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"What's that, crazy?" : zur Funktion verrückter Charaktere bei John Kennedy Toole, Joseph Heller, Marilynne Robinson und Leslie Marmon Silko

by Helga Beste

  Thesis/dissertation : Thesis/dissertation

From JK Toole perspective, good study   (2013-01-23)

Very Good

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by vleighton

  This book is in German and is Ms. Beste’s dissertation from Heidelberg in 2001. Beste compares the use of madness in Confederacy, Catch-22, Housekeeping, and Ceremony.

  In chapter 2, she uses as a framework for madness the theory put forward in Hope Landrine’s The Politics of Madness (1992), which uses these four criteria: 1) persons considered mad must behave other than those around them expect, 2) they must be essentially not criminal, 3) they must nevertheless be seen as dangerous or a threat by those around them, and 4) they eventually need the attention of special personnel who can return them to "normality."

  Chapters 3, 4, and 5 explore the themes of separation and confinement from Foucault’s Madness and Civilization (1965) in different contexts. In chapter 3, Beste explores how each book uses separation and confinement in space, comparing in detail how Ignatius’s isolation can be seen as a parody of Boethius’s confinement in prison (57-59). Even the book's scenes are isolated, with the location and time always changing from one to the next.

  Chapter 4 examines separation and confinement in time, with Ignatius’s insistence on anachronism. Beste analyzes Toole’s representation of time closely, showing that a scene without a time reference is often placed between scenes with known time constraints, and that except for chapter 13, no scene seems to occur simultaneously with any other (99-101). She points out that no chapter lasts more than 24 hours, and she speculates on Toole’s intentional use of classical dramatic unities (103). The strict separation of physical locations from scene to scene corresponds to the strict separation in time of each scene and the strict adherence to a 24 hour unity in each chapter. Ignatius’s connection to the medieval era is both a flight from the present and something that confines him, that keeps him from participating in the present.

  Chapter 5 examines Foucault’s themes in terms of communication. Beste shows that Ignatius usually does not have genuine dialog with others. His mother doesn’t really listen to his story of the bus, and he doesn’t care. He shouts at the TV and the film screen. He is only comfortable in situations where he controls the speech. Both of the crusades fail because of his lack of ability to listen and dialog: the workers abandon him when they see that he is not listening to Gonzalez, and at the gay party, he is shouted down and humiliated. The only person whose communication he compliments is Myrna (the squirrel/rat).

  In conclusion, Beste sees the meaning of Confederacy as positive: "Ignatius scheint am Ende des Romans tatsächlich den Weg aus separation und confinement gefunden zu haben ... " (174). There is an appendix from pages 203-215 with a chart of scene and time presentations (Zeitgestaltung) for Confederacy which provides evidence for Beste’s conclusions about scene separation. One disappointment in this study is that Beste does not discuss in detail the history of madness in relation to Genius. Starting with Ficino in the Renaissance, continuing with Burton in English (to say nothing of Shakespeare), and kept alive by the Romantics, there is a long tradition of associating genius with melancholy and other mental illnesses. Aside from a few references (2, 5), Beste steers away from this topic, which Toole likely knew about and which he may have been intentionally referencing or parodying.

In general, a well-done analysis.

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