What Can We Learn from Ignatius Reilly?

"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in confederacy against him."
— Jonathan Swift

In my spare time (loosely defined term), I have committed myself to go back and re-read some of the classic literature assigned to me during my formative years. As I have started this new year out with a moral constitution directed towards happy, positive thoughts - Heart of Darkness is still collecting dust on my bookshelf. Mr. Kurtz will simply have to lie in wait.

In search of a good laugh, my most recent selection turned out to be "A Confederacy of Dunces" by John Kennedy Toole. The back-story on this book is remarkable, but it will have to wait. This book introduces an incendiary character by the name of Ignatius J. Reilly - a mad, creative eccentric who possesses the least desirable qualities of Archie Bunker, Larry David and a dash of George Costanza - nicely wrapped in an oversized jacket, green hunting cap and overall disdain for all things relating to hygiene.

I recall reading this book in high school, and being mildly amused but unable to understand the enthusiasm of my teacher. As is the protagonist's claim throughout the book, I, like the other cretins around me, did not possess a vast enough world-view as a teenager to understand the satirical slant in which Ignatius viewed the modern worker, nor did I know what effect membership within the working world would eventually entail. Thank goodness.

As I read this book, my mind intermittently began to recall conversations I have had with candidates, clients and peers that left me scratching my head. The author brilliantly captures the misguided notions of a self-righteous, delusional waif by brilliantly penning this character's outrageous outward communication and internal dialogue.

A few quotes have stuck with me, not in the sense that my lease on life would be forever changed. The quotes are humorous asides that I hear in my mind's eye as I speak with individuals whose sense of reality defies logical explanation. I feel compelled to share a few of them here, along with the context in which they enter my brain throughout the day.

Question: In your current role, what are your top 3 responsibilities?
Answer: "I dust a bit...in addition, I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip."

Question: How would you describe your ability to stay motivated in an ever-changing environment?
Answer: "… I avoid that bleak first hour of the working day during which my still sluggish senses and body make every chore a penance. I find that in arriving later, the work which I do perform is of a much higher quality."

Question: Are you currently interviewing with any other companies, or do you expect to receive an offer for another position prior to engaging in our process?
Answer: "Apparently I lack some particular perversion which today's employer is seeking. "

Question: You seem to have held a high number of jobs in the past few years. Is there a reason why you have moved around so much?
Answer: "Apparently I am pushing a jinx about the streets. I am certain that I can do better with some other wagon. A new cart, a new start. "

Question: If we asked your former supervisor to give us a reference, how would he describe your performance and professionalism?
Answer: "Employers sense in me a denial of their values...They fear me. I suspect that they can see that I am forced to function in a century I loathe. This was true even when I worked for the New Orleans Public Library.'"

This book provided the opportunity to glimpse in to the minds which are difficult to describe. I'll say that I have not spoken with a "full Ignatius" yet, and the opportunity to do so represents something of a conversational holy-grail.

Until then, the pleasure of reading this book will have to do. Getting to know Ignatius is something of a gift - if only because he helps you to better understand those around us who are easily misunderstood.

Source: A Confederacy of Dunces. John Kennedy Toole, 1980

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