Previous Courses



3000 Critical Practices and Processes in Literary Studies

4311 Themes in Medieval Literature

4331 Shakespeare

4422 British Literature of the Long 18th Century

4503 British Literature Since 1900

4523 Modernism

4610 Individual Authors - Ernest Hemingway

4615 Text in Context - Infinite Jest

101 MW 2:00-3:15 Professor Gerry Canavan

Course Title: Infinite Jest
Fulfills English Major Requirement: Post-1900, American Literature

Course Description: I had a teacher I liked who used to say good fiction’s job was to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. I guess a big part of serious fiction’s purpose is to give the reader, who like all of us is sort of marooned in her own skull, to give her imaginative access to other selves.… We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy’s impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character’s pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. —David Foster Wallace

This course explores the literary, cultural, and intellectual legacy of David Foster Wallace (1962-2008), widely considered by admirers and detractors alike to be among the most influential and important writers of his generation. In particular we will study his magnum opus, Infinite Jest (1996), twenty years old this year, a book which not only continues to speak with shocking relevance and delightful irreverence to our present, but which seems, in many ways, to have accurately predicted it.  Slowly and carefully reading Wallace’s epoch-defining novel together will open up a window on the last twenty years of American life, letters, entertainment, and art, while the unavoidable shadow cast by his 2008 suicide will raise important questions for us about literary celebrity, biographical criticism, and the often troubled relationship between public personae and the real, lived lives of writers and artists.  

Readings: David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest; coursepack

Assignments: Seminar paper (12-15 pages); two “thinkpiece”-length “mini-papers”; online reading journal; active class participation; presentations

4715 Children's Literature

4770 Studies in Literature and Culture

4810 Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies

4825 Native American/Indigenous Literature

4840 Postcolonial Literature

4997 Capstone - Reading the United States, 1920s-1930s








English Department

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