Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

New Fall Syllabus #2: INFINITE JEST!

with 5 comments

And here’s the Infinite Jest syllabus. This one turned out to be a surprisingly difficult puzzle to put together, just because I felt strongly that the book absolutely had to be finished by the class period before the class period before Thanksgiving (and later determined that we really needed a whole week to talk about the book just as a whole) — while I also felt (after the experience of the Tolkien class was so great) that it would be really good to have a slow start where we talked a bit about Wallace as a thinker and read some of his other work. This seemed especially urgent to me because of the fact of the suicide, which really does seem to risk retrospectively poisoning some aspects of the book and Wallace’s larger career (I’ve included the MLA panel we’re doing explicitly in the course as a last-day exercise, though I realized yesterday while prepping the course that I seem to have completely cryptomnesically ripped off Tom Bissell in my panel abstract — very embarrassing).

I decided early on that “beginning with the end” was the way to do this course, discussing the suicide openly and concretely at length at the very start of the class. My workshopmates in my Jesuit pedagogy seminar last semester very helpfully suggested some strategies for making the course a comfortable place to talk about some very uncomfortable things, and strongly suggested that I include an explicit content note in the syllabus (which as you can see, I did, a fairly lengthy one; I don’t think I’ve ever done one before, except in briefly offering the possibility of an alternate assignment for Lolita in a sophomore-level survey).

The result of all this is a syllabus that I’m pretty happy with and that I hope won’t be too demanding. I’ve thought a lot about not just trying to generate buy-in and a spirit of shared endeavor, but also how to make sure I don’t lose a ton of people along the way. In the end, with a MW class meeting trying to read a 1,079-page novel in nine weeks while leaving space at the beginning and end for other conversations about Infinite Jest, I decided I just couldn’t do much better than around 50-70 pages per class period for the long haul, especially in the back half. I hope the assignments and the structure of the course pull them through, and give them space to get something valuable out of it, even if (as seems inevitable) some number of them completely hate both the book and me by the end…

As before, full syllabus with course procedures and all assignments at the link, but here’s the day-by-day schedule:

M Aug 29 FIRST DAY OF CLASS

 

audiobook: “This Is Water” (Commencement Address to the Kenyon College Class of 2005) (in class)

W Aug 31 “Alas, Poor Yorick” monologue from Hamlet, Act V, sc. i [D2L]

 

George Saunders, “Informal Remarks from the David Foster Wallace Memorial Service in New York on October 23, 2008” [D2L]

Jonathan Franzen, “Informal Remarks from the David Foster Wallace Memorial Service in New York on October 23, 2008” [D2L]

 

roundtable discussion: How to Talk About Sad Things, Together

 

(after class) Mandatory D2L Post #1

M Sep 5 LABOR DAY—NO CLASS
W Sep 7 David Foster Wallace, “The Planet Trillaphon as It Stands in Relation to the Bad Thing” (1984) and Afterword by Kevin J. H. Dettmar (2016)
M Sep 12 David Foster Wallace, “Octet” (1997/1999)

Guest Lecture: Tom Moore

 

(after class) Mandatory D2L Post #2

W Sep 14 David Foster Wallace, “Octet” discussion continues

 

Infinite Jest forewords by Dave Eggers (2006) and Tom Bissell (2016) [D2L]

 

roundtable discussion: How to Talk About Literature, Art, Artists, Genius, Greatness, Pretension, Ambition, “Trying Too Hard,” Success, Failure, Annoyance, Fondness, Commitment, Honesty, Community, Solitude, Work, Intellectual Experiences That Might (or Might Not) Change Your Life, &c.

 

(after class) Mandatory D2L Post #3

 

INFINITE JEST

IJPPD(A)(NCF)*
M Sep 19 Infinite Jest through p. 17

 

brief primer: How to Read Infinite Jest [in class]

14
W Sep 21 Infinite Jest through p. 63 46
 
M Sep 26 Infinite Jest through p. 127 64
W Sep 28 Infinite Jest through p. 171 44
M Oct 3 Infinite Jest through p. 226 55
W Oct 5 Infinite Jest through p. 283 57
 
M Oct 10 Infinite Jest through p. 342 59
W Oct 12 Infinite Jest through p. 398 56
 
M Oct 17 Infinite Jest through p. 450 52
W Oct 19 Infinite Jest through p. 503 53
 
FALL BREAK
 
M Oct 24 Infinite Jest through p. 589 86
W Oct 26 Infinite Jest through p. 648 59
 
M Oct 31 Infinite Jest through p. 711 63
W Nov 2 Infinite Jest through p. 775 64
 
M Nov 7 Infinite Jest through p. 845 70
W Nov 9 Infinite Jest through p. 911 66
 
M Nov 14 Infinite Jest through p. 981

“CONVERGENCE” DUE

70
W Nov 16 Samuel Cohen, “To Wish to Try to Sing to the Next Generation: Infinite Jest’s History”

N. Katherine Hayles, “The Illusion of Autonomy and the Fact of Recursivity: Virtual Ecologies, Entertainment, and Infinite Jest

OPTION #3 PROSPECTUS DUE BY TODAY

 
M Nov 21 Research Workshop with Heather James (Raynor)

Bring in the general topic you think you might want to write about, as well as some useful research questions.

     
    THANKSGIVING BREAK

* Infinite Jest pages per day (approximate) (not counting footnotes)

 

CODA: AFTERLIVES

M Nov 28 OPTION #1 and #2 PROSPECTUS DUE TO ME ON D2L

 

Michael Pietsch, editor’s note, The Pale King (2011) [D2L]

David Foster Wallace, “Good Old Neon” (2001) [D2L]

W Nov 30 Lee Konstantinou, “No Bull: David Foster Wallace and Postironic Belief” [D2L]

Adam Kelly, “David Foster Wallace and the New Sincerity in American Fiction” [D2L]

M Dec 5 Ed Finn, “Becoming Yourself: The Afterlife of Reception” [D2L]

Kathleen Fitzpatrick, “Infinite Summer: Reading, Empathy, and the Social Network” [D2L]

MetaFilter.com, “RIP, DFW” [Web]

The Howling Fantods, Wallace-L, etc.

W Dec 7 FINAL THOUGHTS: MLA 2017 panel: “Infinite Jest at 20” [D2L]

 

PROJECT WORKSHOPS

Bring in four copies of the prospectus for your final project.

 

LAST DAY OF CLASS

W Dec 14 FINAL PROJECT DUE BY 12:30 PM

5 Responses

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  1. Still mad you got this class going AFTER I graduated haha The class looks great though! Hope it goes well!

    Zak Frankiewicz

    August 26, 2016 at 7:06 am

  2. I read “Infinite Jest” last summer after keeping it unread on the bookshelf for 17 years and 7 apartments. I read it in about 6 (admittedly unemployed) weeks and it was an amazing experience. I’m going to seek out the additional readings you present in your syllabus. Your students are in for a wild ride.

    Slow Nature Fast City

    August 26, 2016 at 8:47 am

    • I’ll probably mention this comment in class! I’ve gotten a lot of emails, replies, and @s saying similar things…

      gerrycanavan

      August 26, 2016 at 9:30 am

  3. Great piece

    creativesharingblog

    August 28, 2016 at 3:34 am


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