David (Foster) Wallace's Syllabus

For those who are interested, here is his syllabus for the Literary Interpretation class I took in Spring '05. I wonder if any of the contemporary authors knew he was teaching their work? Click to enlarge. You can download a PDF copy here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/74315843/Literary-Interpretation-Syllabus If that doesn't work, you can email me at sophilosoph@gmail.com


Anonymous said...

Never seen any form of the word sexy used in a syllabus before!

Anonymous said...

Hi Sophia,

"Thank you" is appropriate, I suppose, but seems entirely inadequate. Really appreciate the post.


Unknown said...

Awesome!! Thanks for sharing this. Haven't read it yet, but can't wait.


amanda said...

Yayy! Thanks, girl!

Dr. M Moon said...

Thank you, Sophia. As a professor and avid fan of DFW's, I find this fascinating and strangely comforting. How an instructor presents a course through a syllabus can be quite revealing.


brandy said...

Thank you for sharing this!

SGM said...

wow... what a syllabus.

Ryan said...

Thank you for posting this.

ascholl said...

Man. That looks like a class, right there.

Do you recall what Larkin was included in the first day's 'hors d'oeuvres'?

Also: real thanks for posting that.

Anonymous said...

hi sophia. thanks for posting this. amazing and wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for this! I was wondering if you could share with us David's thoughts/impressions re: Silence of the Lambs? The reason being that David listed Silence and Red Dragon in his Top Ten fave book's list a couple years back that inspired a flurry of, "was he serious?" discussions.

Sophia said...

ascholl: I can't remember what Larkin he assigned, sorry! I wish I hadn't recycled all the xeroxes in my graduation-moving-out purge.

anonymous: Yes, he was completely serious about Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon! We had lengthy discussions about what constitues commercial vs. literary fiction and the social and economical implicatoins of each. I can't remember exact quotes from him about it, but he encouraged us to not dismiss a book because it is labeled one way or the other. My essay on SOTL was how Harris is working to complicate and subvert stereotypical gender roles, which he did not think I explained quite clearly enough in 10 pgs...

Owen Milbury said...

Thanks for posting the syllabus. I can only wonder how I would have done in his class -- I probably would have been starstruck and "fallen a little behind." It must have been a treat to have him as a professor. As Patty said to Selma, "I'm dying of jealousy."

john said...

Thank you thank you thank you! The worst part of the sad news is that now our DFW reading material is much more limited in volume than I hoped, so I cherish every gem I come across. This syllabus is no exception!

Martin Rheaume said...

Three things strike me.

1. That looks like a shit ton of work, and he seems like a total hard ass of a teacher.

2. That's the funniest syllabus I've ever seen.

3. I would absolutely love to be in that class.

Sophia said...

John: I know how you feel...

1. I don't remember it being much more work than other classes, and while it was a lot it was manageable. Also, he comes off as more of a hardass on the syllabus than he was in class, where he called himself "Uncle Dave." He actually had to try to frighten away students at first because the class was overbooked...(it worked)

2. Me too, and I don't think that was intentional!

3. It was awesome. I was a bio major and it was still my favorite academic experience.

Trevor Dodge said...

Wow...Dave's syllabi got a LOT more precise when he went to Pomona, and it's very clear to me that he only grew brighter as a teacher from the time I took a similar class with him (at Illinois State, 1997). This syllabus is far more detailed and particular than the one I still have. It's astonishing to see how much time and care he went into building this.

I imagine the "Caveat Emptor" section here will be the talk of The Internets, and readers of this will ponder and chuckle at its nervous precision, possibly even going so far as to question whether this is another of his fictions. I can personally attest that he is *not* kidding or fucking around here. I narrowly escaped his course (a very gracious "average" grade of "B-", I just discovered...) after turning in exactly the kind of hasty, sloppily-written, conceived-and-executed-the-night-before-it-was-due essay he very specifically warns against in this section. When I received my essay back from him, it was still wet with the ink of three different pens, and the comments pulled no punches in conveying his frustration and disappointment.

I was devastated by these comments because I was at a point in my life where I couldn't see past my own ignorance, and I was unjustifiably pissed off for a long, long time about it.

That was until I grew up a lot, started taking my writing more seriously, and--maybe most importantly--started teaching literature and writing myself at a state university.

In the fall of 2005 (ironic enough, I suppose, checking the date on this syllabus...) I wrote Dave a letter to thank him for rattling my cage so fiercely in that class, and that his brute honesty had been a true blessing that I wouldn't realize until several years later. Much to my surprise, he responded by sending a short, gracious letter in return. That simple gesture on his part meant the world to me; as heartbroken as I am by his death, I am grateful for having had the exchange.

