Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Confederacy of Dunces

by John Kennedy Toole

New Orleans is still on my list of cities to visit, but as I read A Confederacy of Dunces on a recent stay on the Greek island of Samos I believe my environment should not have been altogether faulty. I partly build this thought on the introductory quote of A.J. Liebling's The Earl of Louisiana on how the waves of the Mexican Gulf, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean is one homogeneous sea, although interrupted here and there. On the banks of the Mississippi River, not too much upstream in the delta where the transformation to the Mexican Gulf has begun, lies the port of New Orleans. I understand the birthplace of Jazz has much in common with a port town in, say Greece or Italy, albeit in America. Hence, even more exciting I trust.

The anti-hero of Ignatius Jacques Reilly leads the most squalid and depraved good for nothing life with his mother, Irene Reilly, in 1960s New Orleans. He is thirty years old, exceedingly smug and has not seemed to do much use with his existence. The economy of this household striving to achieve full white trash standard forces him to get an income. Gainful employment is something Ignatius opposes for all his worth and he does his best not to have to. He succeeds in failing work as he uses it as a political platform, partly in obstinacy with his study mate from his time at the university, Myrna Minkoff, whom now spends her time in New York. Ms Minkoff loathes Louisiana and is into radical sexual politics and agitates erotic freedom as a weapon against reactionary forces.

In the book we get to follow the political thinking of Mr Reilly and his attempt of creating, for himself, some kind of coherence of it all. It is a transition from the party of divine right which culminated in the rather fantastic insurgence of the Crusade for Moorish redress, to the eternal dispute between pragmatism and morality and the question of the glorious goal of Peace is worthy the terrible mean of Degeneration. The latter leads him to the disheartening attempt of trying to recruit sodomites. His suffering mother contacts a charity psychiatric clinic, and just before the ambulance comes to take Ignatius away, the musk odorous Myra Minkoff is there to liberate.

Despite how unreasonable Ignatius Jacques Reilly is, he is it in an intellectually sorrowful way, and I cannot help but agreeing in some of his acrimony over modern life. It is a sad fact that John Kennedy Toole committed suicide in 1969, but perhaps not too unthinkable as at least part of the story seems to have been somewhat biographical. It would have been quite something to read of the future adventures of Ignatius and Myra on their road towards New York and beyond. In any way do I not disagree with the Pulitzer board that posthumously gave the author of this book the prize for fiction in the year I was born.