[Work: A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1980]
Peopling Picaresque:

On the Well-drawn Characters of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

 

Introduction:

A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole sketch by M.R.P. - characters, picaresque

Sketch by M.R.P.

The publishing history of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is a morose one to recount. In 1969, at the age of 31—after struggling for years with anxiety, paranoia, and depression, which were in turn catalyzed by the successive rejections of his works for publication by notable figures in the publishing business—Toole ran a garden hose from the exhaust of his car into an unventilated cabin, killing himself. Eleven years after his death, in 1980, Toole’s novel was published after his mother shared it with writer and enthusiastic reader Walker Percy. In time, it became an international success, and A Confederacy of Dunces posthumously won John Kennedy Toole the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.

I mention all of this not merely to set the scene and sow sadness, but to establish the proper context for today’s topic: the development and embodiment of unique characters in Toole’s novel. A Confederacy of Dunces is a work of picaresque fiction, meaning that it follows the wayward exploits of a singular or iconoclastic protagonist as they attempt to navigate a variety of societal strata and scenarios. Toole was himself a singular person: a gifted scholar, a witty presence, and a troubled mind; and as a result, his protagonist is perfectly drawn for his project, while all of the other characters that Toole created are equally vibrant.

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[Work: A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole, 1980]
Peopling Picaresque:

On the Well-drawn Characters of John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

was last modified: September 1st, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather, 1927]
Personal Ethics and the Old West:

The Unique Form and Common Values of Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop

 

Willa Cather - Death Comes for the Archbishop - ethics, Old West, CatholicIntroduction:

One of the first books covered in this series was one of my favorites: The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells. And, as I said in relation to Wells’ Moreau in that earlier article, it is the case that even if today’s book, Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa CatherDeath Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather - ethics, Old West, Catholic, were not well-written enough to be worthwhile throughout (which, also like Wells’ novel, it fortunately is), it would still be worth reading so as to provide context for its extremely insightful and satisfying ending. But that said, I would like to set the ending aside and encourage you to check out this curious piece of semi-biographical historical fiction.

Death Comes for the Archbishop so stretches the boundaries of conventional plot development that its status as a novel is widely debated. Willa Cather herself preferred to refer to it as a narrative rather than a novel. Rather than a series of events which build to a climax, the text is comprised of nine small vignette-esque sections (and a prologue) which present periods of time and experiences that are thematically interrelated.

All nine sections cover portions of the life of Bishop Jean Marie Latour, the novel’s protagonist. Bishop Latour is a reserved, efficient, handsome Catholic official. In accordance with the will of the Cardinals, Latour is removed from his post in Sandusky, Ohio and sent to take charge of the parish of the New Mexico territories, (then) recently annexed by the United States, and build up a diocese there.

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[Work: Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather, 1927]
Personal Ethics and the Old West:

The Unique Form and Common Values of Willa Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop

was last modified: July 23rd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Men and Women, Robert Browning, 1855]
A Soliloquy of Browning’s:

Art, Time, and Commodity in Robert Browning’s “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Robert Browning by Thomas B. Read - A Toccata of Galuppi's - art, time, death, commodity

Portrait of Robert Browning by Thomas Buchanan Read

Before returning to a consideration of a novel next week, I would like to once more (as I did in the last article’s analysis of two-centuries-old anti-slavery poetry) carefully examine a classic poem. In this case, it will be the poem “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” from (originally) the 1855 collection Men and Women by Robert Browning, who is known for pieces of poetry with a distinct narrative voice (such that his poems can be read as dramatic monologues). “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” is about art and death and beautiful music, and the analysis below is considerably lengthy, but I hope you will grant me the time.

An attention to artifice suffuses the act of invention whereby Robert Browning’s poems proceed from deeply characterized speakers. This attention to artifice necessarily involves a consideration of the relation between that which is artificial and that which is actual—a relation that can be understood as the more general form of which the relation between art and life is a particular form.

In his poem, “A Toccata of Galuppi’s,” the relationship between art and life becomes a subject of direct address for both the speaker of the poem and the performance represented by the poem itself. The poem expresses a view of art as a permanent representation of impermanent life. For those who consume the art, it becomes a reminder of the ephemerality of pleasure and life even as it discourses on a particular subject or aspect of life, and even as it operates in a tone far afield from melancholy.

