For the longest time, I did not want to finish reading A Confederacy of Dunces. I had around 20 pages left and I just wasn’t able to bring myself to accept that it’s coming to an end. Very few books in recent times have touched me so deeply. Be it the big, clumsy, slobbering Ignatius, the unemployed scholar who lives with his alcoholic mother or Constable Angelo Mancuso and his aunt Santa. And the way she grabbed her deceased mother’s photograph and kissed it. Mr. Clyde, the “mogul of the meat industry”, who is actually the owner of a dilapidated hot dog vending business and Burma Jones, the “coloured cat vagran” seeking gainful employment to stay out of jail and his stint at the Night of Joy bar where the owner, Lana Lee is carrying on a pornography ring.
Myrna Minkoff, the “musky minx”, the fiery Jewish beatnik who strongly suggests sexual healing to Ignatius and suspects him to be a closet homosexual. Throughout the novel we get to read their correspondence via letters. How Ignatius finds her (and most of modern society) “an offense against taste and decency”. I can go on and on…
And what can I say about Ignatius? Underneath his faulty valved heart that despises all things modern and commercial, lies a man who is more than an obese, hulking lump of apathy. There’s a boy hidden somewhere in that lazy, flatulence riddled man who dearly loved his departed pet dog Rex and fought with his mother and the priest over his proper funeral rites. Between his “Crusades for Moorish Dignity” and his violent consternation against modernity, between his fevered advocacy for Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy and his tryst as a hot dog vendor in a pirate costume, replete with a mock cutlass, a billowing white smock and a gold earring, there’s a boy who never got accepted and never really wanted it as well. His strong opposition against this century lacking “theology and geometry” is rooted in his love for all things medieval. He’s a misfit and he doesn’t really care. But shocked? Yes. He’s shocked by everything, from the crude Broadways and commercial cinemas he so meticulously follows, simply to note and remark on the degeneracy of society to the lack of “taste and decency” among today’s youth. He hates it all. Shocked by it all. As is frequently expressed by his “Oh my God!”s.
“When Fortuna spins you downward, go out to a movie and get more out of life.”
Fortuna has not always been favourable or fair to Ignatius. Whose fine psyche cannot be scrutinized by those with pedestrian pursuits, whose sagacious and sensitive worldview, as he puts it, cannot be gauged by those less refined. He belongs in his messy lair strewn with suspiciously yellowed sheets and Big Chief tablets where he meticulously pens down his scholarly views.
“My life is a rather grim one. One day I shall perhaps describe it to you in great detail.”he says,
The suburban streets of New Orleans, with its neon bars, idyllic porches, middle class and deeply suspicious neighbours like Miss Annie, or the elegant, quirky, frivolous homosexuals of the French Quarters cannot handle him. Nor can his masochistic, self pity filled, maroon haired, bowling loving, alcoholic mother,Irene who finally commits to put Ignatius in a mental hospital as she plots with Santa to remarry, finding a potential groom in Mr. Robichaux as a slap on the face of unfeeling failure of a son who says about hs mother:
“It’s not your fate to be well treated,” Ignatius cried. “You’re an overt masochist. Nice treatment will confuse and destroy you.”
This book I shall remember for a long, long time and I strongly urge you to read it.
Read it for Ignatius and his belches and gargantuan appetite. His billowing figure, his huge paws and black, moist mustache and green hunting cap as he waddles from one misadventure to another. Read it for the inimitable humour and style of writing.
For a good laugh, for a few tears, and a million unforgettable moments. For example, his exchange with the good looking queer Dorian Greene (yes, quite reminiscent of Dorian Grey, just more colourful):
“I suspect that beneath your offensively and vulgarly effeminate façade there may be a soul of sorts. Have you read widely in Boethius?”
“Who? Oh, heavens no. I never even read newspapers.”
“Then you must begin a reading program immediately so that you may understand the crises of our age,” Ignatius said solemnly. “Begin with the late Romans, including Boethius, of course. Then you should dip rather extensively into early Medieval. You may skip the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. That is mostly dangerous propaganda. Now that I think of it, you had better skip the Romantics and the Victorians, too. For the contemporary period, you should study some selected comic books.”
“I recommend Batman especially, for he tends to transcend the abysmal society in which he’s found himself. His morality is rather rigid, also. I rather respect Batman.”
But most of all read it for the sheer genius of the author John Kennedy Toole, whose first and last masterpiece this is. Who took his life for not being able to accept the heartbreak of his book not getting published. The irony of him winning a Pulitzer Prize for the same book, posthumously. I wish he had been more like Ignatius in his apathy. I wish he had written more.
Do read A Confederacy of Dunces simply for the joy of reading.