A Confederacy of Dunces

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Another book plucked from the New York Times shortlist of fiction whence they asked their readers to pick "the best book of the past 125 years". Nine to go!

And, compared to those other 24 books on the shortlist, it's pretty funny. Funnier than Beloved, anyway.

The protagonist is Ignatius J. Reilly, and he's not really a dunce. He is (to use our preferred non-judgmental language) several sigma off the mean on a number of personality traits: he's delusional, an inveterate liar, antisocial, and very rude. He also dresses oddly. He records his oddball thoughts on numerous Big Chief writing tablets. He lives with his momma in New Orleans; she's at her wit's end, demanding that he get gainfully employed. He makes a couple efforts at that, but things don't go well, thanks to his insistence on using the jobs as springboards to hatch various crackpot schemes.

Ignatius's odyssey involves numerous colorful characters and situations, described in amusing detail. Many of those characters spin off their own subplots. Are they actually all dunces, as the title claims? It seems cruel to say so, but yeah, probably. Ignatius is probably the smartest of the bunch, at least he has the biggest vocabulary.

I couldn't help but notice one of Ignatius's plots: to "Save the World Through Degeneracy". Specifically, as he describes it:

Our first step will be to elect one of their ["degenerate"] number to some very high office — the presidency, if Fortuna spins us kindly. Then they will infiltrate the military. As soldiers, they will all be so continually busy in fraternizing with one another, tailoring their uniforms to fit like sausage skins, inventing new and varied battle dress, giving cocktail parties, etc., that they will never have time for battle. The one whom we finally make Chief of Staff will want only to attend to his fashionable wardrobe, a wardrobe which, alternately, will permit him to be either Chief of Staff or debutante, as the desire strikes him. In seeing the success of their unified fellows here, perverts around the world will also band together to capture the military in their respective countries. In those reactionary countries in which the deviates seem to be having some trouble in gaining control, we will send aid to them as rebels to help them in toppling their governments. When we have at last overthrown all existing governments, the world will enjoy not war but global orgies conducted with the utmost protocol and the most truly international spirit, for these people do transcend simple national differences. Their minds are on one goal; they are truly united; they think as one.
Hm. Are we so sure that plot isn't being carried out right now?

The book's history is tragic: published posthumously a few years after the author's suicide. Especially interesting is the Wikipedia section describing efforts to bring it to the screen. Who should star as Ignatius?

John Belushi! Uh, no.

John Candy! Darn.

Chris Farley! Oops.

Divine! A bold suggestion, but… also no.

I don't believe in curses, but…

Last Modified 2024-01-17 3:38 PM EDT