Anonymous said...

Not to be a bummer, but I have a feeling this is a forged syllabus. Can you imagine DFW letting such a bonehead grammar error into his syllabus:

Know also that "C"- range grades are not at all impossible with me, though any student who appears to be headed for a final grade [less than] 7 will be informed early of that fact and urged to avail themselves (SHOULD BE HIMSELF OR HERSELF) of extra help.

Are you duping us? Anyway to authenticate these documents?

Sophia said...

anonymous: Of course not. As for "authentication," that is his handwriting where he crossed off the office hours. I drew the stars. Feel free to contact the Pomona College English Department if you really want. http://www.english.pomona.edu

Trevor Dodge said...

Yeah...that is clearly Dave's handwriting on the first page. I find it both fitting and endearing that he took the time to hand-correct the office hours on *every* copy of the syllabus before he handed them out.

ascholl said...

Anon @ 10:19 --

The singular they has a long & dignified history (Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Trollope, Orwell ...) and many authorities accept limited use. I don't know DFW's thoughts on the construct -- we can probably assume that he wasn't a huge fan -- but he used it here. Only the worst sort of pedant would consider it a cut&dry 'bonehead [sic] grammatical error.' That said, if you produce a similarly convincing forgery, I'll accept your stance re: the singular they, as well as the possibility that this document is a fake.

Dr. M Moon said...

ascholl said: "the worst sort of pedant"

DFW might have said: "a snoot"

ascholl said...

ascholl said: "the worst sort of pedant"

DFW might have said: "a snoot"

Perhaps. Still, I suspect(1) that he'd agree w/ Garner(2) when B.G. says, of the singular-they's acceptance: "Disturbing though these developments may be to purists, they're irreversible. And nothing that a grammarian says will change them." Only the most rigid of snoots would claim that in 2008 the singular they is universally invalid. And only the most reactionary (or ignorant) of these rigid few would deny the good faith of pragmatic prescriptivists who accept the singular they.

(1) (and would cite the syllabus as support)

(2) Bryan Garner, Garner's Modern American Usage: The new edition of the subject of Wallace's essay introducing the term 'snoot'.

shade said...

More on the long -- and quite honorable --history of singular "they."


Brad Green said...

this reminds me why i let out a great green leafy shout of relief upon leaving school. also, it reminds me why i'd like to go back, much in the same way a wasp batters against a bright window.

thank you for posting this.

Anonymous said...

wonder why there are no people of color here? another white male interpretation as if i ruled the world type crap. no af-ams. i don't know him personally and not calling him racist but the arrogance of white men to promote the mis-education of themselves is very silly. personally i would be ashamed to post this syllabus,. its speaks to everything we know about the western cannon in the english departments. so really how great is one who refuses to offer a complete view of the world, or even write about? get off of your privilege and do some work.

Alex said...

Ah, yes, mention of Crookshank brings back so many old memories. Though my classes tended to be on the top floor (Philosophy). Though I graduated many years before DFW got to old Clareville (I graduated in 1995). The English department seems to have entirely new faculty from my day, whereas my alma mater department has not changed (of course, the ruling philosophy junta - I joke - of Sontag, Erickson, McKirahan and Atlas spans so many decades that the experiences of a Pomona philosophy major seemingly changes little from century to century). God, I feel like an old man now.

Anonymous said...

I knew Wallace slightly. Every time I dealt with him he was a complete jerk. Could have been his bipolar disorder, or may if I was as clever I would be just as much a jerk.

allan said...

Thank you for this!

DFW actually used a bit of Red Dragon verbatim in IJ. It is a gun description in the long scene where Gately fights the "Nucks".

Sophia said...

alex - They renovated Crookshank while I was there, too...Pomona keeps changing, but I'm glad the good profs remain constant.

redsock - Hah, I didn't know that!

Alex said...


I don't quite know why the English department of my time seemingly retired en mass within a few years of each other, while, for example, my own Philosophy department and the Politics department are almost entirely unchanged today. Except for Hilary Bok (now at University of Pittsburgh) and Voula Tsouna-McKirahan (now at UCSB), ALL of my philosophy professors remain in Claremont (Paul Hurley did go across the street to CMC). In fact, the philosophy department doesn't look much different from how it looked in the early 1970s (apparently, philosophers just live forever and refuse to retire).

