The DFW Archive Updates
December 2, 2011 3:46 AM   Subscribe

David Foster Wallace's collected books and papers found a home at The Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin. While you need to book an appointment if you want to see the entire collection, further portions are now available online including: annotations of his Pale King manuscript, a catalog of almost 300 of the books from his shelves, and his inspirational, hilarious, unconventional teaching materials.

Previously excerpts from the archive discussed on MeFi have included the Infinite Jest Manuscript, and his annotations of other books, including Merriam-Webster.
posted by roofus (15 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
The syllabus and grammar tips are wonderful (though TWO Thomas Harris novels??). But is it just me, or do they make Wallace seem a lot like Jacob Horner, the grammar-teaching protagonist of Barth's The End of the Road? Could it be that Wallace was not only a post-modernist himself, but an actual escapee from a post-modernist novel? It would explain so much.
posted by ubiquity at 4:36 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hope in ten years' time to find that someone has put together a more expansive version of The Pale King from these manuscript pages. The preface to the current edition totally underemphasizes the extent to which the novel is completely unfinished with some attractive hand-waving about not ever being able to judge the extent of such a work's completeness. Only in the notes at the end do we get to see that we're missing not just the resolution of certain story-lines (likely intentional), but really their establishment in the first place (almost certainly not so).

And those syllabus notes are as charming as all get out and I wish he weren't dead.
posted by nobody at 5:05 AM on December 2, 2011 [4 favorites]


Now I've been fiddling in the links and this stuff is fascinating. Is it heretical to say, though, that I don't like DFW's handwriting?
posted by chavenet at 5:07 AM on December 2, 2011


I would looooove to take a course where DFW teaches how to read Stephen King and Jackie Collins.
posted by fungible at 5:08 AM on December 2, 2011 [7 favorites]


Heretical? The guy was a guy. In some ways he was a great guy – that syllabus suggests he both understood the purpose of the class he taught and he cared about actually teaching to his students – and in other ways he was as flawed as anybody who's ever lived was flawed, going beyond just messy handwriting. Why do we feel the need to deify and canonize the people who touch our lives, to move them beyond their humanness and make them something virtually unapproachable?

I have a copy of Infinite Jest next to my bed that in four years I've only read a few hundred pages of, because I think Wallace's style in it is insufferably indulgent. But that's a critique of the work, not the man. Ultimately our media preferences say little of interest about us, and the things we create say little of interest as well. People exist beyond the artifacts they leave behind, whether it's great literature or scribbled annotations.

What I find interesting about that syllabus isn't that it's thorough and well-written, but that it points to a whole side of Wallace that most of his readers never saw. I wonder what it would have been like to be his student – not one of the ones who worshipped the man, but rather one who knew nothing about the guy, never read his work, picked the class because the major required it, and encountered DFW without any prejudice or preconceptions. It must've been a hell of a class.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:34 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it heretical to say, though, that I don't like DFW's handwriting?

I love the fellow to bits, but goddamn if I'm not reminded of the Zodiac every time I see a sample of his handwriting.

I wonder what it would have been like to be [a] student [...] who knew nothing about the guy, never read his work, picked the class because the major required it, and encountered DFW without any prejudice or preconceptions.

I guess it's worth pointing out that the syllabus (which is terrific) is dated '94, years before any of his really myth-making stuff was published.
posted by Mothra Pisces at 5:39 AM on December 2, 2011


The comments on "and so" in the usage guide that he called "Your Liberal Arts $ At Work" make me laugh out loud, given that this was DFW and everything.
posted by aught at 5:44 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


but that it points to a whole side of Wallace that most of his readers never saw.

Though, to be fair, I think his readers who read his non-fiction or caught interviews on Charlie Rose or elsewhere would have had an insight into Wallace as a person. If you stuck with the novels you might have no idea about the kind man who had created them.
posted by aught at 5:52 AM on December 2, 2011


This is great, thanks. Amazing to see the friendly peer-voice from the essays turning into the authority-figure-teacher voice in the syllabus instructions while remaining exactly the same voice. Lucky students.
posted by WPW at 6:08 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Given what I've read about the HRC's acquisitiveness, the papers did not so much "find a home" as "prove unable to escape".
posted by Trurl at 6:44 AM on December 2, 2011 [2 favorites]


Don't get me started about the Harry Ransom Center. It's a good archive but they really do hog the important popular culture collections available because they can afford to pay for them.

It's awesome that this stuff is being preserved, but it's hard to feel good when the archival equivalent of the NY Yankees swoops in and outbids other institutions.

From my understanding, DFW had no connection with pretty much anything in Texas, so one has to question why his papers would end up there following his death. Why aren't they at the University of Arizona or Amherst?
posted by Fister Roboto at 9:03 AM on December 2, 2011


I'm encouraged to see that in high school I was reading a big chunk of his syllabus.
posted by COBRA! at 9:13 AM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


the archival equivalent of the NY Yankees

Wow- this is not a concept I would have guessed existed.
posted by xmutex at 12:51 PM on December 2, 2011


I love the fellow to bits, but goddamn if I'm not reminded of the Zodiac every time I see a sample of his handwriting.

Holy Jebus, his handwriting really is like the Zodiac. I think I may have finally found something about DFW that doesn't either infuriate me or bore me to tears. He even has the so-called "maniac d," where the lower case "d" leans far to the right. I can't find anything online about it except this questionable page, but it's worth a look. (Scroll to the bottom.)
posted by cropshy at 1:03 PM on December 2, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, this from Google Books is a better link that explains what I mentioned above.
posted by cropshy at 1:21 PM on December 2, 2011


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