Sunday, August 2, 2015

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #11

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 eleven:

Citation: Robinson, Michelle. "Two Men Walk into a Bar." In Detecting Detection: International Perspectives on the Uses of a Plot. Edited by Peter Baker and Deborah Shaller. New York, NY: Continuum, 2012, 59-79.

Annotation: This chapter approaches Confederacy from the perspective of the detective genre with Burma Jones as detective. It also compares Ignatius and his Journal of a Working Boy to John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me, which was published in 1961 and which possibly could have influenced Toole. Robinson claims that "What makes Toole's work particularly interesting, however, is that its detective plot is a foil for the dubious practice of activist 'ethnojournalism'" (62). This statement seems accurate to a point: there is a thread of the detective genre here, and Burma is effective where Ignatius is preposterous. But it ignores many other narrative threads, such as the story of Levys, and it misses more fundamental themes of the book, such as the critique of humanism and the use of carnival. This article is valuable but limited. It puts the Burma Jones / Ignatius Reilly relationship at the center, which I feel is unwarranted. She corrects the critical view of Jones by showing his influence over the end of the novel, but she overcorrects and ends up exaggerating that influence. I found valuable the discussion of the Freedom School curriculum, Griffin's book, and Norman Mailer's "White Negro." That critique probably was part of what Toole had in mind, and I agree that Confederacy stands as a critique of those fixtures of the 1960s. Finally, Robinson describes the scenes of the novel in excessive detail, so the article feels padded. Good, but limited.