Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Online Course


Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

"How is there freedom to choose if one does not learn how to choose?"

This huge tour-de-force by a master scrivener begins with a college admissions interview that goes terrifically off the rails. A cast of hundreds, multiple locations, and strange juxtapositions populate the thousand-plus pages of Wallace’s last completed novel-length work. Come along as we prepare to climb some of literary fiction’s tallest peaks.

Here at base camp we will:

  1. Explore the four distinct plot threads in Wallace’s work (Tennis Academy hijinks, International Terrorist Plot, Life at a Drug Rehabilitation Center, and the mysterious and deadly independent film at the heart of it all).
  2. Discuss a collective of post-modern themes (addiction and recovery, security and freedom, free will and responsibility, the nature and role of art in society, and the ecstasy and agony of familial relationships).
  3. Discover literary allusions from Homer’s "Odyssey" to Shakespeare’s "Hamlet" to Joyce’s "Ulysses".
  4. Map Wallace’s craft as found in the novel’s unique, genre-bending structure. Among the postmodern literary explorations awaiting us, the following:
    • Intertextuality in a metafictional narrative
    • A pastiche of maximalism, irony, and paranoia
    • A world of fragmented hyperreality set in an age of digital ascension and corporate subsidization
    • Perhaps the most extensive and important use of endnotes ever attempted in literary fiction

This encyclopedic riff on what we might ironically call our ‘popular culture and the entertainment based, consumer driven society’ serves up its treasures with Wallace’s unique humor intertwined with a mastery of the use of language, in defiance of Shakespeare’s adage that ‘brevity is the soul of wit.’

This course is the first of six in a series we call The Himalayas of Literature.

Your Instructor

Stephen L. Russell
Stephen L. Russell

Many years ago, deep in the heart of Texas, Stephen fell in love with long, dense novels that most of his friends and family found better suited for pressing flowers or propping up a broken table leg than as something to crack open and read. He found these books opened his mind to rich experiences with an immediacy that simply didn't exist in day-to-day life.

Graduate level courses in Faulkner and Milton at Trinity University in San Antonio, along with continuing obsessions with Shakespeare, World Mythology, and the life changing discovery of Aristotle's "Poetics" led him to consume much of the literary canon, participate in workshops on the craft of writing, and help organize and lead discussions in a book club of serious authors, academics, and journalists studying literary craft for nearly ten years.

Stephen worked in retail sales and management for over forty years, the last fourteen as a bookstore manager, before retiring to his great passions of learning through reading great literature, writing, and sharing his experience with other bibliophiles.

He is also continuing his mythology and self-discovery studies as a student of Dr. David Frawley, studying the Vedic sciences and philosophy. His personal philosophy comes from from the great Zen teacher, Shrunyu Suzuki:

"The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner's the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."


Frequently Asked Questions

When does the course start and finish?
The course starts now and never ends! It is a completely self-paced online course - you decide when you start and when you finish.
How long do I have access to the course?
How does lifetime access sound? After enrolling, you have unlimited access to this course for as long as you like - across any and all devices you own.
What if I am unhappy with the course?
We would never want you to be unhappy! If you are unsatisfied with your purchase, contact us in the first 30 days and we will give you a full refund.

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