Syllabi Deconstruction

Apparently the Ransom Center has one of David Foster Wallace‘s syllabi available online, and Katie Roiphie is waxing lyrical for some odd reason. Her point is that somehow Wallace warning his students that he expects them to work and to not turn in slapdash hackery is somehow refreshing. Admittedly, he writes these warnings in his own fashion, but essentially, every syllabus on the planet does this. I guess Roiphie doesn’t pay attention to her own syllabi?

Or perhaps I’m just more aware of the boilerplate warnings because I’m working on my own for the Spring. A syllabus is a contract, but it’s also an attempt to head off pet peeves before they occur in your classroom. For example, my comp II syllabi includes explicit instructions on how to email me because I got tired of getting emails at the beginning of the semester asking what books were assigned or what we were doing in class that day and not having a clue as to what class the student belonged to because he or she barely bothered with a greeting, much less bothered to let me know who they were. Despite those instructions, I still get emails asking what we’re doing in class–as if the extensive tentative reading schedule I put together did not include that information. I include a warning in my Victorian lit class that there is extensive reading in the course. Victorian novels are long; there’s no way around that fact. I try to pace the schedule so that it’s manageable, but students taking the class will be reading a lot. Syllabi are idiosyncratic documents, but they reveal more about the things that bug teachers than anything else. They don’t illuminate things about the creator’s writing, at least I don’t think so.


One thought on “Syllabi Deconstruction

  1. I think you’ve hit the head on the nail. Right now, the academy and critical establishment is busy anointing DFW as Saint David, and that everything he wrote or thought is manna from heaven. He was an interesting, idiosyncratic, greatly flawed writer who had his pulse on a lot of today’s society but I firmly believe that the most interesting criticism of his work will only be written after this hysteria has died down.

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