Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 18

Thesis #18: Joyce's Ulysses and Toole's Confederacy

Okay readers, I am not going to spoon feed you a paper this time. In theses #11, #13, and #14, I investigated the possible relationships among Toole and Waugh and Proust. But I gave so many details, that I virtually wrote an article for you, or at least a paper of a length suitable for the journal Notes on Contemporary Literature, if not longer. So I will truly try to give the idea without giving many details.

In the Toole Papers, the bibliography of Toole's library included both James Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. Toole also wrestled with Catholicism, gentile poverty, and Irish ancestry. My "Dialectic" paper argues that Toole built a complex symbolic connection between Ignatius Reilly and the Medieval and Renaissance ideas about the planetary god Saturn. As I have argued in Evidence of Influences version 2.0, 30n16, and in the "Dialectic" paper, one can study Confederacy's use of Carnival using the framework of Saturnalia from Frazer's Golden Bough.

Critics have discussed at length the connection between Joyce and Frazer. For example, Vickery devotes five whole chapters of his book on The Literary Impact of the Golden Bough to James Joyce, more than for any other writer. (Admittedly, Vickers wrote after Toole, so Toole could not have been influenced by Vickers himself.) Both in general symbolism and the Frazer connection, Toole seems to be more in the literary school of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce than in the literary tradition of writers like Toole's contemporary Thomas Pynchon.

Thesis: Explore the possible connections and influences of Joyce on Toole's work. If you are ambitious, compare Joyce's Aristotelianism to Toole's dialectic between Neoplatonism and Pragmatic Humanism.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Q: Who wrote A Confederacy of Dunces? A: If not Ken, then Thelma.

I may turn this into part of a scholarly paper myself, but I already have my initial statement out there at the end of my posted script for my lecture called: John Kennedy Toole Papers: A cautionary tale of scholarly research. I think it is worth repeating here. The thought was prompted by a question from the audience. Here is the text from that script:

Question from the audience: Could Walker Percy have written Confederacy?

My answer in the lecture: That is sort of the "grassy knoll" conspiracy theory of Confederacy. (I then explained Giemza's article from Southern Cultures about how the pattern of Percy / Toole is similar to the pattern of Kierkegaard / Kierkegaardian hoax.)

My Ultimate Answer [which I thought of after the audience had left]:  Thelma Toole was obsessed throughout Ken's life that he was a genius. She was the first reader of Confederacy, she loved it, and she was its ultimate editor, as she probably destroyed the revisions Ken had made for Robert Gottlieb and preserved only the original first draft (according to Fletcher). Once it was published, she would be invited to parties and would recite passages from memory. Her notes in the Toole Papers show that she compared the book to the writings of Flannery O’Connor and others. She wrote lyrics called "My Worldview" in which she identified Dante, Chaucer, Milton, and Ben Jonson as predecessors to Confederacy. She immediately understood the quality of the analysis of Confederacy by Patteson and Sauret. The idea that she would not have noticed or would have allowed Percy to change a comma of the text is ridiculous. Thelma is a more plausible candidate for being called the author of Confederacy than is Walker Percy.

My further comment here: I say Thelma may be called an author because some may argue that authorship in the abstract includes the editor. (For more theoretical discussion of textual editing and the nature of the editor in the process of constructing the meaning of a text, see the works of Peter L. Shillingsburg, especially From Gutenberg to Google: electronic representations of literary texts.) If one claims that the editor has a hand in the creation of the text and should therefore be called an author, then Thelma was an author of this text.

(Finally, note the "grassy knoll" tie-in to the fiftieth anniversary of President Kennedy's assassination?)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Web of Knowledge fixed the URL

Since I reported earlier, in Web of Science Botches Citation, that ISI's Web of Science (or rather Web of Knowledge) had mangled my self-citation to my Evidence of Influences paper, I have a duty to report that they have fixed it. I do not know when it was fixed, but I learned about the repair a couple of weeks ago. Thanks Thomson-Reuters.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 17

Thesis #17: Thelma and A Mother's Kisses

This is the first of these occasional ideas that is not directly about A Confederacy of Dunces.

In the Toole Papers, the bibliography of Toole's library included some books published after 1963, the year when Toole wrote most of Confederacy. I did not include those books in the Appendix to Evidence of Influences because they could not possibly have been influences. Nevertheless, one book in particular is very interesting when compared to Toole's own biography.

