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A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole (this book features a cockatoo as one of the minor characters, but the bird on the cover art is definitely not a cockatoo)1) Archie Bunker2) Holden Caulfield3) Everybody on "Seinfeld"4) Marv Pushkin (of Help! A Bear Is Eating Me)5) Lucien Chardon (of Lost Illusions)6) Phil Hartman's "Bill McNeil" character on the 90's show "Talk Radio"7) Ted Baxter on the old "Mary Tyler Moore Show"8) Ethan Hawley (of Winter of Our Discontent)9) the unnamed narrator from Notes from the Underground...Etc.Add Ignatius Reilly to the list of fictional characters I enjoy, but whom I would hate if they were actual people I knew in real life.This book is pretty funny, but let's just be honest, shall we? Ignatius Reilly is arrogant, homophobic, ungrateful, verbally abusive towards most people (but especially his mother), extremely self-centered, and harshly judgmental of everybody around him. He's a belching, farting slob who lives with his mom at age 30, who sleeps in until noon every day, and avoids work of any kind. And yet... how can I not like this guy? He wanders through the debauched French Quarter of New Orleans, pushing a hot dog cart and nurturing a medieval sense of aesthetics, seemingly untouched by either the values, concerns or pressures of mainstream modern life. He goes to the theater obsessively, so he can make a running commentary of how tasteless and crass he finds each movie. He nurtures a comical love/hate long-distance flirtation with his activist ex-girlfriend Myrna, which causes him to stage a workers' revolution in the factory where he (briefly) works... not out of any sense of social justice or moral obligation, but just so he can make her jealous by having a grander protest than her. He exists in a deluded and grandiose egocentric universe, where he imagines that by giving a speech at his gay associate's dinner party, he will spark the formation of a gay political party, which he of course will be the leader of (even though he is not gay), and which will usher in a new age of peace for all of mankind. Like the friends on Seinfeld, he tends to inadvertently ruin the lives of people he touches, but in a comical way that works for fiction. I love the guy, but isn't it weird to love a character in a novel, whom I would hate in real life? Dissecting further, Reilly is endearing because he has this propensity to tell the unvarnished truth (as he sees it), however undiplomatic it may sound. Frequently, I found myself laughing, partly at his unbuffered hyperbolic vulgarity, and partly because I can recall times I would have loved to have said these same things (or thereabouts) to people at various times in my life. Of course I was usually too chickenshit to actually say these things, but I've got to admit: when Ignatius says them, they're hilarious. In real life, they probably would have gotten me punched in the mouth, but aside from their entertainment value, these little gems also give readers of peek into Reilly's self-image, and what he thinks about the world around him:(relating his experience as a teacher):"I also told the students that, for the sake of humanity's future, I hoped that they were all sterile."(On meeting an old friend):"I was hailed by a cherished old acquaintance (deviate). After a few minutes of conversation in which I established most easily my moral superiority over this degenerate, I found myself pondering once more the crises of our times. My mentality, uncontrollable and wanton as always whispered to me a scheme so magnificent and daring that I shrank from the very thought of what I was hearing. 'Stop' I cried imploringly to my god-like mind. 'This is madness!'"(Regarding a movie he just saw):"Technicolored horrors, filmed abortions that were offenses against any criteria of taste and decency, reels and reels of perversion and blasphemy that stunned my disbelieving eyes, that shocked my virginal mind, and sealed my "She was attracted to the table at which I was holding court by the singularity and magnetism of my being. As the magnificence and originality of my worldview became explicit through conversation, the Minkoff minx began attacking me at all levels..."(And his view of her radical student ideas):"Her logic was a combination of half-truths and clich├ęs, her worldview a compound of misconceptions deriving from a history of our nation as written from the perspective of a subway tunnel."(Ranting about making the world a better place):"Do you think that I want to live in a communal society with people like that Battaglia acquaintance of yours, sweeping streets and breaking up rocks or whatever it is people are always doing in those blighted countries?"(Imagining how he is perceived by his boss):"But his resentment and jealousy of me are increasing daily; no doubt they will ultimately overwhelm him and destroy his mind. The grandeur of my physique, the complexity of my worldview, the decency and taste implicit in my carriage, the grace with which I function in the mire of today's world- all of these at once confuse and astound Clyde."(Why nobody talks with him at a party):"I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one."