Fiction Daily.
A blog on writing, writers and why we read. Posted most mornings by Marion Blackburn.
Comic masterpiece
A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green ear flaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating tow directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sand into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs.

So we meet Ignatius J. Reilly, anti-hero of the comic masterpiece "A Confederacy of Dunces." If you haven't read it, you're in for a treat. It is possible to be valiant and ridiculous, as readers of Don Quixote know. If you haven't read that one, it's also remarkable -- modern, hilarious, though hundreds of years old.

"A Confederacy of Dunces" would have been lost but for the unflagging work of the author's mother to see it published after her son took his life in 1969. Written in the early 1960s, the story goes, the manuscript failed to win over a single publisher and so its author, John Kennedy Toole, took a road trip, leaving his New Orleans home for Georgia, where he visited the home of Flannery O'Connor.

At some point, overcome by his private grief, he took his own life.

The story has special poignancy, because for a writer, communicating with a reader is at the heart of what we do. Sometimes I believe that for us, being read somehow equals being loved.

No one can understand what drives another person to go against the powerful instinct to survive above all else, and end it all instead.

For me, the message here applies to writers and artists of all colors and stripes ... and indeed, to the world at large, where someone, somewhere, is also walking to the beat of a different drummer. It is my responsibility to understand and love that person.

Besides, they may be working on another "Confederacy of Dunces."

SPECIAL NOTE: A Washington Post article on contains a fascinating look at the strong nationalism in young Chinese, a startling contrast to those freedom movements in eastern Europe and in 1989 in China's Tienanmen Square, fueled largely by young people. This anger and nationalism is stunning in light of what we, in the West, think we know about China today.
2008-04-17 10:44:57 GMT
Comments (1 total)
"Being read equals being loved" ... profoundly true! Maybe that helps explain why we are so sensitive to criticism; it's as if someone, in suggesting a better way to set a scene or develop a character, is telling us that we love incorrectly -- or that he/she does not understand our way of loving. Interesting observations, as always.

Cervantes, Dostoyevsky, Stein, Kerouac, Toole ... keep pushing us to pursue and understand such worthy authors. Even dead writers need love!
2008-04-17 11:42:02 GMT
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