Andreas Mertin reviews A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.
Let’s be honest, the world is in a pretty devastating state. It lacks the theology and geometry that it had before and has been suffering decline ever since, and those wiser than us know what is to blame: the imposition of the so called “Enlightenment”. If only we could find a scribe, a voice, to produce a tome that could reveal the world’s ills and set us straight. But we are in luck, because Ignatius J. Reilly has courageously taken the mantel of Boethius, the dedication of Thomas Aquinas, and the moral fortitude of Batman, to courageously and tirelessly spend his days locked in his room scribbling the secrets to our society’s salvation. That is, until his mother, with callous disregard for his delicate pyloric valve and no concern for his important work, insists he find a job to help her pay for a recent automotive accident. And so begins the farce that is the would-be crusader’s entrance into the world. But the sage of our time is not deterred by this spiteful spinning of Fortuna’s wheel, and in fact Ignatius discovers a possible magnum opus (with commercial potential) wherein he chronicles his experiences and exploits as A Working Boy.
The titular confederacy (from a quote by Johnathan Swift: “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”) is filled with many unusual characters. From a sass talkin’ African-American working in a struggling strip club in the Quarter, to the incompetent, down on his luck officer Mancuso, to a senile, demented horder who is prevented from retiring because the psycho-analysing wife of the company owner sees her as a case study. Then there is Irene Reilly, Ignatius’ moderately alcoholic mother who befriends officer Mancuso and his spirited aunt, who believes Ignatius is a ripe case for the looney bin. And then there is Myrna Minkhoff, the closest we get to a love interest which furthers the absurd dimensions of Ignatius’ thoughts. All of these make up the confederacy against theology and geometry that the world so desperately needs. But it is Ignatius who provides the greatest comedy. He is indeed intelligent, and has a particular wit and verbosity that would make him a stellar genius to appear in the world. Sitting in his room, writing in his tablets about the crimes of the world, here is a man who selflessly watches hours of television, frequents cinemas, and becomes interested in all manner of things solely to inform anyone who would listen that it is indeed vile. The joke is that the genius is so removed from the world that he becomes a jester, even a dunce, himself. “Ignatius, what’s all this trash on the floor?” asks Mama Reilly of her son. “That is my worldview that you see”, he blasts, “it still must be incorporated into a whole, so be careful where you step.”
Be careful where you step indeed, for it may be contributing to the crisis of our age.