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A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole Read for the group On the Southern Literary Trail

Oh man ughh ooohhhhh.

Oh thank goodness my pyloric valve finally opened. I didn't know I even had a pyloric valve until I met Ignatius J. Reilly. I had no idea that little valve could be so pesky. I can only hope it stays open long enough for me to write this review.

When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.
Jonathan Swift

Ignatius is trapped in the delusions of his own grandeur.

Ignatius embraces the philosophy of Boethius, a Roman philosopher that was roughly walking the planet around 525AD. "Boethius will show you that striving is ultimately meaningless, that we must learn to accept." He likes Boethius because he validates Ignatius's natural slothful inclination to do as little as possible.
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Boethius woodcut attributed to Holbein the Younger 1537.
In a short lived relationship with some black workers from a pants factory he discovered that they were striving for the wrong things. "In a sense I have always felt something of a kinship with the colored race because its position is the same as mine: we both exist outside the inner realm of American society. Of course, my exile is voluntary. However, it is apparent that many of the Negroes wish to become active members of the American middle class. I can not imagine why. I must admit that this desire on their part leads me to question their value judgments. However, if they wish to join the bourgeoisie, it is really none of my business. They may seal their own doom."

Ignatius is a guy that you don't want to work with. You don't want to live next to him. You certainly don't want to be related to him. He is bombastically opinionated, gaseous, arrogant, and looks at the world through a Ignatius kaleidoscope that has little resemblance to real life. For example after attempting to capture a stray cat on the street he is asked by his mother about some wounds on his hands. "I had a rather apocalyptic battle with a starving prostitute. Had it not been for my superior brawn, she would have sacked my wagon. Finally she limped away from the fray, her glad rags askew." Oh and did I mention that Ignatius is a compulsive liar. Every experience in his life is elevated to epic proportions.

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Speaking of epic proportions. There is a life size bronze statue of Ignatius on Canal Street in New Orleans.

He is supported by his mother, with some supplementary income from his half-hearted attempts to find employment, and keep employment himself. He explains his failure to stay employed to his mother. "Employers sense in me a denial of their values. They fear me. I suspect that they can see that I am forced to function in a century which I loathe." His mother paid for him to stay in college for 10 years living in poverty the whole time. She didn't see the changes in Ignatius that she expected for all that money spent. "You learned everything, Ignatius, except how to be a human being."

The first time I read this book I absolutely loved it. The second time the joy was similar, but every reading experience of a book is different. I remembered more than I thought from the first reading, a tribute to Toole's ability to tell a memorable story or at least create a monolithic character, but there were things that I feel I missed the first time around or certainly did not pay proper attention to. This book is funny. I snorted out loud. I found myself shaking my head, smiling, giggling, widening my eyes at the audacity of one Ignatius J. Reilly.
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John Kennedy Toole

John Kennedy Toole had an unhappy life and took his own life, unfortunately, before Ignatius was ever realized by the reading public. He had no idea that his character would become a descriptive term that even people who have never read the book will use in conversation, in some cases, without knowing the origin. The book is a bit fluffier than I remember, not a literary megalith, but certainly entertaining. If you decide to spend an afternoon with Ignatius you will laugh even if you don't want to, and as you turn the final pages you will wish that Toole had written just one more chapter or two.