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.