The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for flatulence

Literary prescriptions for modern ailments.
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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Flatulence

Cure: A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole

If you have a tendency to suffer from excessive wind leading to belching or flatulence, you will know only too well the physical and social agonies the condition brings. Keeping it in is disastrous; while letting it out is possibly even more so. We suggest you make the acquaintance of Ignatius J Reilly, the hero of John Kennedy Toole's posthumously published novel. Not only will you enjoy the sense of solidarity with a fellow sufferer, but you'll pick up some practical advice along the way.

Ignatius – a highly educated but seriously slobbish 30-year-old – is beset by such calamitous gastro-intestinal problems that he is driven to bouncing, supine, on his bed to try to release his "pyloric valve", and thus the pockets of air that tear through his stomach in "great gaseous rages". When his mother, with whom he still lives (and who is something of a belcher herself) complains about the terrible stink in his room, Ignatius retorts that he finds the smell of his own emissions "comforting". "Schiller needed the scent of apples rotting in his desk in order to write," he points out. "I, too, have my needs."

He puts his flatulence down to external causes, including his mother's erratic driving, and the absence of a "proper geometry and theology" in the modern world. His girlfriend, Myrna, is of the opinion that lying around in his room all day feeling like a failure is the problem. "The valve closes because it thinks it is living in a dead organism," she tells him. It's hard for the reader not to make a connection between Ignatius's wind and his less-than-wholesome diet: fizzy drinks, hot dogs and, at one point, a dozen chocolate brownies all at once. One of these causes may chime guilty bells with you, too. And if not, the outbursts of laughter provoked by this novel will probably have a relaxing effect on your own valves/muscles, offering you some relief. Just make sure you read it alone µ

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