Sunday, December 2, 2012

MLA Bibliography has indexed Refutation of Robert Byrne

I realize that MLA Bibliography might not be the most well-funded operation on Earth. As chronicled here earlier, they skipped over the issue of the journal Notes on Contemporary Literature in which my article "A Refutation of Robert Byrne" appeared. So I contacted them and even scanned the entire issue into a PDF and sent it to them with my own abstract for "Refutation."

Well, MLA has finally indexed the article. Click here for the record in that database if you are on a college campus that has licensed access to MLA Bibliography through the library vendor EBSCO. That record will not, however, provide you with direct access to the full text of the article, but if your campus has a link resolver, you may be able to link out from the MLA Bibliography record to the actual text in another database. However, MLA did not use the abstract that I provided and they have not yet indexed the issue of Renascence which contains my article "Dialectic of American Humanism." Click here for my abstract for "Refutation," and click here for my abstract of "Dialectic."

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Transcript of Lecture "Dialectic of American Humanism" available

When I gave a lecture on the content of my Renascence article "The Dialectic of American Humanism" in March of 2012, I wrote the entire lecture script out. I have now made the script of the lecture available. Click here for the transcript. For the blog announcement of the lecture, click here.

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 14

Thesis #14: Toole and Proust via Waugh

In an article on Waugh and Proust ("Remembrance of Things Past: Proustian Elements in Evelyn Waugh 's Brideshead Revisited," Evelyn Waugh Newsletter, vol. 18, no. 3, 1984, pp. 1-5), Hodgson discusses Waugh's intertextual references to Proust's work in Brideshead Revisited. For his part, Ignatius in Confederacy declares that he has Proustian qualities.

New Orleans was famous for mocking nobility. (See Tallant's Mardi Gras for an tale about mocking the Russian Archduke, and then read Mitchell's book All on a Mardi Gras Day for a refutation of Tallent's story.) Old families of New Orleans had a sense of entitlement that was fading, but the Carnival element of New Orleans culture simultaneously celebrates that desire for nobility and mocks it. For their part, Waugh and Proust both mourned the loss of the refined, aristocratic culture of the 19th century.

Thesis: How does the relationship between Waugh and Proust alter the burlesquing of a longing for medieval traditions that one finds in Confederacy? One could throw in a discussion of the theme of the visual arts and art criticism from Proust, Brideshead, and Confederacy.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

More Access to Articles in online Databases

Gale now has "A Refutation of Robert Byrne" in InfoTrac Student Edition. You can even have the computer read the text out loud to you.

Also, the PDF of "Dialectic of American Humanism" from Academic Search Premier is more sophisticated (but larger) than the one from Gale Expanded Academic. With the one from Academic Search, the PDF (7 Meg) has stored the text, so you can search for keywords. You cannot search for text in the Expanded Academic PDF (3 Meg). However, Expanded Academic does have a "Full text in html" version of Dialectic, so with that one also, you can get the computer to read the text out loud to you.

Finally, I am not sure Google Scholar will ever have these two articles cited. Why? If you read their instructions to publishers, the publisher has to have an indexable website of the contents of the journal including abstracts of the articles. Neither journal has a website with abstracts to the articles. So, despite the fact that citations in Web of Science are generally more selective and thereby less numerous than in Google Scholar, Web of Science will have an entry for my Chaucer/Toole paper "Evidence of Influences" before Google Scholar will.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 13

Evelyn Waugh and Toole, part 2, Neoplatonism

As described above, Toole read Waugh, especially Brideshead Revisited. Beyond the theme of ritual scapegoat, Confederacy shares other themes with Brideshead. For example, Waugh plays with the theme of homosexuality (bk 1 chap 2) and its relation to the medieval and renaissance Neoplatonic ideas that love for another human is a foretaste of human love for God (bk 2 chap 4). Confederacy plays with roughly the same connection between homosexuality and love of ones fellow man in the "Save the World Through Degeneracy" campaign. See my paper "The Dialectic of American Humanism" regarding Toole's use of Ficino and Neoplatonism.

