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Satire In The Big Easy: ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ By John Kennedy Toole

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The plot concerns Ignatius’s long war of attrition against the 20th Century ~ Juvenal Early

By Juvenal Early

New Orleans (N’awlins, as they say in the South) has always been a city full of characters.  Port cities are like that, and, as the Mississippi River’s window on the world, New Orleans has been the ne plus ultra of character cities, throughout its colorful history. It’s a veritable bouillabaisse of Acadians, swarthy Mediterranean types, rednecks, Cajuns, Creoles, Africans, Arabs, and anyone else who ever went down to the sea in ships. The most Catholic of cities, New Orleans did Carnival so well, its Mardi Gras became a major industry. Throw in jazz, politics, the Mafia, the flesh trade, and several quirky genius chefs, and you’ve got an unusually high quotient of characters.

Set in The Big Easy, John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces (© 1976), gave the world Ignatius J. Reilly, a latter-day Thomist, a Medievalist, a Grand Inquisitor, a man for whom the standard New Orleans character was degeneracy incarnate. Given his druthers, Ignatius would’ve chosen to live in a world purged of said characters. Fictional though he was, Ignatius has ended up becoming perhaps the grandest New Orleans character of them all. In homage, the real people of New Orleans erected a statue to Ignatius, and right on Canal Street.

Ignatius is fat, unkempt, lives with his mother, is a perpetual student of Medieval philosophy, and critic pop culture. He complains constantly about the misery visited upon him by his faulty pyloric valve (abused as it is, by Ignatius’s diet). As described in the book’s first paragraph, he is distinguished by his odd dress: baggy pleated trousers, oversized flannel shirt, a scarf, and topped off by a green hunting cap with earflaps—all this, mind you, in one of the capitals of The Long Hot Summer.

The plot concerns Ignatius’s long war of attrition against the 20th Century. The elevated language he spouts in defense of his worldview—and the way people react to it—makes for non-stop Rabelaisian pageantry.

A Confederacy of Dunces is a picaresque novel, lurching hilariously from one episode to the next, from one lively conversation to another. Ignatius is a man who can attract the wrong kind of attention just by waiting for his mother in front of a store. Whenever he speaks to people—which is often—he gets deeper into trouble. Completely without self-awareness, he insults virtually everyone whose path he crosses, assuming they’ll take it as constructive criticism from someone who obviously knows better. By the end of the book, he’s pissed off everyone to high heaven, and they all want a piece of him. The clashes and conflicts, conflated into his conversation, makes for some of the best social satire of the Sixties.

Irene Reilly wants her son to get a job. Setbacks old and new have depleted the family nest egg, and they need a new revenue source. As man of the house, Ignatius must sally forth and be the breadwinner, but his long college training in Boethius and the Middle Ages have fitted him for nothing outside of academics, and he burned his bridges there long ago. What to do? Reluctantly, Ignatius, age 30, begins his search.

He quickly lucks into a job with Levy Pants, a moribund sweatshop. The loyal but dull-witted office manager, impressed by Ignatius’s pompous language, hires him as a file clerk. Whereupon Ignatius dumps the company records in the garbage, fills the file cabinets with plants, and writes insulting letters to the company’s biggest customers. For good measure, he organizes the labor force—mostly black—and impels them to attack the company office, the vanguard holding a banner—made from one of Ignatius’s crusted sheets—proclaiming a “Crusade for Moorish Dignity.” He is, of course, summarily fired.

Next, Ignatius finds work pushing a hotdog cart for Paradise Vendors, Inc., and, of course, he ends up eating much more than he sells. His pyloric valve, as he tells everyone, completely shuts down. Dressed up as a pirate—head bandanna, sash, plastic cutlass, and earring—he roams the French Quarter, looking to cash in on the tourist trade (ironic, of course, since most tourists come to the French Quarter specifically for the great variety of Creole, Cajun, and Southern cooking). He catches the eye of a prominent member of the gay community—a sodomite, as Ignatius would say. Initially appalled, Ignatius hits on a brainstorm. If gays can be organized politically, they will eventually take over. Taking power, they will also control the military, rendering it effeminate, ineffective, and fabulous! A non-aggressive US Army means World Peace. It all fits into Ignatius’s master plan. (Hey! It’s not all that farfetched.) Ignatius sets to work with predictable results.

There is much more: the conflict at home with his mother; forays to the local movie palace, where he declaims loudly about the degradation of cinematic art; a couple visits to The Night of Joy, a Bourbon Street skin joint, where Ignatius hopes Boethius will save the world from its worst appetites. The plot builds and builds to the inevitable denouement and the unlikely Deus Ex Machina.

