ENGL 166 // David Foster Wallace // Spring 2009
M/W 2.45-4 // Crookshank 2

Kathleen Fitzpatrick // Department of English // Pomona College
Crookshank 202 // x71496 // kfitzpatrick at pomona dot edu
Office hours: MW 4.15-5.30

Course website:

This course will explore in great depth the work of an author who has been described as the most important voice of his generation, focusing both on the literary experimentation and the broader cultural engagements of his writing. Parts of this course will no doubt be difficult for us — the Dave that some of us knew was an extraordinary person, and living as intensely as we will with his texts may at times make feel his absence that much more acutely. But the legacy that he has left behind in this body of work is one that has arguably changed the direction of contemporary writing, and it’s important for us to take that writing as seriously as we can, to hold it up to the most careful and loving criticism, and to think both with and against those texts as they reflect on and represent the culture we live in.


Please note that ALL assignments must be completed in order to pass the class.

Blogging (15%): One of the key aspects of your work this semester is our course blog, on which you’ll write frequently, using your posts to respond to our course readings, to draw your classmates’ attention to articles and artifacts you’ve found, and so forth. You are required to post at least one entry each week, which should directly engage with the week’s readings, before the start of class on Monday; this entry should be as formal as a printed reading response would be, paying attention to the quotation, citation, and explication practices involved in close reading. Other entries are greatly desired; these can be as informal as you like. You can explore issues that have been raised in previous class discussion, but you must significantly expand on that discussion and not simply rehash what’s already been said. You can skip two of these reading response posts with impunity. You are also required to read your classmates’ posts and leave at least two comments each week, before the start of class on Wednesday. (Note that you don’t have to post the the two comments at the same time; just make sure that week-to-week you get those entries and comments in.) This weekly requirement is meant as a minimum acceptable level of participation; I hope that you’ll all contribute more, creating an ongoing, engaging dialogue.

Midterm papers (20% each): Over the course of the semester, you’ll write two 4 to 6 page papers, each performing a careful analysis of some issue arising from the texts we’ll have read to that point. These papers may require you to conduct research into the secondary criticism on the text of your choice, and each should absolutely make a complex and nuanced but clear argument about the issue in question. The assignment for each will be given out several weeks before the paper is due. I strongly encourage you to make an appointment for a consultation with a writing fellow to discuss a draft of this paper, revising it before you turn it in to me. Please see information about the writing center below.

Wiki (25%): Your final project this semester will be a collaborative one; we’re going to work together to create a wiki-based collection of reference material for the study of David Foster Wallace’s writing. There are several existing online resources, including The Howling Fantods, but none (to my knowledge) that are primarily scholarly in origin. This project will require the kinds of research and analysis that a term paper would ask of you, but will be conducted in dialogue and collaboration with the other members of the class. Your grade on this project will be 50% based on the overall grade the wiki receives, and 50% based upon your individual contributions to the wiki. We’ll discuss this project as the semester progresses, but you should begin making notes for yourself now on the kinds of pages you’d like to contribute.

Presentation (10%): You will be divided, early this semester, into discussion groups, which we’ll use frequently for small group work during class. Each small group (or a subset thereof) will give a presentation on and facilitate our discussion of one day’s reading during the semester; more information about this assignment will follow.

Participation (10%): As our work here will revolve around discussion, your participation and preparedness are indispensable, and will be graded. Your participation grade will be determined not by the amount you speak, but by the degree to which you thoughtfully contribute to our course discussions (which is to say that listening is just as important as speaking, and speaking too much can count against you). As you cannot participate if you’re not present, attendance is mandatory; you will be permitted two unexcused absences, and each additional unexcused absence will lower your final grade in the course one step (i.e., from A- to B+). Moreover, chronic late arrivals will not be tolerated; for every three late arrivals, one unexcused absence will accrue. Finally, be aware that presence without preparedness does not count. Do the reading, and come to class ready to talk about it.


All policies under which my classes operate (including policies about attendance, late work, accommodations for students with documented disabilities, and the like) are available at Please read those policies carefully, and let me know if you have any questions.


The Writing Center (on the second floor of Smith Campus Center, above the Coop Fountain) offers students free, one-on-one consultations at any stage of the writing process — from generating a thesis and structuring an argument to fine-tuning a draft. The Writing Fellows — Pomona students majoring in subjects including Economics, Molecular Biology, English, Politics, and Religious Studies — will work with you on an assignment from any discipline. Consultations are available by appointment, which you can make online:


All required books are available at Huntley Bookstore, and other required readings are linked below.


W Jan 21 — General course introduction

M Jan 26 — Wimsatt & Beardsley, “The Intentional Fallacy“; “Joseph Frank’s Dostoevsky” (from Consider the Lobster); McCaffery, “An Interview with David Foster Wallace
W Jan 28 — “E Unibus Pluram: Television and US Fiction” (from A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again); “Certainly the End of Something or Other, One Would Sort of Have to Think” (from Consider the Lobster); McLaughlin, “Post-postmodern Discontent

M Feb 2The Broom of the System [through p. 200]
W Feb 4The Broom of the System [through p. 300]

M Feb 9The Broom of the System; Olsen, “Termite Art, or Wallace’s Wittgenstein
W Feb 11Girl with Curious Hair [“Little Expressionless Animals” through “Here and There”]

M Feb 16Girl with Curious Hair; Rother, “Reading and Riding the Postscientific Wave
W Feb 18A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again [“Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley” through “David Lynch Keeps His Head”]

M Feb 23A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
W Feb 25Infinite Jest [through p. 100]; Midterm paper #1 due

M Mar 2Brief Interviews with Hideous Men [“A Radically Condensed History of Postindustrial Life” through “Octet”]
W Mar 4Infinite Jest [through p. 200]

M Mar 9Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
W Mar 11Infinite Jest [through p. 300]

M Mar 16 – F Mar 20 — Spring break

M Mar 23Everything and More [through p. 158]
W Mar 25Infinite Jest [through p. 400]

M Mar 30Everything and More
W Apr 1Infinite Jest [through p. 500]

M Apr 6Oblivion [“Mister Squishy” through “Another Pioneer”]
W Apr 8Infinite Jest [through p. 600]; Midterm paper #2 due

M Apr 13Oblivion; Siskind, “An Undeniably Controversial and Perhaps Even Repulsive Talent
W Apr 15Infinite Jest [through p. 700]

M Apr 20Consider the Lobster [“Big Red Son” through “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart”]
W Apr 22Infinite Jest [through p. 800]

M Apr 27Consider the Lobster
W Apr 29Infinite Jest [through p. 900]

M May 4Infinite Jest
W May 6 — conclusion; All work on wiki due by Friday, 5 pm