John Kennedy Toole @50

James McWilliams at Public Books:

The New York publishers were wrong. A Confederacy of Dunces did, in fact, make a point, a fundamental one. Percy grasped it immediately: the book was a screed against American materialism and optimism, a defense of the oddball outcasts who live on the fringes and resist the push of progress, and a celebration of those who try to drop out with dignity.

The novel delivered one of American literature’s finest condemnations of a national obsession so pervasive that, with the exception of the South, the United States experienced it the way a fish experiences water: A Confederacy of Dunces challenged the whole idea of work. Toole’s critique begins and ends with the novel’s protagonist, the unprecedented antihero Ignatius J. Reilly. Ignatius, 30, is a flatulent and grandiose medievalist who lives with his mother, reads Boethius, and, between chronic bouts of masturbation and moviegoing, scribbles “a lengthy indictment against our century.”

more here.