A Confederacy of Dunces. Undoubtedly a novel that most of the people reading this article have heard of, whether it’s in hearing it described vaguely as a contender for the Great American Novel, hearing it spoken of in hushed tones due to the alleged “curse” on the property that has caused every attempt at capturing it on film to go tits up (mostly from its prospective lead actor dying unexpectedly), or simply being described as one of the funniest novels ever written.
While the first two things are rather debatable, the last one is not. This novel is extremely funny, and yet at the same time slightly terrifying to those of us in the reactosphere—decades before the manosphere, or neo-masculinity, or neo-reaction, or the alt-right were even a twinkle in anyone’s eyes, John Kennedy Toole mercilessly skewered the self-appointed right-wing restorers of wholesomeness and “the proper order”. Anyone who might even consider themselves to be fighting for a return to morality and truth ought to read this book to both take the wind out of their sails, and serve as a cautionary tale for what they might become if their goals become too masturbatory.
The “hero” of the book, if you can call him that, is Ignatius Reilly: “a character without an antecedent in any literature I am aware of—a brilliant slob, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, and a perverse Aquinas all rolled into one. He is in revolt against the modern age from his bedroom on Constantinople Street in New Orleans, writing invective in between attacks of flatulence and masturbation.”
I assume that some of the people reading this website are already feeling a bit nervous just in reading that paragraph from the book’s Foreword.
The plot is essentially a series of smaller plots involving the multitudes of strange and colorful characters our intellectual lout encounters—policemen are put through their paces, pornography is sold, and Mrs. Reilly tries to grow a spine and come to terms with her jackass 30-year-old child—all the while Ignatius tries to hold a steady job to pay off the damage that he did to the car in a bout of idiocy. This seemingly simple plot is done much more justice by its rich descriptions of the people and places of 1960s New Orleans, and does much to keep the reader’s interest.
A major theme of the book, the main theme that a reader should take away from it, is that everyone is an idiot to some extent, and everyone has a “rich inner life” that is simultaneously meaningless and incomprehensible to anybody else. This is illustrated by how the book flits back and forth between the various characters and how each of them have their own little petty and mundane “quest” (the aforementioned smaller plots). Whether it be a 1960s proto-SJW lecturing black people about what’s “best” for them (“Who needs a girl that isn’t dedicated enough to work gratis for a project that will benefit her race?” Chapter 7), a black ex-con who’s less interested in civil rights and more interested in sabotaging his employer in a bout of petty revenge, or a rock stupid stripper who’s trying to come up with a new act, all are guilty of stupidity and pettiness whether they be rich or poor, black or white.
However, it is of course Ignatius that serves as the focal point of the book, and is rightfully the most important to any reader. For in his intellectual stupidity, his bone-headed attempts to make the world a better and “purer” place, anyone who’s honest can see a little bit of himself in Ignatius (even the best of men). Many of the points he makes about degeneracy are accurate, and have only gotten worse since the 1960s (“…a lack of contact with reality is, however, characteristic of almost all of America’s “art.” Any connection between American art and American nature is purely coincidental, but this is only because the nation as a whole has no contact with reality.” Chapter 5), but his own degeneracy, sloth, arrogance, and hypocritical indulgence in modernity (“…Read the Romans, Medieval scribes, and then read Batman. He transcends the abysmal society in which he finds himself. His morality is rather rigid too. I rather respect Batman”. Chapter 10) keep him from accomplishing any of his goals.
In reading (and enjoying) this book, I realized that this may be the first book I’ve ever read that has become completely obsolete by being TOO prescient: That’s because nothing shocked me about this book the way it likely would have shocked its first readers—the internet has essentially given a spotlight to thousands of Ignatius Reilly’s bumblefucking their way through their lives—more to the point, every aspect of Ignatius can be found on the internet, whether it be those comparative few espousing his exact political beliefs in that “society started its collective decline in the 1600s” or those teeming many who are “merely” fat, slothful, and living a “rich inner life” in fighting proverbial windmills. Even those who are not entirely dysfunctional have a little bit of Ignatius in them, my own neo-masculinists included (I think we can all admit it’s a bit hypocritical to desire good women to be the mothers of our children whilst simultaneously bedding the thots of the world).
In presenting this microcosm of dysfunction, Toole does end the book more or less happily: Mrs. Reilly becomes capable of standing up to her son, pornographers and spreaders of vice are arrested, a put-upon policeman finally gets the respect he deserves, and even Ignatius himself manages to mature somewhat and move out of his mom’s house. Thus, those that seem dysfunctional, whether it be our formerly obscure and now put-upon movement or the thousands of internet “lolcows”, can improve themselves, and can make serious change in their lives. It just takes a lot of repeated humiliation and a severe amount of work.
To sum it up (if you couldn’t tell from the somewhat scatter-shot review, it’s not the easiest book to review), read this book now, not only for a laugh but to “scare yourself straight”—in the manner of my Rogue Learning articles—to keep you from becoming like it’s “hero”.
You can read the book here