A Confederacy of Dunces Archives
I had some extra time on my hands today, so I thought I'd do a little bit of poking around to find out if past BookBlog authors have been up to anything interesting recently. They're quite a busy bunch.
Steve Martin [Shopgirl] - The March 8th issue of The New Yorker includes script notes on Mel Gibson's The Passion from funnyman Steve Martin. LawGeek was kind enough to share some of it with all of us ("Possible title change: 'Lethal Passion.' Kinda works. The more I say it outloud, the more I like it.") since The New Yorker is kind of stingy with its online content. (link)
Gregory Maguire [Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister] - Damn, I missed it. This past Friday, Maguire was at the Columbus Circle Borders in New York City to sign copies of Wicked. However, the musical version continues to do well on Broadway, and you can buy $100 a pop tickets through its official web site. (link)
Chuck Palahniuk [Invisible Monsters] - On Tuesday, March 16th, Palahniuk will be live online with The Guardian. The author chat starts at 4:00 p.m. GMT, which is 11:00 a.m. EST. Questions posted include "[I]s it really a good way of meeting hot chicks?" and "There was a bit of graffiti on one of the bridges crossing over the 405 from 13th to 14th street. It read: Be boring. Be deathlike. Be Eva Lake. There was some other good graffiti around town, but I don't want to repeat it here. Have you any favorites?" If you, too, have an inane question for Chuck, get it in now. (link)
Jose Saramago [Blindness] - University of California television will be celebrating National Poetry Month by showing poetry-related programs Thursday and Friday nights throughout the month of April. On April 2nd, they will air From Memory to Fiction through History with Nobel Laureate Jose Saramago, a taping of a talk the author gave at UCLA. According to the UCTV site, you should be able to watch it on demand using RealPlayer, but I couldn't get it to work. Maybe you'll have more luck. (link)
J.K. Rowling [Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone] - Rowling's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix has been shortlisted for The Butler & Tanner Book of the Year by the British Book Awards. Will she Bend It Like Beckham (Anyone else seen this flick?) and beat out the footballer's autobiography to the top prize? The winners are to be announced on April 7th. (link)
Haruki Murakami [Norwegian Wood] - This summer's Lincoln Center Festival is to include The Elephant Vanishes, a multimedia retelling of three stories by Murakami in Japanese with English supertitles. The performances by Tokyo's Setagaya Public Theatre will be shown from July 21st through July 25th, and tickets for multiple events go on sale beginning April 6th. (link)
Scott Heim [Mysterious Skin] - According to Heim's rarely updated blog, the movie version of Mysterious Skin, which stars the kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun, is nearly complete. Andy, who moderated the book and also runs realityblurred.com, should be pleased to know that Heim reports being "utterly consumed by reality TV again." Suggestion for Heim: permalinks. xxmarydell. (link)
John Kennedy Toole [A Confederacy of Dunces] - The movie version of our August 2002 selection continues to have trouble getting off the ground, but still stars Will Ferrell as Ignatius J. Reilly. I'm not exactly sure how I feel about Elf, but IMDB message board posters have come up with some interesting alternatives: Oliver Platt, John Goodman, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. (link)
A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES: THE END?
Ignatius J. Reilly. Have you ever met anyone quite like him before in the pages of a book? I know I haven't; and I probably won't forget him anytime soon, either. He was unique, and uniquely over-the-top, but for me, he was never a cartoon. For all his weirdnesses and exaggeratedness, he never struck me as a mere invention; he rang true. Which is why, I think, I found myself relating to Ignatius no matter how much I disliked him, more so than I'd care to admit.
At one point, not too many pages from the end, Ignatius’s mother says this to him:
“You learnt everything, Ignatius, except how to be a human being.”
How absolutely true. And what kept him from learning how to be, let alone from becoming, a human being? In my opinion, what held him back was also his primary motivation: fear.
What really convinced me of this was seeing him seemingly begin (just begin, mind you) to “come alive” as he finally ventured out of the city, possibly farther than he’d ever traveled before, at the very end of the book. Afraid to venture out of the comfortable, familiar environs in which he’d spent all his life (with the lone exception of that bus trip to/taxi drive back from Baton Rouge), he only did so at the story’s end because he was essentially forced out by circumstances (his pending institutionalization). But because he took that step outside of his comfort zone, he began to benefit within the very first hours of his journey.
