The Extraordinary Syllabus Of David Foster Wallace

The best people you will ever knowFor fans of Foster-Wallace, the archive of his work at the University of Texas is an absolute treat. Katie Roiphe looks at his teaching syllabus when he was faculty member at Pomona College in the years before his death, for Slate:

Lately David Foster Wallace seems to be in the air: Is his style still influencing bloggers? Is Jeffrey Eugenides’ bandana-wearing depressed character in The Marriage Plot based on him? My own reasons for thinking about him are less high-flown. Like lots of other professors, I am just now sitting down to write the syllabus for a class next semester, and the extraordinary syllabuses of David Foster Wallace are in my head.

I am not generally into the reverential hush that seems to surround any mention of David Foster Wallace’s name by most writers of my generation or remotely proximate to it; I am not enchanted by some fundamental childlike innocence people seem to find in him. I am suspicious generally of those sorts of hushes and enchantments, and yet I do feel in the presence of his careful crazy syllabuses something like reverence.

Wallace doesn’t accept the silent social contract between students and professors: He takes apart and analyzes and makes explicit, in a way that is almost painful, all of the tiny conventional unspoken agreements usually made between professors and their students. “Even in a seminar class,” his syllabus states, “it seems a little silly to require participation. Some students who are cripplingly shy, or who can’t always formulate their best thoughts and questions in the rapid back-and-forth of a group discussion, are nevertheless good and serious students. On the other hand, as Prof — points out supra, our class can’t really function if there isn’t student participation—it will become just me giving a half-assed ad-lib lecture for 90 minutes, which (trust me) will be horrible in all kinds of ways.”

One of the reasons I find his syllabuses so fascinating is that they are not polished pieces of writing. They are relatively devoid of his stylistic rococo, and while obviously not devoid of his astonishing level of self-consciousness, do provide some slight glimpse into the person, without the baffling ingenious mediation of his art…

[continues at Slate]

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Stevenson/524495486 Matt Stevenson

    “syllabi,” isn’t it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Matt-Stevenson/524495486 Matt Stevenson

    “syllabi,” isn’t it?

    • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

      This is English, not Latin. Don’t be a smart ass.

  • Iconoclast

    “Read a bunch of fiction novels and then write a bunch of papers. Attendance is mandatory.” Seems fairly standard to me.

  • Iconoclast

    “Read a bunch of fiction novels and then write a bunch of papers. Attendance is mandatory.” Seems fairly standard to me.

  • Daerice

    As a teacher I recently learned that the syllabus is literally a legal contract, and when the students stay after the drop date it is an act of consent. For that reason I make my syllabi very very very clear and explicate the rules as much as possible. David Foster’s syllabi are inspiring and I will surely steal ideas from them!

  • Daerice

    As a teacher I recently learned that the syllabus is literally a legal contract, and when the students stay after the drop date it is an act of consent. For that reason I make my syllabi very very very clear and explicate the rules as much as possible. David Foster’s syllabi are inspiring and I will surely steal ideas from them!

  • StillAtMyMoms

    “One of the reasons I find his syllabuses so fascinating is that they are
    not polished pieces of writing. They are relatively devoid of his
    stylistic rococo, and while obviously not devoid of his astonishing
    level of self-consciousness, do provide some slight glimpse into the
    person, without the baffling ingenious mediation of his art…”

    Jesus, it’s just a freakin’ syllabus.  The author of this Slate article is figuratively giving him fellatio.  How’s that for a literary device?

    • E.B. Wolf

      Better than anything Wallace ever wrote.

    • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

      If you’re a professor, a psychologist, or a worshiper of David Foster Wallace, I’m sure its an interesting article.

      I actually like David Foster Wallace, mainly because I had a lot of the same thoughts as him before I had even heard of him (and because my writing style was similar, back in the day). And while I’m weird enough to find this sort of stuff interesting (hell, I read a news site called “disinformation”), I’m not entirely sure that its audience is particularly broad.

  • Anonymous

    “One of the reasons I find his syllabuses so fascinating is that they are
    not polished pieces of writing. They are relatively devoid of his
    stylistic rococo, and while obviously not devoid of his astonishing
    level of self-consciousness, do provide some slight glimpse into the
    person, without the baffling ingenious mediation of his art…”

    Jesus, it’s just a freakin’ syllabus.  The author of this Slate article is figuratively giving him fellatio.  How’s that for a literary device?

  • E.B. Wolf

    Better than anything Wallace ever wrote.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

    This is English, not Latin. Don’t be a smart ass.

  • http://www.facebook.com/elpolloloco52 Josh Adkisson

    If you’re a professor, a psychologist, or a worshiper of David Foster Wallace, I’m sure its an interesting article.

    I actually like David Foster Wallace, mainly because I had a lot of the same thoughts as him before I had even heard of him (and because my writing style was similar, back in the day). And while I’m weird enough to find this sort of stuff interesting (hell, I read a news site called “disinformation”), I’m not entirely sure that its audience is particularly broad.

  • Haystack

    “it seems a little silly to require participation. Some students who are cripplingly shy, or who can’t always formulate their best thoughts and questions in the rapid back-and-forth of a group discussion, are nevertheless good and serious students. On the other hand, as Prof — points out supra, our class can’t really function if there isn’t student participation—it will become just me giving a half-assed ad-lib lecture for 90 minutes, which (trust me) will be horrible in all kinds of ways.”
    Translation: “I’m a cool prof, but not so cool as to actually inspire you to voluntarily engage with my class.”

  • Haystack

    “it seems a little silly to require participation. Some students who are cripplingly shy, or who can’t always formulate their best thoughts and questions in the rapid back-and-forth of a group discussion, are nevertheless good and serious students. On the other hand, as Prof — points out supra, our class can’t really function if there isn’t student participation—it will become just me giving a half-assed ad-lib lecture for 90 minutes, which (trust me) will be horrible in all kinds of ways.”
    Translation: “I’m a cool prof, but not so cool as to actually inspire you to voluntarily engage with my class.”

  • Jessmplante

    Syllabi. Not syllabuses. 

  • Jessmplante

    Syllabi. Not syllabuses. 

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