Episode 37 Sacred and Profane Love: Boethius and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces

O, Fortuna! The long awaited episode on A Confederacy of Dunces has at last arrived in your podcast feed.

In this episode, I speak with podcast regular (see episode 14 on Walker Percy), Professor Jessica Hooten Wilson, about Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy and John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. We discuss one of the greatest literary figures of all time, Ignatius J. Reilly, “slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas all rolled into one” and his “great gaseous rages and lunatic adventures.” We discuss why a recent New Yorker hit piece on Ignatius is just plain embarrassing for its author, insofar as it displays an all too familiar inability to read books. But it is not difficult to be more intellectually sophisticated than the New Yorker these days, and we invite you to read this Pulitzer Prize novel as the work of comic art it truly is. I hope you enjoy laughter, because there is quite a bit in this episode!

As always, I hope you enjoy our conversation!

Jessica Hooten Wilson is the Louise Cowan Scholar in Residence at the University of Dallas. She is the author of Giving the Devil his Due: Flannery O’Connor and The Brothers Karamazov, which received a 2018 Christianity Today Book of the Year Award in the Culture & the Arts; as well as two books on Walker Percy: The Search for Influence: Walker Percy and Fyodor Dostoevsky (Ohio State University Press, 2017) and Reading Walker Percy’s Novels (Louisiana State University Press, 2018); most recently she co-edited Solzhenitsyn and American Culture: The Russian Soul in the West (University of Notre Dame Press, 2020). She has received numerous fellowships, grants, and awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship to the Czech Republic, an NEH grant to study Dante in Florence in 2014, and the Biola Center for Christian Thought sabbatical fellowship.  In 2018 she received the Emerging Public Intellectual Award given by a coalition of North American think tanks in collaboration with the Centre for Christian Scholarship at Redeemer University College, and in 2019 she received the Hiett Prize in Humanities from The Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture.

Jennifer Frey is an associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and fellow of the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America. Prior to joining the philosophy faculty at USC, she was a Collegiate Assistant Professor of Humanities at the University of Chicago, where she was a member of the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts and an affiliated faculty in the philosophy department.  She earned her Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, and her B.A. in Philosophy and Medieval Studies (with a Classics minor) at Indiana University, in Bloomington, Indiana. She has published widely on action, virtue, practical reason, and meta-ethics, and has recently co-edited an interdisciplinary volume, Self-Transcendence and Virtue: Perspectives from Philosophy, Theology, and PsychologyHer writing has also been featured in Breaking Ground, First ThingsFare ForwardImageLaw and LibertyThe Point, and USA Today. She lives in Columbia, SC, with her husband, six children, and six chickens. You can follow her on Twitter @jennfrey

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Sacred and Profane Love is a podcast in which philosophers, theologians, and literary critics discuss some of their favorite works of literature, and how these works have shaped their own ideas about love, happiness, and meaning in human life. Host Jennifer A. Frey is associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina. The podcast is generously supported by The Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America and produced by Catholics for Hire.

This episode of Sacred and Profane Love is sponsored by The Classical Learning Test, which provides an to alternative standardized tests rooted in tradition. Featuring passages selected from great works across a variety of disciplines, the CLT suite of assessments provide a highly accurate and rigorous measure of reasoning, aptitude, and academic formation for students from diverse educational backgrounds. The exams are taken online in just two to three hours, and all three assessments (traditional CLT, CLT10, CLT8) give test results within 24 hours. (Please note that scores for the new remote-proctored CLT are available 1-2 weeks after testing.) The CLT also provides colleges and secondary schools with detailed information about student learning trends, to facilitate decisions about admissions, curricula, and instruction. The CLT unites a dedicated group of educators, businesspeople, and scholars, all in service to a shared passion: to reconnect intellectual pursuit with the pursuit of virtue.

Music credits, “Help me Somebody,” by Brian Eno and David Byrne, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.5

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