Thomas Pinney, Robert Mezey and Martha Andressen were the cornerstones of the English department in my time. Pinney managed to convince me to go to Pomona as opposed to UCSD. I don't think I ever technically took an English class though.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post.

As for the anonymous sap bemoaning the lack of "people of color" in the syllabus, I am compelled to point to Jamaica Kincaid and Borges, both of whom are listed in the supplementary materials. ALthough that is not to say that any of the other authors listed in the syllabus are without pigment.

Also, as if color really did matter, cannons are generally black.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for uploading this :) Makes me wonder about the mediocrity of my lit classes as an undergrad here in Brazil!

I'll be ever mourning and grasping the fact of DFW's suicide, along with lamenting hip fans who dismiss IJ as trendy. His suicide left a big question mark hanging above me, wish I had wrote him before, will never meet him... sadcetera

To see this scanned by one of his students is refreshing somehow, just as reading his speech about thinking and choice (Kenyon U).

Both readings strike me as sugestions to a feeling/stand involving literature-perception-academy-life into some pratical, inspired, clever object of sagennes...

:) thank you

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hey, I'm really happy to have this. Did you get much personal interaction with Dave? What was he like in conferences? Did he end up lecturing much in class?

I knew Dave as a teenager and currently teach English in his hometown of Champaign-Urbana, so I really appreciate having a copy of his syllabus.

John W.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sharing the syllabus. I was wondering how much time you had to write the mini papers in class, and do you remember if you found them helpful? Did you wish he had marked on the mini papers? Thank you.

Sophia said...

John W. - Apologies for the delay in response. There were about 15 of us in the class and we were encouraged to come to office hours, so there was a lot of personal interaction. He learned all of our names and our hometowns on the first day, and would sometimes call us by both ("Greg from Orono, Minnesota"). He was truly interested in our goals and lives. He had us list 2 or 3 favorite books on a getting-to-know-you questionnaire (I wrote Infinite Jest as one, then erased it). At the beginning of the semester he lectured ("dispensed avuncular advice") about grammar and the requisite nitty-gritty literary definitions, but the class was largely discussion-based. He led our discussions, of course, and he was engaged in them with us. One time when he wanted to make an example of something (I forget what the example was about exactly), he made up prose on the spot, going on for about 5 minutes as if he was reading from something he had written, but he was just spewing this hilarious, eloquent story to serve his point. When he stopped we just stared and laughed in awe. That's something you don't get from any other professor.

anonymous - I think we had about 10 minutes? They were only a page or so long. He marked on them sparingly (definitely sparingly compared to his marks on our essays), but we could always get more feedback outside of class. Writing these mini-papers on the spot was way out of my element, so it was a good experience for me to get out of my comfort zone.

christopher higgs said...

This is really great - a unique artifact. I appreciate you posting it.

World of Warcraft Gold Guide said...

good post :)

Anonymous said...

Can you recall any remarks by DFW re: continental theory? In particular, Baudrillard, Kristeva or Deleuze? I hate to ask this question at all, but it is an important one--to me--that I have not been able to answer in looking through interviews, pub'd writings, etc. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous asks if DFW mentions continental theory. I recall some discussion of Derrida and maaaaaaaybe Deleuze. Look in the intro to Best American Essays or Consider the Lobster. Sorry I can't be more specific, don't have them in front of me. In general my sense is that he's very well-versed in Derrida at least and definitely Nietzsche, and most likely a great deal more; but he was easily irritated by academic writing, which is clear in the essay on style in Consider the Lobster.

Thank you, Sophia, from me too, for posting this.

Sophia said...

Anon at 1:35 - I can't say I do, sorry. Anon at 6:10 is more helpful.

Ramsay Kaldor said...

Hi, would you possible have the names of the authors for the texts that simply state the title?

Ryan Shaffer said...

Thank you very much for this. I'm a current student (at CMC), and one reason I came to the colleges was to meet and learn from Dave. Pieces like this are mere representations of him, but I suppose that is enough.

Tyciludek said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

thank you for posting this sophia..how lucky to have had david foster-wallace as a tutor. i imagine he would have received a paean from the students every time he opened his mouth.


Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for posting this!
I was in that same class and looked for 'syllabus' online to see if anything would come up..

The Larking poem was "High Windows"
(one of the earlier posts was asking this)

- Shane

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I rushed the last post. In-class readings on the first day were:

Philip Larkin
'This Be The Verse'
'High Windows'

Franz Kafka
'A Little Fable'

Once again, thanks.


Steve said...