I have tried to find a literary study of Brideshead from prior to 1961 (when Toole started planning Confederacy) that discusses the Neoplatonic elements of Brideshead, and I have not found it. So one cannot point to a critical text as a possible inspiration to Toole to use Neoplatonism in his own novel. I have found the Stopp book, Evelyn Waugh: Portrait of the Artist (Princeton, 1958), to be useful. A more recent study that does discuss the Neoplatonic elements of Brideshead is the book by Robert M. Davis called Brideshead Revisited: the Past Redeemed (Boston: Twayne, 1990).

One huge difference between Waugh and Toole is that Waugh embraced Neoplatonism, while Toole critiqued it by making Ignatius a Carnival version of Ficino's philosophy. In his book The Creative Element (Hamish Hamilton, 1953), Stephen Spender examines Brideshead in chapter 9. He argues that the main character, Ryder, is ultimately shallow. The essay ends, "It is when [Waugh] identifies his prejudices with a moralizing religion that qualities anachronistic and absurd in his view of life--intolerance, bigotry, and self-righteousness--work against his talent, and even tend to caricature the very ideas he is supposed to be supporting" (174) Toole could have been aware of the contents of Spender's essay.

Thesis: Discuss the Neoplatonic aspects of both Confederacy of Dunces and Brideshead Revisited. Include a comparison of their approaches to Neoplatonism and homosexuality.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Dialectic is now in Expanded Academic ASAP

Regarding my last posting, Gale Cengage has finally added the vol. 64, no. 2, issue of the journal Renascence to their online library database. If you are on a college campus and your college subscribes to Gale's "Expanded Academic ASAP" database (check your library's website), you should be able to access the article by searching that database for "Dialectic of American Humanism" in quotation marks. Thanks, Gale! (But Gale still has not added the issue of Notes on Contemporary Literature that contains "A Refutation of Robert Byrne" to its "InfoTrac Student Edition" database. So a muted thanks.)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Library Databases: Negligence or Conspiracy??

My scholarly studies of John Kennedy Toole seem to have picked up some of the "curse of John Kennedy Toole," though obviously not as much of the curse as Toole himself or the actors lined up to star in the movie version of Confederacy of Dunces.

I published an article in the January, 2012, issue of the journal Notes on Contemporary Literature. That journal is aggregated full text in the database "Gale InfoTrac Student Edition." However, Gale skipped over the issue in which my article appeared (volume 42, number 1) and has gone on to load the two subsequent issues. The database "MLA Bibliography" from the Modern Language Association is also supposed to index the contents of Notes on Contemporary Literature, but they also have skipped over issue 42, number 1. Google Scholar likewise has not indexed that issue of that journal. So my article "A Refutation of Robert Byrne" is unfindable to those searching in online library databases. (Fortunately, it is mostly an extract from my freely available study "Evidence of Influences".)

Next, I published an article in the Spring, 2012, issue of the journal Renascence (volume 64, number 2). For this journal, the full text is supposed to be available in both EBSCO's database "Academic Search" and Gale's "Expanded Academic ASAP." It has become available via "Academic Search" (thank you EBSCO!), but the Gale database once again skipped over the issue in which my article appears. The issue has also not yet been indexed in "MLA Bibliography" or in "Google Scholar." ISI's "Web of Science" has also indexed that issue of Renascence (thank you Thomson Reuters!). So my article "The Dialectic of American Humanism" is available, but only in two out of five databases.

(In a side note, EBSCO created a decent abstract and subject headings for my Dialectic article, but I have my own unpublished abstract for the article.)

It's almost enough to get you to suspect foul play, though negligence on the part of the creators of library databases is the more likely source of the problem.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A full text link to "The Dialectic of American Humanism"

If you are on a college campus, and if your library subscribes to EBSCO's Academic Search Premier library database, then click here for the full text of this article. NOTE: The following link will not work if you are off your campus. It might not even work from the campus dorms. It does not use your local proxy server.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Revision of Obscure Bibliography, now version 1.5

Because of my changed understanding of Confederacy, I have already mentioned in this blog that I have changed my attitude toward Coles' essay "Gravity and Grace." I have just updated the entry in my Critical Annotated Bibliography of Obscure Scholarship on John Kennedy Toole and A Confederacy of Dunces. It is now up to version 1.5.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 12

Minor Saturnine Characters

Now that my paper on Toole, Ficino, and Kristeller has been published, I am more free to discuss topics that brush up against its thesis. As I have argued in Evidence of Influences version 2.0, 30n16, one can study Confederacy's use of Carnival using the framework of Saturnalia from Frazer's Golden Bough. Ignatius displays Saturnine qualities, both in his role as an agent of disorder and in his role as a Saturnalian Lord or Misrule. But other, minor characters also display Saturnine qualities. To research this topic, you might want to consult a book by Walter C. Curry called Chaucer and the Mediaeval Sciences. This book was very familiar to Lumiansky, who was Toole's Chaucer professor. This book discusses the qualities of the planetary god Saturn. Hints: the popular book by di Palma on Carnival points out that Saturn reputedly reigned over a Golden Age. Curry: Saturn is associated with coldness. Frazer: Saturnalia was also a feast of the dead.