Further, the act of consuming art, Browning’s speaker contends, is an economic act wherein time is traded for participation, contributing to life’s aforementioned brevity. Browning’s poem seamlessly blends a dramatic consideration of art as an inadequate-because-eternal approximation of human life with an evaluation of the grim commodification of art as a temporal purchase. Through this combination, “A Toccata of Galuppi’s” reflects on the inadequacy of art to quell anxieties about mortality.

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[Work: Men and Women, Robert Browning, 1855]
A Soliloquy of Browning’s:

Art, Time, and Commodity in Robert Browning’s “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”

was last modified: June 15th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Poems Concerning the Slave-Trade, Robert Southey, 1797]
Sonneteer, Pamphleteer:

Analyzing Robert Southey’s use of the Sonnet Form to Combat Slavery

 

analysis of sonnet - anti-slavery poems - Robert SoutheyIntroduction:

In the line above each article, you will notice the word ‘work’ before whatever text is being considered for the week. The reason that this is labeled ‘work,’ rather than ‘book’ or ‘novel,’ is that I knew I would eventually want to cover poetry in this series as well. For the series’ first foray into verse (epic poems and early modern plays notwithstanding), I will be taking a close look at Robert Southey’s use of sonnets as a means of opposing slavery in Britain.

By definition, the notion of abolition is antithetical to constriction and conservatism. For this reason, it appears odd that abolitionist poet Robert Southey chose the sonnet, a poetic form both restrictive and traditional, to tell the story which populates roughly half of his 1797 Poems Concerning the Slave-Trade. Yet, this appearance of oddness fades with close attention to Southey’s production, a scathing indictment of both the violent ills of slavery and the apathetic British populace’s tacit support of the system.

What seems initially to be a space for old values becomes a space for reform, as Robert Southey utilizes the abiding self-consciousness of the sonnet form to extol subversion and to underscore the moral perversity of the depicted circumstances. Southey constructs a sequence of sonnets at once in command of the tools presented by the formal structure of prevailing sonnet modes and in rebellion against the expectations held by a reading public toward whom the sonnets’ speaker is outraged.

In these sonnets, Robert Southey achieves a biting synergy of working within the tradition of sonneteering (to subvert accepted virtues) and working outside of that tradition (to establish the necessity of social reform).

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[Work: Poems Concerning the Slave-Trade, Robert Southey, 1797]
Sonneteer, Pamphleteer:

Analyzing Robert Southey’s use of the Sonnet Form to Combat Slavery

was last modified: May 3rd, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Art of Risk, Kayt Sukel, 2016]
Risk Defended:

On the Focused Insights and Leisurely Presentation of Kayt Sukel’s The Art of Risk

 

Introduction:

Joueurs de Cartes by Theodoor Rombouts - The Art of Risk - Kayt Sukel - method, style, review

Joueurs de Cartes by Theodoor Rombouts

The hours of work I spend on relatively tedious tasks, such as the manual optimization of image dimensions on this site, are often lightened by listening to free online courses on various topics. This past week, I have been retreading the basics of personal finance in this course by Andrew Hingston. How poetic, then, that I should have stumbled across and begun listening to a course which often speaks of risk management and risk minimization, when I was already in the midst of reading a defense of our risky behaviors: The Art of Risk: The New Science of Courage, Caution, and Chance by psychologist Kayt SukelThe Art of Risk - Kayt Sukel - method, style, review.

Both individuals are students, to some degree, of behavioral economics—as formulated by, among others, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman. But their application and incorporation of such insights into their own worldviews are divergent. Whereas in his course Hingston shifts his perspective toward financial priorities so that one can analytically control one’s emotional experiences, Sukel accepts research on risk-taking as an opportunity to offer a naturalistic—even rational—account of risky decision-making. So now, setting other scholars aside, I would like to evaluate Sukel’s book, first for its method and then for its style.

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[Work: The Art of Risk, Kayt Sukel, 2016]
Risk Defended:

On the Focused Insights and Leisurely Presentation of Kayt Sukel’s The Art of Risk

was last modified: April 25th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski