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  • Writer's pictureErin Chandler

What Today Brings

“Life is available only in the present moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh

I am sure the visionary, world renowned peace activist and Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh has never heard of Ignatius Reilly. I would be seriously surprised if John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces will ever reach his radar. It’s hard to imagine these two men occupied the same planet, a virtuoso of loving all things and a lumbering, flatulent, arrogantly opinionated, late bloomer who never moved out of the back room of his mother’s house. The elegant monk could not be more different with his creaseless beautiful face and long robes than Ignatius Reilly in his tweed trousers and green hunting cap that squeezed the top of his “fleshy balloon of a head.” Yet they both teach us who we are.

Ignatius may be a fictional character but he is actually an accurate autobiographical version of the author, John Kennedy Toole. His brilliant novel is reminiscent of Tennessee Williams but without the romantic language and obsessive love for the tragic human condition. Toole is Tennessee with the wit of a true outsider and snob of the highest order, spending his life doing as little as possible save the odd job like running a hot dog cart on Bourbon Street in New Orleans in its hey-day. Confederacy of Dunces takes place when that most original of sea-ports boasted the maximum amount of outlandish characters in the country. Ignatius also had a favorite daily job, blaming his mother for every problem he had, big and small and like Blanche Dubois or Amanda Wingfield, she runs herself ragged to do everything she can to get him out of his adult shell, all the while conducting her own hysterical, un-orthodox life.

“There is a New Orleans city accent…associated with downtown New Orleans,” It says as the novel begins “particularly with the German and Irish Third Ward, that is hard to distinguish from the accent of Hoboken, Jersey City, and Astoria, Long Island where the Al Smith inflection extinct in Manhattan, has taken refuge. The reason, as you might expect, is that the same stocks that brought it to Manhattan imposed it on New Orleans.” Says the Earl of Louisiana, A. J. Liebling, “New Orleans resembles Genoa or Marseilles, or Beirut or the Egyptian Alexandria more than it does New York, although all seaports resemble one another more than they can resemble any place in the interior. Like Havana and Port-au-Prince, New Orleans is within the orbit of a Hellenistic world that never touched the North Atlantic. The Mediterranean, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico form of homogenous, though interrupted Sea.”

This is where it begins, with a brief history and characterization of the streets we are about to enter as we head deep into Ignatius’s mind. What is so fascinating about this novel is that it is insight into a particular breed of person, just as someone in a Tibetan monastery can teach us, so can a hermit, existing in a melting pot with a keen eye for his surroundings which happened to be some of most eccentric in the life of this country.

During this time, as diversity has run rampant, picking up a book like A Confederacy of Dunces will not only give you a thousand laughs but an understanding for the comedy of errors that plague each and every one of us. “Life is only available in the present moment,” Thich Nhat Hahn told us. Whether your present moment is in Nigeria, kidnapped, taken from your home by Boko Horam murderers, or an art dealer in Paris, eating at the finest restaurants and staying at the finest hotels, each one of us has a story to tell, an experience to share. There just happen to be a few genius’s out there who can put it entertainingly down on paper.

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