Thesis: Discuss the positive Saturnine qualities of Claude and Clyde. Ignatius and Trixie are linked by green head gear. Discuss that connection and Trixie's Saturnine qualities, especially her symbolic connection to death.

Note: I call this 12, because the suggestions on this blog were not numbered the same as the numbering on my fixed webpage version of this series of ideas.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Two addenda to my "Dialectic of American Humanism" Paper

In my recent paper in the journal Renascence, I argue that Toole's Confederacy of Dunces forms a dialectic in which two competing versions of "humanism" are the thesis and the antithesis. In reviewing notes, I have decided that I would have liked to have added two more details to the paper.

First, although I cited and discussed David McNeil's 1984 paper on Confederacy ("A Confederacy of Dunces as Reverse Satire: The American Subgenre." Mississippi Quarterly 38, no. 1 (1984): 33-47), I had forgotten that he had in that article called Confederacy an "hegelian dialectic" (43). He never said what the thesis and the antithesis of the dialectic were, and Ficino was not on his radar, but I should have acknowledged his observation as the first to use that term.

Second, I ought to have cited and given a bit of credit to Robert Coles for his essay on Confederacy from 1983 (Gravity and Grace in the Novel A Confederacy of Dunces. Lafayette: Univ. of Southwestern Louisiana, 1983). In that essay, Coles argued that Ignatius was the corrupted Roman Catholic Church, and that Myrna was secular humanism rescuing the church from its own corruptions. I argue that Ignatius is a carnival inversion of Ficino's Catholic philosophy and humanism. But I ought to give credit to Coles for his point that Myrna represents a form of humanism.

No doubt there will be more corrections to follow.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Dialectic of American Humanism published

I have published a significant peer-reviewed article on Toole and Confederacy of Dunces.

The citation is:

Leighton, H. Vernon. “The Dialectic of American Humanism: John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, Marsilio Ficino, and Paul Oskar Kristeller.” Renascence 64.2 (Winter 2012), 201-215.

The abstract to the article, which was not published in the journal, is:

A Confederacy of Dunces (Confederacy) by John Kennedy Toole portrays an interplay between competing definitions of humanism. The one school of humanism—called by some the Modernist Paradigm—saw the Italian Renaissance as the origin of nineteenth- and twentieth-century modernist views that celebrated science, technology, and individual human freedom. The other school, led by Paul Oskar Kristeller, sought to historicize humanism by establishing that Renaissance writers and thinkers were generally conservative and preserved the philosophical ideas of the medieval era. Kristeller was the President of the Renaissance Society of America and was at the height of his influence at Columbia University during the late 1950s, when Toole studied for his Master's degree there. The main character in Confederacy, Ignatius J. Reilly, presents a parody of Kristeller’s position, which he uses to critique modern society. Ignatius also plays the part of a child of the planetary god Saturn, both by acting out the ancient astrological tradition of associating Saturn with misfortune and disorder and by being a parody of the Renaissance concept of the Genius as a Child of Saturn begun by the Renaissance philosopher whom Kristeller studied most, Marsilio Ficino. Ignatius’s worldview is an antithesis of the Modernist Paradigm. Confederacy is critical of both Modernist humanism with its attendant materialism and its antithesis—Ignatius’s dysfunctional version of Kristeller’s Renaissance philosophy. When the community expels Ignatius as a scapegoat, Toole appears to gesture toward a dialectical synthesis of the two concepts of humanism in the novel’s happy ending.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Dialectic of American Humanism, the lecture

I will be presenting a lecture that has the same name as my forthcoming paper in the journal Renascence, "The Dialectic of American Humanism: John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, Marsilio Ficino, and Paul Oskar Kristeller." This lecture is part of the Winter 2012 Presentations for the Minor in Medieval and Renaissance Studies at St. Mary's University of Minnesota. The lecture will be on Wednesday March 28th, 7:00 p.m., in the President’s Room in the Toner Center at St. Mary’s University. It is open to the public with free refreshments.

