The Profound, Mysterious, Post-Modern, Transcendental, Masterpiece English 102 Syllabuses of David Foster Wallace

Slate has a piece on the syllabuses (syllabi? who cares) of David Foster Wallace, and the article borders on self-parody. The following paragraph made me laugh and cringe:

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.

This is a bit like deciphering James Joyce’s grocery list for clues into Ulysses. Perhaps if Foster hadn’t killed himself there would be more of his real writing to pour over. I don’t mean that as a knock on the man who was obviously suffering, just that it’s probably sad for his fans to have so little of his published work to enjoy. This is why you see so much attention paid to his graduation speeches, syllabuses, and, coming soon, his emails. (Actually, that might be cool.)

 On the other hand, I really did appreciate this passage from a Wallace syllabus:

If you are used to whipping off papers the night before they’re due, running them quickly through the computer’s Spellchecker, handing them in full of high-school errors and sentences that make no sense and having the professor accept them ‘because the ideas are good’ or something, please be informed that I draw no distinction between the quality of one’s ideas and the quality of those ideas’ verbal expression, and I will not accept sloppy, rough-draftish, or semiliterate college writing. Again, I am absolutely not kidding.

 I might have to borrow that.

 UPDATE: an actual Wallace syllabus can be found here.



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