Oh, David Foster Wallace, I Remember Now Why I Hate You

From Salon.com:

I like to teach freshman lit because ISB gets a lot of rural students who aren’t very well educated and don’t like to read. They’ve grown up thinking that literature means dry, irrelevant, unfun stuff, like cod liver oil. Getting to show them some more contemporary stuff — the one we always do the second week is a story called “A Real Doll,” by A.M. Homes, from “The Safety of Objects,” about a boy’s affair with a Barbie doll. It’s very smart, but on the surface, it’s very twisted and sick and riveting and real relevant to people who are 18 and five or six years ago were either playing with dolls or being sadistic to their sisters. To watch these kids realize that reading literary stuff is sometimes hard work, but it’s sometimes worth it and that reading literary stuff can give you things that you can’t get otherwise, to see them wake up to that is extremely cool.

1.  No one calls it ISB.  It’s not even in Bloomington.  It’s in Normal, which you know, seeing as how your dad was a fucking professor over at the U of I while you were growing up.  You grew up less than an hour away from the school you teach at and you don’t even know that it’s ISU?  Or State?

2.  Oh, thank you precious savior of rural kids.  We are all stupid hicks who hate books.

That being said, I’ve now hated the man more than a decade.   And, in retrospect, it still irks me that a man who’s supposedly so devoted to words can’t accurately represent, with words, where he was teaching.

And it hurts my pride that he thinks his students, of which I could have been one, had I but chosen the other end of University to make my home, are all ignorant hicks.

But maybe instilling a love of reading in folks who otherwise wouldn’t have it is not such a bad goal.  So, David Foster Wallace, I forgive you.  Let’s move on.

Not together.  You stay over there and I’ll stay over here, but you know, on in our separate ways. 

12 thoughts on “Oh, David Foster Wallace, I Remember Now Why I Hate You

  1. From what I’ve read here–combined with what I’ve read other places since googling this person I’d never heard of–I am now convinced of one thing.David Foster Wallace=Ezra Pound+80 years

  2. Though I’ve heard of him, I don’t recall ever reading anything by him, ergo; he must be no good. Also, he comes off as a total prick. By that same standard, anyone who goes to a school in Illinois outside of Chicago must be both ‘rural’ and therefore, ‘uneducated.’ Prick. And yes, it’s referred to as ISU, in Bloomington/Normal (or that’s what we suburban kids called it), just like the U of I is in Chamapign/Urbana. There are full-of-themselves teachers everywhere, I expect. I had a few at the U of I too (Frank Gallo, sculptor!) who thought their shit didn’t stink, held court in both classrooms and local bars, and lived to try to humiliate underclassmen, as if their teaching us, and we, were all totally beneath their superior talents.I also had other teachers, far more talented, who were the salts of the earth, humble to a fault, and equally (if not more) successful.

  3. Peg, when you’ve talked about holding court, you described nearly the entire faculty in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. One otherwise good bar — Watney’s on tap, y’all! — and a number of could-be great bookstores have been completely infested with self-important poetasters and more-New-Yorker-than-thou alcoholic hacks.

  4. Devil’s Advocating:1) Isn’t it more likely that Salon screwed up the reference to the school, than he did?2) Really, I got the impression he was saying that a lot of his students just hadn’t gotten exposure to god literature. I thought he was blaming their teachers/curriculum, not feeling superior to the students.But still, I love you both.

  5. Oh good lord. That’s right. We rural kids didn’t read books, certainly not good literature. We preferred to set books on fire or eat them or throw them into the creek and laugh and laugh as they became waterlogged and sank into the mud. Sigh. Don’t mind me. I’m just so damned tired of being slammed because I didn’t grow up in a sophisticated urban environment.

  6. Yeah, that’s the thing. He could be perfectly nice and misquoted by Salon (and, in all fairness, I often despise Salon.com), but every time I read that, it just hits that old bruise so damn hard it about knocks my breath out.Though, I must say that "We rural kids didn’t read books, certainly not good literature. We preferred to set books on fire or eat them or throw them into the creek and laugh and laugh as they became waterlogged and sank into the mud." is as fine a piece of writing as anything.

  7. Yeah, I’m a rural kid and never read a book. I agree with Jagosaurus on the fact that rural Americans tend to get slammed with this stereotype that we are are illiterate.I guess I’ll go back into the shack, cook up some meth and have sex with my relatives.Jeez.Jag was quite elegant in saying the words that expressed exactly how I felt as well reading that passage.I choose to live in what I affectionately call Hooterville, and sometimes it makes me fucking crazy. But on the other hand, it’s mine and I own it.And yeah, last night I went out with several of my friends and our primary focus of discussion was Allen Ginsburg, Belgian beer and how much we love John Waters movies.Yeah, very rural.Just putting my two cents in about this sort of elitism.

  8. It would be hard to sound more obnoxious if he tried; I wonder what his students think of him reading that? How much he hates to teach creative writing? I bet that shows.I don’t get the statement about the two weeks of stuff you can teach someone who hasn’t written 50 things yet and is "still kind of learning." Isn’t the point of being in college that one should be learning? And shouldn’t he, as a professor, still be seeking to learn and teach? Arrogant. Ugh.

  9. As someone who also teaches literature to freshmen at another state school in another midwestern "I" state (we switched our letters around so as to not add another U of I; we are "IU," although we, too, are in a Bloomington, just to keep people confused), I must say that I also like the experience of teaching people who maybe don’t get into literature very much how to enjoy it. (One of my colleagues describes our "Intro to Fiction" class as "Conclusion to Fiction." Like this might be the last bunch of novels some of these people ever read.) But I take issue with the idea that it’s just "rural" kids who have less experience with it. We draw a lot of kids from the city as well (Indy, Gary, etc.), and there are plenty of them that don’t get into literature either. That "rural" comment was pretty patronizing in its assumptions.

  10. I really don’t think that Wallace meant to be patronizing in this excerpt, I think he was merely trying to express the fact that he enjoys teaching literature to people who might otherwise not enjoy it, which could apply to a large percentage of undergraduate students nationwide, not just those who are "rural." Maybe I’m just a David Foster Wallace kiss ass because he’s my favorite author. I think you guys need to give him a chance and read more of his stuff because he really is a great writer, or at least he is in my opinion.

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