We have to change to grow; we have to deal with the unknown and other unpleasant realities in order to mature. But Ignatius refused to do that. And for that reason, he lived in a prison of his own making, subjecting everyone around him, most unfortunately for them, to the unpleasant results of his self-imposed incarceration.
He cried “perversion!” and “abortion!” etc., deriding people and things around him, when his truly was the aborted life. His existence was a perverted one; he resisted growing up, so he grew increasingly inward. That’s not normal. I believe he really was heading toward insanity, however much his mother may have been committing him to a state hospital for her convenience, or by the author for sheer comic effect.
In closing, let me quote the last four paragraphs of the book…
. . .
Now that Fortuna had saved him from one cycle, where would she spin him now? The new cycle would be so different from anything he had ever known.
Myrna prodded and shifted the Renault through the city traffic masterfully, weaving in and out of impossibly narrow lanes until they were clear of the last twinkling streetlight of the last swampy suburb. Then they were in darkness in the center of the salt marshes. Ignatius looked out at the highway marker that reflected their headlights. U.S. 11. The marker flew past. He rolled down the window an inch or two and breathed the salt air blowing in over the marshes from the Gulf.
As if the air were a purgative, his valve opened. He breathed again, this time more deeply. The dull headache was lifting.
He stared gratefully at the back of Myrna’s head, at the pigtail that swung innocently at his knee. Gratefully. How ironic, Ignatius thought. Taking the pigtail in one of his paws, he pressed it warmly to his wet moustache.
. . .
That, coming after what we’ve read before, is one of the sweetest endings to a story I’ve ever read. Because it’s full of possibility. And who would’ve thought Ignatius could ever really change? But that’s the very real possibility that I hear, clearly, from reading that passage. And it warms my heart, and makes me care about the big galoot.
That’s how the ending totally changed my impression of the book as a whole. For me, it puts it all into perspective. It’s almost as if Ignatius, in reaching out affectionately to Myrna (not that she’s aware of his gesture at that point, I don’t think), in seeing and appreciating someone for who they are, instead of just complaining about them or thinking of how he can use them to get what he wants, is for the very first time in the book -- and, presumably, for the first time in his life -- moving beyond the caricature of a life he’s been living, and becoming human before our eyes. Or is, at least, venturing into that (for him) uncharted territory for the very first time.
So I see the book’s ending not so much as epitaph, but as commencement. And seeing it that way gives me a much deeper appreciation for the book as a whole, and a much fonder affection for it, than I ever expected to have until I got to those very last hopeful pages.
How ‘bout you?
And also, please feel free to discuss anything else that I’ve failed to bring up this week. I know there’s a lot.
A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES: IT’S A FABLE, RIGHT?
Like Barbara, I’m champing at the bit to get into a deeper discussion about Ignatius J. Reilly, the outrageous, larger-than-life buffoon protagonist of A Confederacy of Dunces. But I find that in order to understand him, the other characters in the book, and what happens (and doesn’t happen) to all of them, that I have to put the book into some kind of context within the literary world.
I’m talking, of course, about calling the book a fable. A few definitions of “fable” include…
“A story about legendary persons and exploits.” (American Heritage Dictionary)
“A feigned story or tale, intended to instruct or amuse; a fictitious narration intended to enforce some useful truth or precept; an apologue.” and “Any story told to excite wonder.” (Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary)
“A deliberately false or improbable account.” (Word Net, Princeton University)
Is that how you see the book? And if so, does that make a difference for you in terms of how you see the characters -- not to mention how you feel about them -- and account for what happens in the story? Or do you see the book differently? What would you call it, or how would you describe it?
Thinking of the book as a fable -- a surreal account, if you will, where all the laws that apply to us in real life don’t necessarily impinge upon the book’s characters -- enables me to make sense of certain things, perhaps foremost among them what seemed to be the absence of any real threat of serious harm or death befalling the book’s characters.
As meanly as he treated some people -- his mother, Myrna, Abelman (to whom he wrote the forged letter from Levy Pants), among others (well, okay, among… everybody, I guess!) -- I never had the impression that Ignatius posed any true danger to them. Bumps and bruises were suffered, certainly, and tears were shed from one character's mistreatment of another, but no one was killed or, I felt, ever really in danger of being killed. (Not to mention, in keeping with the idea of the story as a fable and fables tending to offer life lessons, that what justice was meted out certainly seemed deserved; most characters, by the end, got their comeuppance. But I'd like to wait until tomorrow, perhaps, to go fully into Toole's motivations for writing this book, and what "lessons" he hoped to pass along by it, if any; for now, I'd prefer we focus on the "what", rather than the "why".) It seems to me that no one was ever hurt by anything Ignatius did or failed to do, with the obvious exception, of course, of himself.
