A Confederacy of Dunces

I finally got around to reading this book after it was recommended to me by my brother. I had read Neon Bible because it was shorter and I loved the way Toole wrote that novel and how he worked the end. Confederacy has a similar feeling and was everything I hoped it would be. Toole writes a comedic story about a sort of pitiful, foolish character called Ignatius. The story follows this corpulent, blundering man through different events and attempts to find employment and share his ‘infinite knowledge’ with what he perceives to be a desperate, decadent world that needs him to survive/progress. The main character’s name, Ignatius, also applies to my Torrey Honors cohort group. Interestingly enough as I read this text I was suprised and a little frightened by how much Ignatius Riley seems like a Torrey student. The Torrey Honors Institute is a great books program at Biola University that is, according to its mission statement, “designed to hone students’ critical thinking skills by exposing them to classical texts and using discussion as the primary mode of instruction.” I have been involved with this program since high school and have a strong affinity for their way of teaching. However, there is room for error here as everywhere. Sometimes Torrey students learn and learn and learn, and learn so much that they forget to do anything else, or they forget why they are learning, or they start to think they are better than everyone else which means they don’t have to associate with them. Toole’s Ignatius has his masters degree and is continually quoting Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy as he bemoans Fortuna’s cruel turning of her vicious wheel. He is smart, there is no doubt about that. However, he is also consistently mistreating and misunderstanding real people. Towards the end of the book the character’s mother says, “You learnt everything, Ignatius, except how to be a human being” (427). Although the intellectual capacity is there, Ignatius never makes the jump from head to heart. He has no love, except for himself, and he cannot connect with the real world. This is seen best in one of his conversations with the gay man who calls himself Dorian Greene. He says “I suspect that beneath your offensively and vulgarly effeminate facade there may be a soul of sorts. Have you read widely in Boethius?” The man has no idea what he is talking about and vaguely replies that he never reads newspapers. Ignatius is continually trying to “better his fellow man” when it is not obvious that they even need his help. a thirty-something man who still lives with his mother and thinks that he is the one with something to offer. Dear Torrey students please don’t forget why you are learning! connect your heads with your hearts and hands and live in the world. Do not let learning be all you do but as you learn, do. Let people teach you real life things and don’t be always behind a book. Remember reality and engage it.