Though there was no copy of Bruce Jay Friedman's novel Stern in the bibliography (see thesis 15 regarding the influence Stern had on Toole), there was a copy of Friedman's novel A Mother's Kisses. In that book, the mother of the narrator is an oppressively controlling and overbearing person who messes up her son's life. She bears a frighteningly close resemblance to Toole's own mother, as described in Joel Fletcher's memoir Ken and Thelma.

Thesis: Compare Thelma Toole to Meg, the mother in Bruce Jay Friedman's A Mother's Kisses.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #2

As I said in June, 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).

Picking a number two is very difficult, since after the Patteson and Sauret essay, I think there are about a half dozen essays that are in a photo finish for second. In particular, three of them--the ones by Beste, Gatewood, and Williams--are already discussed in my Critical Annotated Bibliography of Obscure Scholarship on John Kennedy Toole's .... Here is the one from MLA Bibliography that I have picked for #2 (among the non-obscure scholarship):

Citation: Dunne, Sara L. "Moviegoing in the Modern Novel: Holden, Binx, Ignatius." Studies in Popular Culture [ISSN 0888-5753] v. 28, no. 1 (2005): 37-47.

Annotation: This article is a well-written exploration of the movie-going connections among Catcher in the Rye, The Moviegoer, and Confederacy. According to Dunne, The Moviegoer "owes much to" Catcher in the Rye (37), and Confederacy can be seen as sharing many important film-related themes and motifs with both of them. Dunne uses Mulvey’s theory of screen gaze to decode Ignatius’s experience of film in Lacanian terms. She offers interpretations of Ignatius’s multi-colored eyes. One could extend her observations to hypothesize that Salinger and Percy actually influenced Toole. Evidence within the Toole Papers at Tulane confirm that Toole was familiar with both writers: Toole explicitly praised Catcher in the Rye in his writings, and he owned a first edition copy of The Moviegoer at the time of his death.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Surprise, surprise, from Google Scholar

I reported last September that because the journal Renascence does not have abstracts to their articles up on their website, they do not conform to Google's requirements for being indexed by Google Scholar. So I thought it ironic that the article that was indexed by Web of Science would not be indexed by Google Scholar.

So I was surprised to discover this month that my article was indexed by Google Scholar. What I had not counted on was that a document delivery firm called Philosophy Documentation Center would load up the Renascence article in order to charge Google Scholar searchers $20 each for the privilege of downloading it. The market has found a way to deliver the content after all. Live and learn.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #1: Patteson and Sauret

Users of my website may be familiar with my Critical Annotated Bibliography of Obscure Scholarship on John Kennedy Toole and A Confederacy of Dunces, wherein I evaluate the quality of Toole scholarship that has not been listed in traditional finding aids such as MLA Bibliography.

In this series, I would like to offer an annotated bibliography, one citation at a time, of the best of the scholarship that is findable via MLA Bibliography. I feel that there is not enough guidance for students of Toole as to which scholarship to read. I will not rank or evaluate my own scholarship, but everything else is fair game.

I will start with the essay that I consider to be, aside from my own work of course, the best. And the winner is:

Citation: Patteson, Richard F., and Thomas Sauret. "The Consolation of Illusion: John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces." Texas Review [ISSN 0885-2685] 4, no. 1-2, (1983): 77-87.

Annotation: Patteson and Sauret delve into Ignatius’s psychological situation (77 and 85-86). They also chart the plot, showing that the action revolves literally around Ignatius (78). They point out (contra Daigrepont and E. Bell) that Ignatius misunderstands Piers Plowman when he refers to it (80). They discuss the humanity of Darlene, Burma, and Angelo (82). They show that Irene matures away from alcohol to use bowling to control her life (83). They explore the mock-epic and picaresque qualities of the text and compare it to Don Quixote and Zorro (84, 89). They discuss the theme of imprisonment (85). Unlike Pat Gardner, they warn the reader not to put too much stock in Ignatius’s final gesture, kissing Myrna’s pigtail (87). Especially interesting is the fact that Kenneth Holditch had obtained a copy of the lecture version of this text and sent it to Thelma Toole. In a letter in the Toole Papers at Tulane dated January 10, 1983, Thelma wrote to Patteson and Sauret, stating, "It is the most engrossing analysis of ‘Confederacy of Dunces’ that I have read, so far" (See Toole Papers at Tulane, Box 9, Folder 10). Thelma was right on the money.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Web of Science Botches Citation, Already Reported

I was excited when I discovered that the Institute for Scientific Information's bibliographic database Web of Science (WoS) indexes the references for articles from the journal Renascence. I was getting my "Dialectic of American Humanism" article published in Renascence, and my "Dialectic" article cited my online paper Evidence of influences on John Kennedy Toole's "A Confederacy of Dunces," including Geoffrey Chaucer. That meant that my Evidence paper would get a citation in WoS, albeit a self-reference.