Seeing the book as a fable is also, I think, why I had less of a problem going along for the ride with Ignatius J. Reilly than some of the rest of us did. It’s an interesting matter to try to puzzle through: How can characters who are so “larger-than-life” also seem, in certain important ways, so true to life? This is where I think Mr. Toole earns that posthumous Pulitzer of his. What a fine line that is to walk!
For instance, he shows an uncanny ear for dialogue and dialects and yet, at the same time, he puts in his characters’ mouths speeches that are nothing if not theatrical -- overblown, exaggerated, melodramatic. Yes, certainly, in some part, that’s who these characters are: eccentrics, every one of them, given to hyperbole. But still, I marvel at Toole’s ability to totally suspend my disbelief from the beginning, draw me into the company of these characters, and compel me to take this journey with them wherever it would lead, without ever really stumbling over the overt theatricality of the dialogue.
If you’re buying into the idea of Dunces as fable, any other examples you’d like to offer of how Toole successfully bridges the gap between fantasy and reality would be most welcome. And, of course, if you reject characterizing the book as a fable, and see it as something else, I’d love to hear your take on it -- 'cause my opinion is just that, an opinion, and I'm frankly more interested in yours.
A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES: ADMIRED BY SOME, REVILED BY OTHERS; LOVED BY FEW?
Hey, everybody, here’s what I’d like to do in terms of further discussion: Since there are a few people who aren’t quite done with the book, but who plan on finishing it tonight (Tuesday), I’d like to wait until tomorrow (Wednesday) before I post a new topic for discussion that’s specifically about the characters and story of A Confederacy of Dunces, so that everybody can get into it on more or less an equal footing.
(And a word to those of you who haven’t yet finished the book, but intend to: As I mentioned to Mary in our discussion yesterday, the very, very last pages of the book made an enormous difference for me in how I see the book, and in how much I ended up liking it overall. It’s because you may have a similar reaction that is the main reason I'm posting a more general [but no less relevant] topic for discussion today. Capische? And yes, if it’s any encouragement, that also means that I think sticking it out ‘til the end is very much worth it. So... keep going! The end's in sight!)
In the meantime, though, since some of us have found the book to be abrasive and difficult, if not downright detestable (who picked this book, anyway? oh, yeah), can you think of other books or movies you’ve read or seen that you had a similar reaction to? Or, can you think of any books or movies that you liked, or even loved, even though they had a protagonist or protagonists as objectionable (or thereabouts ;) as Ignatius J. Reilly? And in either case, why?
The first movie that comes to my mind as one that I really hated, for some of the very reasons that Jaynee said she hated Dunces, is Thelma and Louise. I loathed the two title characters; I found them so repulsive and reprehensible and inaccessible as people that I found it impossible to will myself into taking interest in their story. I just wanted to have nothing to do with them.
Mary’s inaugural pick for our beloved book blog, though, had the opposite effect on me. For the most part, I thought the protagonists of Invisible Monsters were awful; yet I happily went along for the ride with them, eager to see what trouble they’d get into next as they went from one misadventure to another.
And I’m not sure that I can explain why I had such a different take on these two stories, one a movie, one a book, putting aside their obvious differences and focusing in on the issue of why we choose to sympathize with some protagonists, warts and all, while we refuse to do so with others. I suppose the artistry of the storyteller has something to do with it, though; in my opinion, director Ridley Scott’s and (Academy Award winning! the outrage! :) screenwriter Callie Khouri’s on-screen vision was as bleak and stark and soulless as their title characters’, er, characters, while Chuck Palahniuk’s clever, quirky, unpredictable style drew me in and compensated for (and heightened my ability to laugh at) the people populating his novel.
Closely related to this discussion is something that Kara said yesterday: "Kind of like certain movies I've seen (Requiem for a Dream definitely comes to mind), sometimes there is a difference between what I like and what I think is good -- if that makes any sense. I don't really like this book...I didn't really enjoy reading it...but I definitely think it is a good book."
Well, I think what you said makes perfect sense, Kara, and the distinction you make is one I've made many times. For instance -- and I think it's pure circumstance that they're both Steven Spielberg movies -- I greatly admired A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) and Saving Private Ryan, but I can't say that I "liked", let alone "loved", either one.
