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.