In the world of libraries, the place of ISI's citation indexes looms large. Faculty tenure decisions sometimes hang on the number of citations the candidate's work has in ISI's indexes. Over the last decade the upstart database that also provides citation indexing has been Google Scholar. Until recently, ISI was almost the only game in town, but it now has serious competition, because Google Scholar is free, while ISI's indexes have historically been very expensive. ISI over the years made a point of indexing only the most respected journals in a discipline, while Google Scholar is much less discriminating. So normally, an author will have more citations in Google Scholar than in WoS. For example, my big article from 1999, First 20 Precision among World Wide Web Search Services (Search Engines), has 209 citations in Google Scholar, but only 60 in WoS (as of May 2, 2013). Just to give you a sense of how questionable the items indexed by Google Scholar are, I managed to get Google Scholar to index my Evidence paper (thank you Google Scholar), which MLA Bibliography or WoS would never do.

But in order for Google Scholar to index a journal, they insist that it be available for their indexing robot to spider electronically on the Web, organized in a specific way. Because Renascence is not electronically available on the Web according to their standards, it is not indexed by Google Scholar. So I found it very amusing that my Evidence paper would be in WoS's citation index before that citation was noted in Google Scholar.

Needless to say, I was then chagrined to discover that my "Dialectic" self-reference to Evidence was mangled by WoS. WoS failed to record me as author of Evidence, and its URL was also faulty. So users of the WoS index cannot discover who wrote Evidence of Influences or get to it to read it. As a villain on Bugs Bunny might say, "Curses, foiled again."

Fortunately, WoS has a comment link where one can report errors in their citations to the company. I have reported the error.

If there are any readers out there with regular access to WoS, please let me know if and when it gets fixed.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hirsch's Validity and My Amazon Review

In addition to my scholarly and near-scholarly writings on Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, I wrote an Amazon review of the book. You might reasonably ask, what is the difference between the other work and the review? Recently, I have been reading E.D. Hirsch's Validity in Interpretation. The answer according to Hirsch is the distinction between criticism and interpretation (page 8, and many other pages). Criticism evaluates the work and judges whether or not it is good and worth reading. Interpretation analyses how the text was constructed and what the author may have meant by what was written. One needs a bit of interpretation before one can evaluate the significance of the work (Hirsch page 209), but the two are separate. My Amazon review is a critical evaluation, while my Evidence of Influences and "Dialectic of American Humanism" are interpretations.

Added note: In my Amazon review, I state that I use a theory of physical comedy articulated by Rowan Atkinson in the documentary called "Laughing Matters," which was part of a series in 1992 called "Funny Business." In my review, I state that the relevant sections of "Laughing Matters" (parts 4 and 5) are on YouTube. As of February 16, 2013, I can no longer find part 4 on YouTube. The permanent link to part 5 is at Laughing Matters Part 5. Perhaps part 4 had copyrighted film clips as examples. You could try to get a copy of the documentary through Interlibrary Loan, but it is very rare. This WorldCat record Number 1 is to a DVD of the documentary, with several copies held in Holland and one copy held in the United States. This WorldCat record Number 2 has many copies of the VHS version of the documentary, but only in Australia. This WorldCat record Number 3 links you to a VHS copy held in Nevada. And, for those of you in Germany, this WorldCat record Number 4 links you to a DVD copy held at a German university library.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rediscovering E. D. Hirsch and Authorial Intent

My Footnote Rediscovered a Well-Known But Unfashionable Truth

During my investigation of Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, I tried to investigate the serious theoretical issues surrounding the issue of claiming, first, that the author of a text was influenced by another text, and second, that the author of the text intended to reference another text. In the introductory literary theory texts that I studied, I discovered that trying to discern the intentions of the author was a major faux pas. For example, in Eagleton's Literary Theory: An Introduction (both 1/e 1983 and 2/e, 1996), he is quite explicit about avoiding hypotheses about the author's intentions. He justifies this position with a footnote that references Wimsatt and Beardsley's famous essay, "The Intentional Fallacy" (Sewanee Review, 1946). I have found other introductory texts that have been written within the last 15 years that agree with Eagleton, and they will sometimes also cite Wimsatt and Beardsley.