(Responding to being thrown out of an art show):"We don't want you here," the spokeswoman said tartly and simply."I should imagine not!" Ignatius was breathing heavily. "Apparently you are afraid of someone who has some contact with reality, who can truthfully describe to you the offenses which you have committed to canvass."And"...I am the avenging sword of taste and decency."And "Most fools don't comprehend my worldview."How can you not love a guy who lays it all out there like that, no pussyfooting around, consequences-be-damned? Then there's the whole Holden Caulfield connection. I just have to believe author John Kennedy Toole was influenced in some way by A Catcher in the Rye because:a) I just want it to be true.b) Both novels feature intelligent, loner male characters who seem very disconnected and somewhat disdainful of mainstream American culture and social mores. c) Both novels' main characters have an affinity for wearing hunting caps. In Catcher, I think it was symbolic of Caulfield's independence, or maybe of his pride... something like that. With Ignatius, I'm not sure, but I wish he'd lose it.d) Both main characters spend a lot of time wandering around their respective cities, and the narrations take on a loving, almost doting affection for New York and New Orleans, to the point that the stories feel inseperable from their settings. There's nothing about A Catcher in the Rye which absolutely couldn't be recast in a different setting... yet, try thinking about that story set in Phoenix, or rural Iowa... it really loses a lot of its feel, doesn't it? Catcher in the Rye just has a very New York City feel to it. It's the same for A Confederacy of Dunces and New Orleans. e) Both novels end with the main character ambiguously entwined with the mental health establishment. It seems to be implied that Holden Caulfield has been admitted to a mental institution, although no exact diagnosis or treatment plan are proffered. Ignatius Reilly ends as a fugitive from agents of the ominous Charity Hospital, who it seems would have him involuntarily admitted to the Psychiatric ward. With Reilly, this bit is dubious, because Reilly's seizure is instigated by his mother and her friend, who have an ulterior motive. I am not a mental health professional, or an expert in mental health in any way, but my non-expert opinion is that Reilly isn't actually mentally ill, and couldn't be held indefinitely against his will. He's immature is some ways... never really severed the umbilical cord with his mother, and he's directionless in terms of career and life ambitions; he's very sexually repressed and perhaps obsessed with Myrna "the Minx" Minkov; but I don't think any of that means he should be institutionalized... for his sake or anybody else's. So I got to wondering whether Ignatius Reilly's story is supposed to be an extension of Holden Caulfield's. Of course Holden and Ignatius are different characters, but are they sort of soulmates or paired spirits in a way? Catcher was written in 1951, when Holden was supposedly 15 (I think?), and Confederacy of Dunces was written (I'm not too clear exactly, but sometime after 1963 because there's a reference to "Twist and Shout", and before the author's suicide in 1969... so let's say) 1966. That's 15 years later... Holden would be 30 in 1965, just as Ignatius Reilly is. So what? Here's how it works for me:As a teen, I loved Holden Caulfield's character in Catcher because I could identify with all the angst and social awkwardness, and how cool it was to reject mainstream values and customs, and how he called out everything for being phoney, because everything IS phoney. A lot of people hate Holden and say he's whiney, and it's true, BUT HE'S FIFTEEN YEARS OLD! Lots of people (most??)are whiney when they're fifteen- myself definitely included. It's okay to be like Holden Caulfield when you're fifteen, and a lot of kids are, so they identify with Holden as readers... which is probably why the book has been so popular over decades. Ignatius Reilly has a lot of commonalities with Holden... but when you're 30 and you're still like Holden Caulfield, that's a problem. I think that is one of the things Toole may be showing with this book. All the endearing rejection of society is pathologic at that age; it makes poor Ignatius look like a bit of a buffoon. You aren't supposed to stagnate after 15; you're supposed to continue maturing. In this sense, Ignatius Reilly is pathologic, but not in a psychiatrically recognized way- more in a poetic literary fictional sort of way. Reilly is a posterboy for modern angst, disillusion and withdrawal which both reflects and contributes to the ongoing misery, paralysis, indecision, and infantilization of so many adults in present day. Reilly is a quirky character, too smart for his own good and probably possessed of more refined tastes than most people. He's right about a lot of what he says, which is great for him, and a ton o' fun for the reader... but it's tragicomedy of the same flavor you'll find in [b:Winesburg Ohio and Infinite Jest. The tragedy is that happiness is elusive, and while a person can pour all his efforts into being right or secure or successful or popular or free... none of it means he will necessarily be happy. Ignatius looks down his nose at his simple-minded mother, at his mercantilistic new boss, at his busybody neighbor, at his spineless old boss, at all the movies he delights in mocking... but for as self-assured as all this snobbish mocking makes him, he's still a lonely guy living with his mother, unemployed and masturbating to dreams about the dog he had as a child. Yes, you read that last part correctly. Ignatius is miserable and pathetic, and occasionally he comes out with more violent thoughts than are ever expressed in A Catcher in the Rye. Because of that, I wonder how Catcher beat out A Confederacy of Dunces to become the insane loner assassins' literature of choice. Maybe because it's so funny?---------------------------------Thanks for the recommendation, Ian. I really enjoyed it!