Abstract of talk: Viewing the novel A Confederacy of Dunces filtered through the ideas of the Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino adds layers of meaning to the text not discussed before. This perspective allows one to read A Confederacy of Dunces as a commentary on the scholarly dispute over the meaning of Humanism that was taking place at Columbia University in the 1950s when Toole was there as a graduate student. This presentation will discuss the investigative principle and methods that were used to discover the connection between Toole’s contemporary novel and Medieval and Renaissance studies.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Finally a scholarly article published

For all the people following this blog .... oh wait, no one is following this blog.
Oh well, in case someone in the future reads this blog, I finally had an article published in a scholarly, peer-reviewed journal, albeit a modest one. The article is pulled out of my study Evidence of Influences. It is the section that examines where in the Toole papers Boethius appears (pages 7 through 9). That was the most important part of Evidence of Influences, because it refuted a claim made earlier in the scholarly literature.

The article is: Leighton, H. Vernon. "A Refutation of Robert Byrne: John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, Chaucer, and Boethius." Notes on Contemporary Literature 42.1 (January 2012): 11-12.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 11

Evelyn Waugh and Toole, part 1, Ritual Scapegoats

There is solid evidence that John Kennedy Toole was exposed to, and may have been influenced by, the writings of Evelyn Waugh. In Joel Fletcher's memoir about his friendship with Toole, Ken and Thelma, he writes that he and Toole shared a fondness for both Flannery O'Connor and Evelyn Waugh (16). Another friend of Toole's, Nicholas Polites, was quoted by Randy Sue Coburn as opining that “Toole’s ambition was to be a Southern Evelyn Waugh …” (Washington Star, 2 June 1980, page D3). Finally, Rhoda Faust's bibliography of Toole's library includes a copy of Brideshead Revisited (Brideshead), which Faust described as "Condition: Very poor, pages darkening and falling out" (see Evidence of Influences 42).

A number of critics have interpreted Toole's vision as dark or nihilistic (see Evidence of Influences 31), but one can be negative about one's own society from a positive religious perspective, which one finds in Waugh's writings.

Sure enough, one can find themes in common between the writings of Waugh and Confederacy. Here I want to call attention to the threads of ritual scapegoat in Brideshead and their homologies in Confederacy. For example, Samgrass's book depicts the noble sacrifice of Lady Marchmain's male relatives as ritual victims "so that things might be safe for the traveling salesman, with his [...] grinning dentures" (bk 1, chap 5). Bridey himself is described in terms of being both partly animal and very alien to the society around him. "Bridey was a mystery; a creature from under ground; a hard-snouted, hibernating animal who shunned the light." Later, "He achieved dignity by his remoteness and agelessness; he was still half-child, already half veteran; there seemed no spark of contemporary life in him; [...] an indifference to the world, which commanded respect" (bk 2, chap 3). In a related theme, Brideshead portrays some women as emasculating men around them (Lady Marchmain and Celia) and gives symbolic weight to the act of male escape from suffocating female dominance: "my cuckold's horns made me lord of the forest" (bk 2, chap 2). The ending of Brideshead is positive: the small red flame is a beauty for the soul in the age of Hooper (Epilogue).

In Confederacy, Ignatius is described mostly in animalistic terms (see Evidence of Influences 22). He is alienated from contemporary culture and is treated as a 30-year-old child. At the end of the book, he is a ritual scapegoat, whose expulsion renews the society. Toole may have been referencing the tradition of writers influenced by Frazer's Golden Bough (see Evidence of Influences 30n16), and Waugh was known to have been part of that tradition via the influence of T.S. Eliot. Confederacy features a theme of renewal after throwing off suffocating female dominance (see Evidence of Influences 23-24). Obviously, the ending of Confederacy--comic expulsion of the Saturnalian scapegoat to renew the community-- is much different from that of Brideshead, but the comparison of the two texts shows a more positive side of Confederacy.

Thesis: Compare the scapegoat and Saturnine themes within both Brideshead Revisited and Confederacy.