Most scenes are replete with wonderfully lively dialogue, at once zany and…well, altogether real. Toole knew his hometown and he captures the peculiar Brooklynese patois heard among certain of its down-market denizens (think Stanley Kowalski). Wondrous too is the elevated pomposity of Ignatius, truculence as poetry. As a special bonus, Toole throws in Mr Burma Jones, doubtless the greatest black character ever created by a white writer.

But why take my word for it. Let the book speak for itself.

There is conflict:

“You got any identification, mister?” the policeman asked…

“What?” Ignatius looked down upon the badge on the blue cap. “Who are you?

“Let me see your driver’s license.”

“I don’ t drive. Will you kindly go away? I am waiting for my mother.”

“What’s this hanging out your bag?”

“What do you think it is, stupid?  It’s a string for my lute.”

“What’s that?” The policeman drew back a little. “Are you local?”

“Is it the part of the police department to harass me when this city is a flagrant vice capital of the civilized world?” Ignatius bellowed over the crowd in front of the store. “This city is famous for its gamblers, prostitutes, exhibitionists, anti-Christs, alcoholics, sodomites, drug addicts, fetishists, onanists, pornographers, frauds, jades, litterbugs, and lesbians, all of whom are only too well protected by graft. If you have a moment, I shall endeavor to discuss the crime problem with you, but don’t make the mistake of bothering me.”

Movie commentary (during a public screening):

Popcorn spilled down his shirt and gathered in the folds of his trousers. “What degenerate produced this abortion?”

“Shut up,” someone said behind him.

“Just look at those smiling morons!” …

When a love scene appeared to be developing, he bounded up out of his seat and stomped up the aisle to the candy counter for more popcorn, but as he returned to his seat, the two big pink figures were just preparing to kiss.

“They probably have halitosis,” Ignatius announced over the heads of children. “I hate to think of the obscene places that those mouths have doubtlessly been before.”

Criticism of the Ladies Art Club:

“Oh, my God!” Ignatius bellowed…” How dare you present such abortions to the public!”

“Please move along, sir,” a bold lady said…

“You ladies need a course in botany. And perhaps geometry, too.”

“You don’t have to look at our work,” an offended voice said…

“Yes, I do!” Ignatius screamed. “You ladies need a critic with some taste and decency…The water in this bowl looks like motor oil.”

Helpful Race Relations:

“Shit! You think I like the Night of Joy? Ooo-wee. I wanna get someplace. I want to get someplace good, be gainfully employ, make me a livin wage.”

“Just as I suspected,” Ignatius said angrily. “In other words, you want to become totally bourgeois. You people have all been brainwashed. I imagine you’d like to become a success or something equally vile.”

“Hey, now you gettin me. Whoa!”

“I really don’t have the time to discuss the errors of your value judgements.”

Don’t forget LGBT:

“Please be serious for a moment. Stop fluttering around here.”

“Moi? Fluttering? What do you want, Gypsy Woman?”

“Have you people thought of forming a political party and running a candidate?”

“Politics? Oh, Maid of Orleans. How dreary.”

“This is very important!” Ignatius shouted …”you may hold the key to the future.”

“Well, what do you want to do about it, Eleanor Roosevelt?”

“You must start a party organization. Plans must be made.”

“Oh, please,” the young man sighed…

“You may be able to save the world!” Ignatius bellowed in an orator’s voice….

“This kind of conversation depresses me more than you could ever imagine,” the young man told him.

And the aforementioned Burma Jones at the Night of Joy:

“You oughta tell your customer use they ashtray, tell them peoples you workin a man in here below the minimal wage. Maybe they be a little considerate.’

“Listen here, Jones” Lana Lee (said)…” All I gotta do is phone the police and report you’re out of work. You understand me?”

“And I tell the po-lice the Night of Joy a glorify cathouse. I fall in a trap when I come to work in this place. Whoa! Now I jus waitin to get some kind of evidence. When I do, I really gonna flap my mouth at the precinct.”

“Watch your tongue.”

“Times changin,” Jones said, adjusting his sunglasses. “You cain scare color peoples no more. I got me some peoples form a human chain in front of your door, drive away your business, get you on TV news.”

When Ignatius is home alone, he fills Big Chief writing tablets with his unique invective, gems of nihilism, as his half-foe/half-ally Myrna Minkoff describes it:

I can at last describe to you our factory…The scene which met my eyes was at once compelling and repelling. The original sweatshop has been preserved for posterity at Levy Pants. If only the Smithsonian Institution, that grab-bag of our nation’s refuse, could somehow vacuum-seal the Levy Pants factory and transport it to the capital of the United States of America, each worker frozen in an attitude of labor, the visitors to that questionable museum would defecate into their garish tourist outfits. It is a scene which combines the worst of Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis; it is mechanized Negro slavery; it represents the progress which the Negro has made from picking cotton to tailoring it.