In the case of the former, I find it so daunting to try to embrace a movie whose central character is a robot that I can't even wrap my head around it, let alone my heart; yet the brilliance of the manipulation going on in the film -- making a protagonist that seems human in every way, but isn't, which is a fact that the viewer must never lose sight of -- I find awe-inspiring. It's a marvelous film, but not one that's close to my heart.
And, in the case of the second Spielberg film I mentioned, the grave reality of the combat scenes, especially, as well as that of the tension experienced by the soldiers even when they're not actively fighting, keep me from emotionally embracing the movie as "a movie". I sure as hell don't want to see it again any time soon, if ever; it disturbs me profoundly. But that's exactly why I embrace it as a cultural milestone. I'm enormously grateful that I did see it, because it's helped me respect military heroes -- -particularly the everyday, regular-guy ones -- even more than I did before; and I can only applaud the genius that was able to capture that and put it on screen.
A Confederacy of Dunces: FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Hello, all, and welcome to our discussion of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces! Ideally, this month, I’d like to try to let our conversation take its course and see where it leads us. I’ll be here to steer us, when necessary, so that we cover what I think are some of the points worth pondering, but for the most part, I’m going to be relying on you to chime in and, hopefully, take us in directions I wouldn’t have thought to explore on my own.
So… it’s your forum. And just to get this party started, I’ll throw out a softball and ask, did you like the book? And whether you did or not, why do you think that was? (And if you hated it -- a question I’m asking because I know at least one of us did! -- was there anything about it that you did like?)
I’ll start by saying that, yeah, I really did enjoy it. (I picked it based on its reputation, not its subject matter, by the way, so I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.) It made me chuckle quite a bit, and I even laughed out loud a handful of times, which doesn’t happen very often for me when I’m reading a book. And while I at first I found the story really quite straightforward, the further I got into it, the more I decided that there was a lot going on in terms of subtext -- more so than I would’ve guessed while I was still in the front half of the book.
But more on that a little later. Some of the best things I liked about the book were, first and foremost, the wonderful comic invention that is the character of Ignatius J. Reilly (how could he not be first and foremost?), and the ludicrously (and frequently, to me, howlingly funny) self-important speeches he spouted out of that jowly, almost-always-masticating mouth of his. Of course, those tirades wouldn’t have been possible had Toole not placed Ignatius into such deliciously ridiculous situations, so I have to add that I really admired his imagination in creating such a realistic absurdist landscape, with a wide range of interesting characters. Lending authority to which, in no small part, I’d venture, was Toole’s ear for dialogue and dialects, which I thought was spot-on.
Toole created a very vivid world for me, a believable one, however fantastic Ignatius at times (well, pretty much all the time) seemed. And probably because of that, I think, there was an emotional truth to the story that, as I started to mention above, became increasingly resonant for me the further I got into the story. And Toole even accomplished what I would’ve guessed to be an impossible task: at the very, very end of the book, I actually began to feel some genuine sympathy for Ignatius. And if you ask me, that’s quite a feat.
But enough of my initial thoughts on it. What did you think? Like it? Hate it? Spill.
I know it's a few days before the actual discussion is to begin, but I just had to say that this morning I took the book out of my bag and put it away. I was about halfway through it and each and every page was a struggle. I didn't enjoy the writing style, I didn't enjoy the storyline, and I sure didn't enjoy Ignatius as a lead character. A few weeks ago I posted a picture of the book at my website when I started reading it. Someone emailed me recently that it was her favorite book. I emailed her back and asked her if she was on crack. She said that she only remembers she was in a dark time in her life and the book appealed to that snarky evil hate-the-world attitude she had back then.
Well, I'm a good person. I like the world, generally. Is that why I hate this book? I posted again today at my website that I hated this book, and a few people have posted their comments that they TOO hated this book. So I know I'm not alone.
Some love it with a passion and others hate it just as much - I'll be curious to see what the general consensus is when it comes time to discuss the book. Nothing against Jeff's choice - I think it'll stir up some interesting debate about ethics and morals, etc. - but WOW I'm glad that's over.
Also, if anyone wants to email me and give me the quick upshot of how the book ends, that would be great. I've no desire to read the rest, but I do want to know if everyone gets their just desserts.
Went to the library. Checked out this month's pick. Have read half the book. Can't wait to see the questions for discussion on this one! Hoo boy.