This class is about writing and academic inquiry, with a special emphasis on literature. Good arguments stem from good questions, and academic essays allow writers to write their way toward answers, toward figuring out what they think. In this writing-intensive course, students focus on the creation of complex, analytic, well-supported arguments addressing questions that matter in academic contexts. The course also hones students’ critical thinking and reading skills. Working closely with their peers and the instructor, students develop their essays through workshops and extensive revision and editing. Readings will serve as models or prompts for assigned essays; the specific questions students pursue in essays are guided by their own interests.
In this section, we'll be concentrating on the novels, stories, and essays of a single author. David Foster Wallace, who committed suicide in 2008 (at the age of 46), was probably the most innovative, influential, and emotionally resonant new voice in late 20th-century American fiction. In books like Infinite Jest, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, and The Pale King, Wallace grappled with the demons of narcissism, addiction, instant gratification, television, and irony, seeking to restore (or invent) a compelling vision of the coherent self to a culture wracked by crippling self-consciousness. In exuberant and often hilarious prose, he developed a post-ironic sensibility that reflected his belief in the novel's undiminished capacity to link human beings in meaningful communication. In our age of social media and "reality television," Wallace's perspective seems increasingly relevant.
As Wallace put it in one his own syllabi, this class “aims to show you some ways to read fiction more deeply, to come up with more interesting insights on how pieces of fiction work, to have informed, intelligent reasons for liking and disliking a piece of fiction, and to write—clearly, persuasively, and above all interestingly—about stuff you’ve read.”
Wallace was not known for his brevity, and students should be prepared for a heavy (but by no means unmanageable) load of assigned reading.