Hi Sophia,

Thanks for posting this. As a DFW fan and literature teacher I find it so interesting to see what books he chose for his course. However, I would love to see those 58 "X" documents the syllabus mentions, which appear to be his thoughts/notes on the topic of each class. Any chance you still have those?

Sophia said...

Steve, the "X" documents are simply xeroxes from various textbooks or collections. Some are the stories or poems as noted, and others are chapters from textbooks about, for example, "Symbol" or "Tone" -- not his own thoughts or notes on the topics.

Steve said...

Wow. You're fast.

Oh drat. Ok thanks anyway. I'd still love to see what he used though. I showed this syllabus to a colleague of mine here at the school where I teach and he wants to team teach an AP writing course based on DFW's work and the stuff in his Eng 67 syllabus. Not sure if he's serious. Althoughit seems fun to consider.

Thanks for getting back.

Sophia said...

You caught me at a good time! That sounds like a fantastic course, especially for high school AP. Unfortunately, I don't know which textbooks he used.

Denise Nader said...

Thanks so much for this post, Sophia!

litter-ladder, I 'm from Ecuador, and I think I "get" the question about the "colored" syllabus. That said, I'm curious. How is Jorge Luis Borges not white to you? I mean, have you read the guy? Oh, he's white. He didn't even win the Nobel Prize for being so white back then. I'm aware that the tone of my comment may sound kinda snoot or angry or whatever the word may be, please, don't take like that. I just want to know how the word "white" is used in this context, because, for me, at least, Borges' known anglophilia would mean he was white as Christmas, ding a ling a ling.

Have a nice day, everyone. And thanks again, Sophia! This was really useful and unexpected and generous! Will be shared.

Jon Thrower said...

If I had to guess, based on the order of the elements and a few of the stories, some of the X documents seem to be from one or another edition of the Pearson and Longman published anthology edited by Kennedy and Gioa (sometimes titled Backpack Literature.

Anonymous said...

Sophia, thanks for posting this!

I'm just now venturing into DFW's work, and this was such a pleasure to read.

When I saw the first footnote, I chuckled to myself.


Anonymous said...

Do you still have your notes from that seminar? And if so, would you be averse to posting them?

Anonymous said...

If you would be so bold, you would be greatly appreciated for Reddit's AMA (ask me anything) in which you are willing to answer a variety of questions on the site from users about your experience as a student of DFW. To date, there are (2) requests for such a person as yourself. Please Consider!


Anonymous said...

this is water. pls consider the notes.

Jack Bedient said...


Great DFW stuff here! The link to the pdf is dead -- is there any way you can send me a copy of it?


emily d. said...

ditto on the copy, please, if possible! thank you...


bev42 said...

Mind if I ask you to send me a copy, too?


Unknown said...

I came late to the introduction of David Foster Wallace's work, but it's great. This is such a nice surprise. Thanks for sharing. It must have been a great experience to be in his class.

Anonymous said...

Me too?


My deep thanks to you for posting this!

Robert Teal said...

I'd like one, too, please.

Anonymous said...

I would love a PDF copy too if possible. swmacleod@gmail.com


Katprof said...

would love a pdf copy too... probably easier at this point to fix the link than to email us all?

if you're wondering why so many recent comments, it's because you've been linked to in a Slate article about DFW's syllabi. Maybe you knew, but in case you didn't.

Sophia said...

Katprof: yes, it would be easier to have a working link to a PDF. But, someone I don't know made that link a long time ago and I don't know how to fix it (and don't have time to learn at the moment). You can email me at sophilosoph@gmail.com.

Brett said...


Thanks for sharing this syllabus. I've downloaded your scans, turned them into a PDF, and posted them at Scribd: http://www.scribd.com/doc/74288836/David-Foster-Wallace-English-67-Spring-2005

If your PDF is better, you might want to post it at Scribd and I'll remove the one I've uploaded. Or, if it's easier, you're welcome to share this link.

Sophia said...

Thanks for directing me to Scribd. I uploaded a slightly better version here:


I will update the post accordingly.

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Anonymous said...

His syllabus is very self-centered. I would not want a teacher like that. He is teaching for himself, when he should be teaching with his students' improvement in mind. Instead, he wants them to appreciate his writing skills and is showing off. Thumbs down, and stay away from professors like that.

Unknown said...

Hi Sophia,

Thanks so much for posting this! Fascinating and informative. I'm wondering if you still have all the xerox documents that he makes mention of and if you have considered creating a pdf of them. Please excuse me if you've already presented them somewhere and I didn't find them. :)


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