Alright so ‘lost’ might be a bit inaccurate here as it’s more of a buzz word used to make bullshit sound interesting, also known as the JJ Abrams method of entertainment marketing. Actually the reason I never posted my original ACoD review is that I didn’t have any strong feeling about the book one way or the other, so instead of being Johnnie Fencesitter and posting a half-hearted review I opted instead to remain silent but at the last SDBC meeting my co-conspirators told me they were actually disappointed I never posted anything so I decided to listen to the wants of the people and heroically recycle some unused material.
So, A Confederacy of Dunces, or, to call it by its full title:
“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”
which serves as the books opening line and is probably the personal motto of every self righteous dick on the planet. Maybe it’s just me but opening with a line like that feels a bit like putting on criticism Kevlar, as if the book itself is suggesting that if you don’t like it you’re perfectly welcome to don a pointy ‘D’ hat and sit with the other conspirators, sniffing glue while your intellectual superiors enjoy some crumpets and smug.
That’s not to say that the book is bad, if it was bad I’d have lots to say about it because there’s nothing quite like stomping all over something you don’t like to make you feel like a real man these days, it just that going in with that quote over the door feels like we might end up with an Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome.
As I said before, the reason I abandoned the original review was that I really had no feeling to express over ACoD. It’s like that time someone broke into my house and made me eat ice cream sandwiches at gunpoint; certainly not a bad experience, all things considered, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it. I usually get a vibe about a book at the halfway point but like two equally obese children on a reinforced seesaw my feelings were pretty level throughout on this one.
For the uninitiated ACoD follows one Ignatius J Riley, a fat, flatulent, outspoken twat who idealises the Roman philosopher Boethius while hypocritically enjoying the many indulgences of the modern world. Reading it reminded me of Cather in the Rye or The Fan Man in that all three follow days in the life of some guy doing stuff. Ignatius and his idealistic if not entirely misguided sense of justice embark on adventures to hold down a job, insight a workers revolt, bring about the homosexual pacification of the world and show up his ex-girlfriend, all to varying degrees of failure.
And that’s really all I’ve got to say on ACoD, it’s a guy doing stuff, some occasionally interesting stuff but not the kind of stuff I’d call a plot line. If anything the actual plot happens incidentally which might be the point but if so I’m not sure what that point is. I would say that Ignatius is meant to be a hyperbolic exaggeration of all the worst human behaviours we all exhibit every day, even if only internally. He’s judgemental, selfish, self-aggrandising, self-pitying and I would privately identify with that that if not for the part where he repeatedly talks during a movie, a behaviour that makes me want to drag the offender outside and curb stomp them till their head resembles Pacman after eating too much raspberry jam.
So he’s the sort of protagonist you’re not supposed to like but with an undercurrent of tragedy, a man mismatched with his time and place, highlighting its comedy elements which are less the directly ha-ha kind of comedy and more the type you have to picture it to get the joke of the fat man with a hotdog cart poking people with a plastic sword and wh-
-hold on, I think I just formed an opinion.
While endeavouring to understand why this book is so beloved I wandered out into Google and began reading other peoples reviews and while some are clearly being written by people gobbing down mouthfuls of smug and crumpets while commenting on how wonderfully dressed the Emperor is today, others more earnestly discussed how the book was “a hilariously cringe-worthy story” and that “a more pompous, ungrateful, obnoxious windbag is hard to imagine, yet Ignatius captivates partly because he IS so appalling.” And you know what, maybe there’s a generation gap thing here that can explain my indifference. Since its release in 1980 pop culture has seen more cringe-worthy, appalling, pompous, ungrateful, obnoxious windbags rise to fame and fortune that the idea of a story featuring one being a source of comedy is now almost quaint. Perhaps what was once unique in Ignatius as a protagonist is lost in the drone of Kardashians, Hiltons, Real Housewives, Jersey Shore’s, Bill O’reillys, and Honey Boo Boo’s who’s selfish obnoxious idiocy has swallowed the context what was once a gleaming comedy of an intelligent, openly opinionated and vial man in a green cap set at odds with what is seen as acceptable by a bankrupt and unremarkable world. Perhaps we’ve grown accustomed to the idea of a cringe inducing protagonist and thus the comedy is lost because it’s no longer packs the outrageous plight that made it funny.
Sure it’s entirely possible that I’m talking out of my perfectly toned and sculpted butt here but even if that’s the case at least I have an opinion of the book now and I think it’s a positive one, even if it does boil down to the notion that someone from Gen Y down isn’t going to really get the comedy here. I didn’t find ACoD anywhere near as laugh out loud funny as many have claimed that it is but if I’m running with my generation gap theory (and I am, because I just came up with it and it hasn’t grown legs yet) then that makes perfect sense. Everything else works; the characters are good, their arcs are unique, the writing is solid and the feature city of New Orleans is faithfully depicted, even containing an in-joke about a river. If I find Ignatius unengaging even as an appalling tragic it may just be that I’ve seen his ilk too often and lack the context of his outrageousness to find his adventures cringingly hilarious, which I’m actually a little bit sad about because it means that my ability to be amused by the antics of the absurd has been dulled by the Rosie O’Donnell’s of this world. At any rate I now hold a better opinion of the book than when I started writing and would recommend ACoD if you’re old enough to have voted Keating out of office and saw the original RoboCop in theatres.
And maybe that can stand as author John Kennedy Toole’s posthumous joke, that when Ignatius is no longer a comic foil then perhaps the dunces have won, which is fine by me because I rather like the smell of glue.
A Hyperlink to the Past