Because I thought, in my boorish dilettantism, that the author's intentions ought to be considered, I decided to read "The Intentional Fallacy" myself. I was surprised to discover that the famed essay did not in fact reject using an author's intentions for the purposes of interpreting the point of the text. Instead, their fallacy was limited to aesthetic evaluations of the text. You cannot judge how beautiful a text is by how beautiful the author intended to make it. You have to judge it by what is on the page.

So I added a snarky footnote to the Toole paper that eventually became "The Dialectic of American Humanism" to the effect that literary theorists are all wet. The reviewers of my paper at the journal Renascence insisted that footnote be cut. I couldn't understand why, but I complied. Because I thought it was a worthy point, I decided to slip it into version 2.0 of my Evidence of Influences paper. I had by that time given up on the dysfunctional peer-review system for Evidence of Influences, and I decided to post it with endorsements on the Internet. I continued to ask around to some scholars who had attended graduate school in literature, but no one could explain why my footnote had been dispatched. So I asked the editor of Renascence, and I was told to read E.D. Hirsch's Validy in Interpretation (1967).

I am now working my way through Hirsch's book. The general thesis of the book is: one can and should strive for a valid interpretation of a text. Hirsch believes that humanistic disciplines can and should strive for genuine knowledge. Because, as Dilthey argued, all humane studies are founded on the interpretation of texts, "valid interpretation is crucial to the validity of all subsequent inferences in those studies" (page viii). Hirsch then argues that the only norm upon which to ground a valid interpretation is the author's intended meaning. So the author's intentions are the cornerstone of genuine knowledge in the humanities.

Hirsch even explains the Wimsatt and Beardsley essay exactly as I had come to understand it. Not only that, he dedicates the book to William Wimsatt. After discussing Wimsatt and Beardsley's original point, Hirsch says, "their careful distinctions and qualifications have now vanished in the popular version which consists in the false and facile dogma that what an author intended is irrelevant to the meaning of the text" (11-12). I can confirm that that facile dogma, noted in 1967, continues forty-five years later.

So there you go. Go back and read Hirsch. It is a pretty good book, and it helps justify my methods for my study of Toole's work.

Post script:

I went back to Eagleton. He in fact spends a modest amount of time rejecting Hirsch's main thesis, which is that there is such a thing as a valid interpretation, and that the critic should strive to discover it. Hirsch does get a bit strident about what can and cannot be part of the valid meaning of a text, and I am not sure I accept his entire programme. However, I do think that the intentions of the author do warrant some consideration, so I disagree with Eagleton's blanket reject of authorial intent. I believe that many literary scholars write about the author's intentions in an indirect way, pretending to toe the line of being silent about authorial intent. These scholars know they are forbidden from uttering the phrase "the author intended," but that is what they are on about. And Hirsch says that is what they should be on about.

As for Wimsatt and Beardsley, Eagleton and other literary theorists are simply wrong about the point of "The Intentional Fallacy," and Hirsch strove for and discovered Wimsatt's intent (rim shot). Literary scholars: do not just satisfy yourself with Eagleton's judgement: read Hirsch for yourself.

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 16

Thesis #16: Toole, Homosexuality, and Carnival

There have been several critics that have investigated the theme of homosexuality and queering in Confederacy. Hardin examines several passages that can be interpreted as double ententres in the book. Pugh discusses the general queerness of the narrative, and he claims that the book "queers medievalism." (see the Other Works Cited section from my "Annotated Bibliography of Obscure Toole Research" for complete citations).

On the one hand, Toole does include gay and lesbian characters in his novel. On the other hand, gays and lesbians are negatively stereotyped in Confederacy. The lesbian characters are not even two dimensional. In my own study on Toole's use of Neoplatonism ("The Dialectic of American Humanism"), I conclude that Toole used the novel's lesbians to represent the furies who punish Lana Lee ("Dialectic of American Humanism," p. 208). And gay men are not treated much better. The only reason not to view the book as gay-bashing is because all of the characters, not just the gay ones, are preposterous and the main character is even more ridiculous than the gay characters he dislikes.

That having been said, no one in the scholarly literature has pointed out that the gay theme ties into the Carnival theme. The first gay ball in New Orleans history occurred in 1959, two years before Toole began to plan Confederacy. The New Orleans police raided gay Carnival balls in the early 1960s.

