Thursday, November 18, 2010

David Foster Wallace’s senior year

In his senior year at Amherst College, David Foster Wallace wrote theses in English (creative writing) and philosophy. The one became the novel The Broom of the System (1987). The other will be published by Columbia University Press next month as Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will. From James Ryerson’s introduction:

Even just the manual labor required to produce two separate theses could be overwhelming, as suggested by an endearingly desperate request Wallace made at the end of his letter to [philosopher William E.] Kennick. “Since you’re on leave,” he wrote, “are you using your little office in Frost library? If not, does it have facilities for typing, namely an electrical outlet and a reasonably humane chair? If so, could I maybe use the office from time to time this spring? I have a truly horrifying amount of typing to do this spring — mostly for my English thesis, which has grown Blob-like and out of control — and my poor neighbors here in Moore [Hall] are already being kept up and bothered a lot.”

Despite the heavy workload, Wallace managed to produce a first draft of the philosophy thesis well ahead of schedule, before winter break of his senior year, and he finished both theses early, submitting them before spring break. He spent the last month or so of the school year reading other students’ philosophy theses and offering advice.
In a 2008 New York Times article, Ryerson presents the gist of Wallace’s philosophy thesis: Consider the Philosopher.

Related reading
All David Foster Wallace posts (via Pinboard

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