pugh’s ideas about Ignatius’s own motivations (I prefer those by Patteson and Sauret), he defends them well. Well done.

Friday, April 25, 2014

John Kennedy Toole Research has moved

Due to a reworking of the www.winona.edu website, I have moved my John Kennedy Toole Research html pages to a different campus server. The pages are now available at: http://course1.winona.edu/vleighton/toole/Default.html Vernon

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.