Thursday, January 4, 2018

Teaching Infinite Jest

I was about to begin teaching David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest in a one o’clock class. But I couldn’t bring myself to go, so I retreated to the library and sat down to watch the clock. At two I left to walk to the classroom, and the students, five of them, were still there waiting. I told them that I had lost track of time in the library and that we were now going to begin Infinite Jest. And then, if we had time, we’d dip into The Pale King. I had a copy of Infinite Jest with me but no notes and no reading assignment to hand out. I decided to say a few things about the novel. No chapters, but sections marked with a moon-like ❍. And subsections. Highly autobiographical: “I am in here” is one the first sentences, but not a retelling of the writer’s life. And there are endnotes, which you have to read.

When I tried to show where the notes began, my paperback Infinite Jest turned into my hardcover Modern Library Ulysses, and I was paging through the “Ithaca” episode. Class dismissed. After which several new students showed up, and I went through my flimsy introduction to the novel all over again. After which I walked back to the library and found yet another student who had just signed up for my class. He wore a blue dress shirt and sat at a table. An Eagle Scout stood by his side, serving, it seemed, as a bodyguard. The new student explained that he had signed up for the class because there was a spot open. “But do you want to put in the time to read Infinite Jest ?” I asked him. “That’s my decision!” he shouted. “Of course,” I said. “I’m just wondering if it’s something you want to invest time in.”

I then walked out to a parking lot to call Elaine for a ride home. But I needed numbers to stick on my phone to make the call. I tried to buy some at a newsstand, but they were sold out.

This is the eleventh teaching-related dream I’ve had since retiring. None of them have gone well. The others: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10.

[Elaine identified some likely influences on this dream. “Ithaca”: DFW’s time in Syracuse. The Eagle Scout: the Honeymooners episode “The Hero,” in which Ralph claims to be an Eagle Scout. The numbers: the pages of stickers that came with my 2018 Moleskine planner. I can add one more possible influence: looking up Modern Library logos last night.]

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