Sunday, February 1, 2015

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #8

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). Here is item number eight:

Citation: Simon, Richard Keller. "John Kennedy Toole and Walker Percy: Fiction and Repetition in A Confederacy of Dunces." Texas Studies in Literature & Language 36, no. 1 (1994): 99-116.

Annotation: This is a solid article, but it is a very dense and complex article, so every sentence should be read with care. I may be butchering the subtlety of his concept, but Simon uses the concept of repetition throughout the paper, so it is useful to define it. Repetition seems to be an echoing of a previous work by the work under study. It does not necessarily imply that the earlier work influenced the author of the later work, or that the author of the later work intended said work to be a parody or to reference the earlier work. Nevertheless, repetition does seem to hint at parody or literary reference. Simon shows that Walker Percy’s Moviegoer is a repetition of some of the texts of Soren Kierkegaard, in particular Kierkegaard’s Repetition. He then sees A Confederacy of Dunces (Confederacy) as a repetition of Moviegoer, which allows him to make this rather amusing sentence: "Toole's story is a repetition of a repetition of Repetition" (100). To outline the contents: Simon begins the article with a rapid-fire list of other authors and works that may have influenced Toole, including Don Quixote, Gargantua, Gulliver’s Travels, Tristam Shanty, Joseph Andrews, and Gone with the Wind (100). The comparison of Confederacy with Moviegoer (102, 110-111, note on 114) is thorough and compelling. Simon then explains (105-106) how some readers have interpreted Confederacy as a hoax written by Percy. The comparison of Confederacy to the Consolation of Boethius is less compelling (108-109). The three-way comparison of Confederacy, Moviegoer, and Repetition is not compelling as something that Toole may have intended, but it is still interesting (113). The identification of Ignatius with Fortuna herself (113 note 1) is very good. The most unfortunate part of the paper is the theory that Toole’s suicide was planned as part of his repetition of the earlier works which contemplate suicide (100, 104). Considering his family history of mental illness, this idea is the one poor part of an otherwise strong paper.