You won’t want to put this novel down. But you also won’t want to rush through it.  You’ll want to savor every dialogue. There’s nothing else like it. Sadly.

Everyone loves this novel. Everyone I know who’s read it is also saddened, disappointed, and angered to know that it’s all we’ve got. John Kennedy Toole spent most of the 60s writing A Confederacy of Dunces and trying to get it published. Failing in the latter, he took his own life in 1969. His mother, believing ardently in her son’s genius, shopped the manuscript around, until she was finally able to press it into the hands of another Louisiana novelist, Walker Percy. In the novel’s preface, Percy describes how he reluctantly took up the dog-eared pages and was dismayed, after reading the first few pages, to find that it wasn’t bad enough to dismiss. He read on and gradually came to relish its genius. He managed to find a publisher for it, and a year later it won the Pulitzer Prize.  See if you don’t think it’s not the funniest novel you’ve ever read.

I could say a lot more about the book. Subplots involving a half-dozen of the novel’s eccentrics; Toole’s not-so-hidden messages; the sexual tension between Ignatius and Myrna Minkoff; strippers and cockatoos; theology, geometry, and the consolation of philosophy. But in the end, it’s just a great book to read. What’s it all mean? Who knows? Just read it.

With apologies to Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer (which is the great Mardi Gras novel), A Confederacy of Dunces is the great New Orleans novel.

*******

“Juvenal Early” is a contributor to Barely A Blog. His first essay was “The Dissident Right Has An Idiocracy Problem.” It made waves! He has a BAB archive.

The Feminized Society Is Silly, Loose, Libertine, Institutionally Rotten & Ungrateful

Affirmative Action, Culture, Feminism, Gender, Individualism Vs. Collectivism, Intellectualism, Intelligence, Left-Liberalism And Progressivisim, Logic, Science

The better responses on Facebook to this indubitably crass indictment of the feminized society harped on the mistake of collectivism in reasoning.

In aggregate, however, this seemingly obnoxious statement attributed to one Bob Wallace (?) is still largely true. For, from the fact that vast individual differences exist between people—and that there are many magnificent women—it doesn’t follow that one cannot make accurate aggregate statements about groups of individuals.

This is, very plainly, the basis of science: deductions about the aggregate characteristics of representative samples. Maybe not the most comprehensive definition, but you get my gist.

A priceless excerpt from Norah Vincent’s book comes to mind. Its title is self explanatory: Self-Made Man: My year Disguised as a Man.

Vincent, a lesbian in her regular life, describes dating women while disguised as Ned:

“I listened to [the women] talk literally for hours about the most minute, mind-numbing details of their personal lives; men they were still in love with; men they had divorced, roommates and co-worker they hated…. Listening to them was like undergoing a slow frontal lobotomy. I sat there stunned by the social ineptitude of people to whom it never seemed to occur that no one, much less a first date, would have any interest in enduring this ordeal …”

Seconded in my VDARE.com article, “The Silly Sex?”:

Over the last five decades women, who make up roughly 50 percent of the world’s population, have claimed only 2 percent of the Nobel Prizes in the sciences. In literature, women have claimed only 8 percent. No woman has won a Nobel in economics. During that period Jews, who comprise less than 0.5 percent the world’s population, have claimed 32 percent of the Nobel Prizes for medicine, 32 percent for physics, 39 percent for economics and 29 percent of all science awards.

UPDATE: A man’s work: Corralling logs with a boom boat. How can one fail to be impressed by the strength, skill, calm and staying power this job takes? To do all this competently and single-handedly? Mike Row’s show is genius in what it shows.

The MeToo ingrates should take note, too. Ukrainian men between the ages of 18 and 60 are currently prohibited from leaving the country. Drafted. This is what men have been doing stoically and dutifully for centuries: defending the women folk. (Who gets drafted is another matter. Read “Support The Drafts.…”)

Alex Berenson Gets A Fail For Blackening Joe Rogan For His Impolitic, Impolite Speech

Conservatism, Cultural Marxism, Culture, Etiquette, Free Speech, Intellectualism, Left-Liberalism And Progressivisim, libertarianism, Media, Paleolibertarianism, Political Philosophy, Race, Racism

Serious libertarians and conservatives will study and absorb the following principles articulated about the thought crime that is racism and the attendant impolite and impolitic speech that often accompanies it:

  • “Racism—systemic or other—remains nothing but thought crime: Impolite and impolitic thoughts, spoken, written or preached.”—ILANA Mercer,‘Systemic Racism’ Or Systemic Rubbish?” August 6, 2020.
  • “Thought crimes are nobody’s business in a free society.”—ILANA Mercer,‘Systemic Racism’ Or Systemic Rubbish?” August 6, 2020.
  • “A lot of establishment libertarians and conservatives have joined the neoconservative and neoliberal establishments in the habit of sniffing out racists. Sniffing out racists is an absolute no-no for any and all self-respecting libertarians (and conservatives). True libertarians don’t, or should not, prosecute thought crimes or persecute thought ‘criminals.’ Period.”—ILANA Mercer, Big League Politics, Interview With Ilana Mercer, November 23, 2018.

