Monday, October 31, 2016

A basket of deplorables

I don't even know why I wanted to read A Confederacy of Dunces. I think it's just one of "those" books, you know? It ends up on tons of must-read, Western literary canon, well-read lists and I guess I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

Turns out it's about repugnant people in a surrealistic dreamworld New Orleans.

The book is actually very funny and very fucking bitter. John Kennedy Toole did a really fantastic job of lampooning a truly bizarre swath of stereotypes but I'm left wondering why.

I get what Myrna Minkhoff is supposed to represent, and Mrs. Levy, and Miss Lee - I'm clear on what Toole was contemptuous of in these three women. I also get what he's criticizing with the whole Manusco arc and the character of Jones - institutional problems, education, bureaucracy, yadda yadda yadda.

But what the fuck is going on with the Reillys? Like yeah, okay Irene is too forgiving and makes excuses for her son and coddles him and drinks and I guess those are all things to laugh at? But her son is a literal monster. Of course Irene drinks, she lives with a monster. I suppose the book is overall sympathetic to her, but I'm just not sure what she's supposed to be parodying other than, maybe, a loving mother. The relationship between Irene and Ignatius is fascinating to me considering the way Toole's famous novel ended up getting published.

Ignatius is hilarious (the whole book is hilarious) and gross in every way, and it's amusing for a while to wallow with him but I find the proximity cloying.

I'm pretty significantly disconcerted at the similarity between Ignatius' ridiculous revivalist medieval attitudes and the current political climate, though. It's somewhat upsetting to read about a monstrous fictional intellectual calling for a return to lords and serfs while at the same time in the real world there is a political movement that is calling for a return to lords and serfs. Ignatius is a mind-bogglingly accurate prediction of the modern neoreactionary movement, down to his obsessive disgust with women and his condescending and manipulative attitude toward urban blacks and the predatory revulsion he holds for the queer community he interacts with.

It's actually a little creepy how close Toole was to the mark for something that happened more than half a century after he died. Especially since Toole was aiming for over-the-top ridiculous and obviously fantastical characters. Maybe the NRX movement will run off to New York with some slacktivists and leave the rest of us happier in their absence as well.

     - Alli

Toole, John Kennedy. A Confederacy of Dunces. Grove Press. New York: New York. 2002. (1980).

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