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?)