The Entitled generation or a Confederacy of Dunes

“When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign, that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.”  Jonathan Swift

The novel, A Confederacy of Dunes by John Kennedy Toole, was published in 1980.  He wrote it in the early ‘60s.  By the time it was published though, the author had been dead for eleven years.  He killed himself because he couldn’t get his novel published.  His mom kept at it though, pushing the publishers.  Of course, when it finally was released, it was a success. It still is.  A classic some call it.  It won awards.  I read it first in the ‘80s.  It was amusing as I remembered, but does it translate to the modern era of the 21st century?  It was a 1960s piece of writing.  Things were slower back then.  A novel could take more time introducing the characters and situation, establishing a proper mood for the story.  Now, the reader wants immediate gratification.  A modern novel needs to tell the reader where it’s heading within the first paragraph, if not the first sentence.  At the first word would be better.  So, I read this product of the ‘60s again just recently.  I was surprised, not by the humor but by the novel’s prophetic nature.  It foretold the present entitled generation.  Ignatius J. Reilly was the role model for our modern ‘woke snowflakes.’  In the America where the students are only number one in the world in thinking, feeling they are number one.  Ignatius J. Reilly was number one, he would tell you without you asking.  Now, the prophecy of the novel made me laugh more than him sucking the cream filling out of doughnuts, but doesn’t eat the doughnut, he just puts it back in the box. 

The center of attention for the novel is the obese, flatulent, frustrated scholar and general know-it-all, Ignatius J. Reilly.  A do-nothing know-it-all in a hunter’s cap.  Most know-it-alls are do-nothings, with or without headgear.  Ignatius J. Reilly is a poster child for the entitled generation.  Think I am exaggerating?  Ignatius J. Reilly favorite hat had earflaps.  Wool hats are popular now with the youth, even during the summer.  In Southern California, except in the mountains, wearing a wool hat makes no sense at all.  Just like the Monkees’ character, Michael Nesmith, running around Los Angeles in a wool hat, a.k.a. beanie, he just looked overheated.  The wool hat, beanie, are just a hot and smelly uncomfortable fashion statement.  I guess most fashion statements are uncomfortable in some manner. 

“I mingle with my peers or no one, and since I have no peers, I mingle with no one.”  Ignatius J. Reilly said in all his honesty.  For him, it is the truth.  He is so odd; few people want to be around him.  He doesn’t bath very often either.  He hates being alone, but hates being with stupid people more.  He does know his subject matter.  He is a complete nerd that way.  Of course, no one is smarter than him.  He says so all the time.  He is alone most of the time to prove it.  He sits in his bedroom and writes out his life’s manifesto.  This was pre-Internet, but he is writing a blog, all his yellow legal pads are a blog.  And like most blogs, no one ever reads it.  Ignatius J. Reilly was there first. 

“When my brain reels from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”  Writing on his yellow legal pads, his blogging, are those labors.  He works so hard, so he must eat.  And he eats and eats.  Eating has always been America’s true past time.  Ignatius J. Reilly is thus a true modern American.  He could say, “I eat, therefore I am.”  Since readers love to read about themselves, it is clear why Confederacy of Dunces is so popular now, Ignatius J. Reilly is the modern generation. 

You might object to this conclusion.  You might say that Ignatius J. Reilly is the underdog, and everyone roots for the underdog.  The underdog that is truly right.  That is the point of the title and the point of the Swift quote.  To paraphrase, don’t hate me because I am a genius.  Jonathan Swift might have been a genius, but Ignatius J. Reilly is not.  Ignatius J. Reilly is just mostly annoying. 

To further connect the modern entitled generation to Ignatius J. Reilly just turn to the pirate influence in modern fashion.  In the latter half of the novel, Ignatius J. Reilly is dressed as a pirate.  The only job he could get was as a hot dog vendor.  For some reason he does it in a make-shift pirate costume.  The entitled generation has taken on many pirate features, tattoos, earrings for men and bald heads for everyone.  All most young guys need now is an eye patch and a parrot and they are a Hollywood pirate.  Captain Jack Sparrow is a role model.  At least, Captain Jack can get things done.  Captain Jack might have been a criminal, but he was an effective one. 

I do agree with Ignatius J. Reilly though in one comment.  He states, “The United States needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency.  I suspect that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss.”  It is a self-centered and egotistic comment, because he, of course, can provide that theology.  Strangely enough, he might have.  Well, at least, a lifestyle, he was a role model.  Nerds are popular now as is Ignatius J. Reilly.  There is a statue of him in New Orleans.  The New Orleans’ police department always take the statue of Ignatius J. Reilly inside during Madre Gras, they fear someone will steal it.  We now live in an America of geniuses.  Stable geniuses.  Just ask any college student at a football game.  “We are number one!”  They will shout back.  American exceptionalism, they call it.  “We are number one!  We are number one!”  Ignatius J. Reilly would join in but change it slightly to, “I am number one!”

Ignatius J. Reilly’s life was in New Orleans, his life fell apart in New Orleans, the party capital of America.  America is publicly collapsing into its own flab, both physical and intellectual. 

There are several parties Ignatius J. Reilly go to in the novel, he always causes a scene.  He shouts out at one, “We might be able to save the world!  Good heavens!  Why haven’t I thought of this before?”  Ignatius J. Reilly’s solution was to read comic books, oh, sorry, graphic novels.  “I recommend Batman especially, for he tends to transcend the abysmal society . . . His morality is rather rigid, also I rather respect Batman.”  Ignatius J. Reilly turns to old movies and comic books for his escape and inspiration.  Need I remind you that all the big block buster movies for the past decade are based on comic books, oh, sorry, graphic novels. 

The novel was unfortunately so uncanny in predicting modern society.  Ignatius J. Reilly foreshadowed the first decades of 21st century America.  Ignatius J. Reilly real problem was he came into the world 50 years too early.  If he lived today, he would go viral.  He was on the front page of the New Orleans newspapers even on the 1960s, so I am certain he would be an Internet celebrity.

Ignatius J. Reilly’s only true friend Myrna described him as, “working away in this room, sealed off from society.  This strange medieval mind in its cloister.”  She meant this description to have a negative connotation.  Today though, most of the entitled generation would take it as a complement.  This fact is my very point, Ignatius J. Reilly is a fine example of the modern American exceptionalism, a fat, annoying clown.  Maybe I am being too harsh?  But I think not.  “We are number one!  We are #1!”  But who is counting?  Really?  Who is counting?

Just to be perfectly clear!

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