Saturday, October 1, 2016

Best of John Kennedy Toole Scholarship #14: McCluskey

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 fourteen:

Citation: McCluskey, Peter M. "Selling Souls and Vending Paradise: God and Commerce in A Confederacy of Dunces." Southern Quarterly 47, no. 1 (2009): 7-22.

Annotation: This article offers a detailed comparison between Confederacy and Thoreau’s Walden. McCluskey does an excellent job of discussing the pervasive theme of the corrupting influence of the pursuit of money on the soul. He demonstrates parallels of thought between statements by Ignatius Reilly and Walden’s narrator. He asserts strongly that “the resemblance cannot be coincidental” (8). The basic problem with the thesis is that many varied prophets and sages have been taking very similar philosophical positions for millennia, and the question is: why pick Thoreau? McCluskey admits that there are no direct references to Walden, but he claims that Ignatius’s bean plants refer to the beans that Thoreau grew at Walden Pond. As much as I myself enjoy such speculation, that is a thin reed for supporting the thesis. McCluskey claims that the beans Ignatius grows at Levy Pants might be a species of bean with the scientific name Strychnos ignatii, which happen to be poisonous. But there is no clue in the text that they are poisonous; instead, their function seems to be a hint that Ignatius does no productive work at Levy Pants, by entwining the handles of the file cabinets. Interesting, McCluskey quotes a passage from Chaucer about the corrupting influence of money, but he does not suggest that the influence on Toole was Chaucer. The Toole Papers at Tulane contain no references to Thoreau; whereas, they contain three assignments regarding Chaucer. While this fact does not prove that Toole was not influenced by Walden, it nevertheless withholds evidentiary support for McCluskey’s thesis. This article does a better job of analyzing the corruption theme in Confederacy than other articles (for example, Daigrepont), but the connection to Thoreau is not compelling.