This week, in between discussing whether a banana could really fail a Covid test and whether conspiracy theorists truly believed the government could ever be clever enough to chip us all via a vaccine, I started reading The Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. I’ve only made it to page 25 but already I’m a fan. I was intrigued by the foreword and so to Google I did go. Here’s what Wikipedia told me:
Toole submitted Dunces to publisher Simon & Schuster, where it reached editor Robert Gottlieb. Gottlieb considered Toole talented but felt his comic novel was essentially pointless. Despite several revisions, Gottlieb remained unsatisfied, and after the book was rejected by another literary figure, Hodding Carter Jr., Toole shelved the novel. Suffering from depression and feelings of persecution, Toole left home on a journey around the country. He stopped in Biloxi, Mississippi, to end his life by running a garden hose in from the exhaust of his car to the cabin. Some years later, his mother brought the manuscript of Dunces to the attention of novelist Walker Percy, who ushered the book into print. In 1981, Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
How about that for a story? John was 31 when he died.
I was very taken with the fact that his novel was deemed “essentially pointless” – to me that immediately made it quite likely to be perfect. Isn’t everything to a certain extent pointless? Isn’t that a topic the artist has always wrestled with? And isn’t clever witty reminder of such fact something to be applauded not scorned or rejected? Doesn’t art reflect life? Shouldn’t it try? Why read any book if you’re always desirous of a ‘point’? John’s premature death certainly seems pointless. A posthumous Pulitzer Prize could be deemed pointless too. Taking the criticism of others too much to heart is definitely pointless. You can’t please all of the readers all of the time – it’s completely pointless trying.
Anyway, whatever the case, or personal opinion I felt the message was clear – don’t let the doubts of another destroy your belief. Don’t let rejection fester within and crush your confidence. Keep your head up and foster faith in your manuscript.
The Confederacy of Dunces is impressing me and the untimely death of its author saddens me. I’ll raise a glass before turning to page 26.