Monday, May 12, 2014

Ideas for Papers on John Kennedy Toole, the Occasional Series, Part 20

Thesis #20: Toole and Rowling's Casual Vacancy

J.K. Rowling's recent novel Casual Vacancy appears to use elements from the Frazer dying god / Saturnalia tradition: sausages and obesity (Howard Mollison), a scapegoat (Fats Wall), death associated with regeneration (Krystal and Fats having sex near Barry's grave), gender ambiguity (Sukhvinder), a mask-like obsession with looking youthful and sexy (Samantha), and a withered woman who is grotesquely sexual (Maureen). Confederacy of Dunces also shares such elements: Clyde the king of sausages, Ignatius as a mock scapegoat with gender ambiguity, Mrs. Levy's mask-like appearance, and the withered Trixie.

One huge difference is the sense of collective responsibility in Casual Vacancy. People do die in that book, and others share blame. Many people could have saved Robbie's life, but they were too wrapped up in themselves to take action. There are evil people, such as Obo, and unscrupulous ones, such as Simon Price. Fats as scapegoat takes on the sins of the community, and there are a lot of them. By comparison, Confederacy is a carnival romp with a largely happy ending.

Thesis: Compare the tragic use of Saturnalian themes in Rowling's Casual Vacancy to the comic uses thereof in Confederacy of Dunces. See if you can fit in some concepts from Marsilio Ficino (you can).

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #5

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 of 2013, I offered #2, admitting that there is a small crowd, all of which could be #2. My pick for #5 is part of that group. Here it is:

Citation: Pugh, Tison. "‘It’s Prolly Fulla Dirty Stories’: Masturbatory Allegory and Queer Medievalism in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces." Studies in Medievalism 15, (2006): 77-100.

Annotation: Pugh focuses in on the gender boundary transgressions in Confederacy (87-95). Pugh uses “queer” to mean simply any distortion of traditional sexual norms, and not necessarily a homosexual orientation. His thesis is, first, that "sexual desires disrupt normative constructions of identity and allegorical meaning within its fictions," and second, that “Ignatius's medievalism, as it estranges him from the social world around him, also models for the reader the sheer pleasure of queering medievalisms” (77). Confederacy is an allegory of perversion and a perversion of allegory. Pugh compares Ignatius to Ignatius Loyola in detail and Christ and Cain briefly. He briefly compares Confederacy to Dante’s Inferno and to Arthurian quests for a grail. While I disagree with Pugh’s ideas about Ignatius’s own motivations (I prefer those by Patteson and Sauret), he defends them well. Well done.