Consider those fundamentals and, in commitment to liberty, you will shrug off Joe Rogan’s speech of many years back as rude and uncouth, albeit rooted in a realistic stereotype, and leave it at that—no more rude and uncouth than the plethora of “cracker”-hating, anti-white pejoratives emitted approvingly by blacks, who are cheered when they rail against a group that isn’t remotely associated with high crime and social disruption.

Rogan was referencing a video compilation that features him in various contexts using the racial slur. It also includes him comparing being in the presence of Black people with the film Planet of the Apes. The video has gone viral online and was highlighted by musician India Arie in an Instagram Story she posted Thursday.

Thus when Alex Berenson acts as a racism-spotting scold-–an old biddy deploying cliches like, “I don’t know what’s in his heart” (oh, fuck off; it matters not. Rogan is a peaceful, productive human being)—Berenson deserves and earns contempt.

Rogan’s use of the n-word – and that Planet of the Apes story – are indefensible and humiliating and will haunt him for the rest of his career.
Our woke revolution has brought lots of linguistic rules I’ll argue. Not this one. That word has a unique history and power that give it a unique ugliness. The only slur remotely close might be “kike,” though even it doesn’t compare.

Fox News darling Alex Berenson has a pattern—has already proven to be a self-promoting weasel, using a TV segment to try and take out Robert Malone, who shot him down with a smile, no sweat, like the high IQ, classy gentleman and scholar he clearly is. Watch.

For his part, Rogan must get off his knees and quit apologizing. He’s worth $100 Million (it is an intellectually impoverish market place that has resulted in that sorry reality).  Rumble is pleased to pay that sum–as well as reinstate his verboten speech removed by the illiberal scolds.

UPDATE II (6/19/022): On Being A Man. A Brave Man

Culture, Ethics, Gender, Morality, Relationships, The State

It suddenly struck me, as I was compiling old column material for a recap of Julian Assange’s travails, that most men are cowards. (The “man” noun here is used in the traditional, generic sense, as in mankind. As a woman, I am part of mankind.)  Perhaps I ought to use the word menschit means “a person of integrity and honor”—and ask: How many men have the courage and character to step up and honor the highest principles or the best of humanity when they encounter these? Too few.

Most live defensively or ignorantly, betraying the good for the bad or the mediocre, and justifying their ennui. That’s why men like Assange are impressive and important and true. They show us the principled way, at least in the political realm.

While most men live in-thrall to miserable entities or manipulative people and the bonds these impose; Assange has shown us the right way to live within our own orbits; dangerously, if you must, never on your knees; bravely seeking that which is the best and the finest, in principles and people. The finest is not the most perfect. Thus patience and tolerance, even love, is required, not rigidity and rejection in search of perfection.

Julian Assange, no doubt, was just cocky and young when he launched WikiLeaks—so confident in the liberal, tolerant polities that gave rise to his libertarian sensibility. Suddenly he found himself being martyred in a cause he thought he would simply win. Was he not sired in the Free World, a son of freedom?

That “Free World,” alas, has placed Assange in a position of giving his life in the cause of exposing global state and corporate corruption and the collusion betwixt. He should be thanked for his service, for Assange did not enlist to do The State’s bidding in futile, wicked wars in faraway lands, or in the corridors of power. Rather, he went-up against the Administrative, Warfare, Surveillance Supra-State and for The People.

An honest man asked on Twitter how to become courageous. I am hardly an authority. I try my best, in writing and in person—having never betrayed my first principles for popularity or pelf.

I have, however, known people who never step up, who live mired in cowardice, wasting their considerable mentation and manhood in a state of fear, and in the quest for equilibrium. Or, gulling themselves into believing that when they slavishly serve the unworthy, at the expense of the worthy and to the exclusion of higher quests; they are being principled—and ever-so good. Ignominy is theirs, brought on by fear and cowardice.

My humble reply, then, to the honest man aforementioned: “Within our orbits we can all try to stand up for the principles and people that are true and need our energies most. (And if you think that these people live in think tanks and political parties; appear on Fox News, work for Prager U, or have the material wherewithal to hold a conference—you are a follower; there is no hope for you.)

Oh, and brave men can FIGHT. But a man who picks fights—and feuds—with friends is never brave.

UPDATE II (6/19/022): “Man” is generic in conventional grammar. These insights apply, naturally, to women as well.

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