For 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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