The biography of Toole Ignatius Rising discusses in detail Toole's interactions with fellow soldiers in Puerto Rico who were gay, but Fletcher (Ken and Thelma) and others have criticized that biography as poorly researched and unscholarly. Use that biography with extreme caution or not at all. Cory MacLauchlin's biography of Toole, (Butterfly in the Typewriter), is well-researched and scholarly, and it discusses the possibility of Toole being gay, but MacLauchlin does not have the same stories of gay activity in Puerto Rico. Perhaps he could not corroborate them.

In my "Dialectic" paper the long footnote (number ten) has a discussion (point four) of homosexuality in Confederacy related to the writings of Marsilio Ficino.

Thesis: Discuss the role of homosexuality in A Confederacy of Dunces against the background of the history of homosexuality and transgender behavior associated with New Orleans Carnival, especially in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Friday, March 1, 2013

MLA Bibliography has indexed Dialectic of American Humanism

Yes, it has happened. The bibliographic database MLA International Bibliography has indexed my article in the journal Renascence called, "The Dialectic of American Humanism: John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, Marsilio Ficino, and Paul Oskar Kristeller."

This story is a bit strange, in that I had noticed back in August of 2012 that they had skipped over the entire issue of Renascence within which my article had appeared. I contacted them, and someone from MLA had encouraged me to scan the entire issue into a PDF file and send it to them. I did so, and I had expected that my article would be indexed shortly. It only appeared in the EBSCO-hosted version of MLA International Bibliography between February 9th and February 24th of this year. Because Renascence does not include abstracts, I had written my own abstract and had sent that to MLA also. While the article has appeared, the abstract has not.

To see my abstract for the article, please go to: Dialectic of American Humanism.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Transcript of 2010 Lecture on John Kennedy Toole Papers

Today I posted the script from a lecture I gave in the Spring of 2010 at the Winona State University Library's Athenaeum series on the topic of the John Kennedy Toole Papers, which are housed at the Louisiana Research Collection at Tulane University. This lecture explained the circumstances around the creation of my online paper Evidence of Influences on John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces, including Geoffrey Chaucer.

The March 17, 2010 lecture was given before I abandoned the effort to get that paper published in a peer-review journal and before I sought endorsements from other Toole scholars. It was the first announcement of the finding that Toole knew Boethian philosophy and that Robert Byrne was wrong about that knowledge (published finally in Notes on Contemporary Literature). It also presented for the first time evidence that he had read and appreciated Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. It showed that Ruppersberg was incorrect about the nature of Lyly's influence on Toole.

Finally, in the question and answer, I answered a question about whether Walker Percy could not have been the author of A Confederacy of Dunces, calling that idea the "grassy knoll" theory of John Kennedy Toole studies. After the lecture, I thought of a much better reason why Percy could not be the author of Confederacy, and that post-lecture answer is in the newly posted script.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Occasional Series of Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, Part 15

1950s Novels of suburban ambition

In Toole's letters to Robert Gottlieb, he mentioned that one of his favorite novels was Bruce Jay Friedman's Stern. Indeed, Toole had decided to send the manuscript of Confederacy to Simon and Schuster because they had published Stern.

Stern is about a Jewish husband from New York who tries to make a go of getting a house in the suburbs. Things go very badly in a darkly comic way. Friedman never hit it big, but he did have a following, and one of his followers, besides Toole, was Woody Allen. Allen then hired Friedman to work on some of his films, and the two have a similar humor about being Jewish in contemporary America.

An earlier novel about a struggle to deal with post-war suburbia was Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit. In it, a very upper class WASP WWII veteran navigates the suburban 1950s martini culture and achieves emotional and financial stability. One might argue that Stern is a send up of the sort of narrative represented by Flannel Suit.

One thread of Flannel Suit is to warn the reader against devoting ones life to ambition at the expense of ones emotional and social life. In Wilson's novel, the overworked Mr. Hopkins, the president of the United Broadcasting Corporation, is emotionally estranged from his daughter, who is determined to live a wild, carefree life with her wealth. She is convinced that good times will make her more fulfilled than her workaholic father.

Thesis: Compare Stern, Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, and A Confederacy of Dunces. Note Ignatius's relationship to the owner of Levy Pants. Note the contrast of Hopkins's situation with the situation of Gus Levy. .