This weekend’s Wall Street Journal features another winner in its Masterpiece series examining major works of art.
The latest installment (by Danny Heitman, a columnist for the Advocate newspaper in Louisiana):
The Big Easy Slacker’s Manual
As another commencement season arrives this month, spilling hundreds of thousands of new graduates into the employment market, perhaps we should give each of them a copy of John Kennedy Toole’s “A Confederacy of Dunces,” a comic and cautionary lesson in how not to get a job.
Written in the 1960s, but not published until 1980, “Confederacy” serves up an unlikely antihero in Ignatius Reilly, a 30-year-old living with his mother in blue-collar New Orleans. Ignatius, a medieval scholar with a master’s degree, missed a chance at a university job because he arrived for the interview without a necktie, opting for a lumber jacket instead. An odd mix of snob and slob, Ignatius mourns the loss of civility, yet sports a green hunting cap, plaid flannel shirt and “voluminous tweed trousers.” His hobbies include hating contemporary cinema, writing screeds against The Enlightenment and belching. He speaks like Mr. Belvedere but looks like Oliver Hardy. Imagine Felix Ungar caught in Oscar Madison’s body and you’ll get the picture.
As the Journal piece notes, “[t]he book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981, and more than 3.5 million copies of the novel have been sold around the world. It’s been translated into more than two dozen languages. A stage version of the book is reportedly in the works.”
The hardworking staff should disclose here that we’ve read Toole’s masterpiece at least three times over the past three decades, and each reading has made us 1) laugh out loud, and 2) find new connections to contemporary conditions.
Just like this observation Heitman made in his Journal piece:
In a self-assessment that resembles the Twitter profile of a modern-day slacker, Ignatius describes his routine: “I dust a bit. In addition, I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”
A Confederacy of Dunces is the ultimate cheese dip. Grab some nachos, yeah?