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David Foster Wallace’s Syllabus

“If you are used to whipping off papers the night before they’re due, running them quickly through the computer’s Spellchecker, handing them in full of high-school errors and sentences that make no sense and having the professor accept them ‘because the ideas are good’ or something, please be informed that I draw no distinction between the quality of one’s ideas and the quality of those ideas’ verbal expression, and I will not accept sloppy, rough-draftish, or semiliterate college writing. Again, I am absolutely not kidding.”

That’s from one of Wallace’s syllabuses. Katie Roiphe, writing for Slate:

Of course, this is not the part of teaching that most people pour their hearts into. It’s just a syllabus! Wallace is bringing to the endeavor rigorous Salingerish standards of not lying, or not being phony, that would reproach other more ordinary people if these standards did not border on parody, and were not expressed in such a good natured and honorable way.

Don’t just go through the motions. Don’t accept dogma. Look for ways that you might be wrong, don’t look for ways to prove you’re right. Think. Express your thoughts with as much precision and care as you can muster.

That’s why Wallace’s work serves as a beacon, a yardstick, for my own.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011