• Manchester Grammar School logo

David Foster Wallace: Literature and Philosophy

Hone your skills in literary and philosophical analysis as you delve into the life of a legendary postmodernist writer.

574 enrolled on this course

David Foster Wallace at home
  • Duration

    6 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Discover the life and literature of David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace is widely regarded as one of the greatest American writers of his generation. By turns funny and moving, his formally innovative novels, short stories, and essays explore themes like boredom, addiction, irony, and the self.

On this six-week course from Manchester Grammar School, you’ll delve into the life and literature of David Foster Wallace. As you explore Foster Wallace’s philosophical and cultural impact, you’ll hone your literary analysis skills and philosophical thinking.

Explore key themes like addiction, irony, and the self

After an introduction to Foster Wallace’s life and literary influences, you’ll get stuck into analysing his writing. You’ll unpack his presentation of a range of key themes, including boredom, entertainment, addiction, and religion.

You’ll also take a closer look at the role of irony in Foster Wallace’s writing, together with his philosophical views on the nature of the self.

Understand Foster Wallace’s contribution to postmodernism

Foster Wallace’s status as a postmodernist writer is often disputed.

In Week 5 of the course, you’ll learn about postmodernism, post-postmodernism, and where Foster Wallace sits in relation to the two.

Read extracts from iconic works, including Foster Wallace’s masterpiece, Infinite Jest

Throughout the course, you’ll read extracts from some of Foster Wallace’s best-known works. From speeches and short stories to his philosophical reflections and groundbreaking novel, Infinite Jest, you’ll discover the diversity of Foster Wallace’s writing.


  • Week 1

    Introduction: Life and Themes

    • Wallace's life and context

      A brief biographical sketch of Wallace and his writings.

    • This is Water

      Engaging with Wallace's famous graduation speech

  • Week 2

    Reflections on literature’s purpose in the TV age

    • Introduction to literature's purpose in the age of television

      Watch our video introduction to this week's themes

    • Wallace's views on Television

      Philosophical reflections on literature’s purpose in the TV and internet age.

    • My Appearance

      A short story from Wallace's first collection, 'Girl With Curious Hair'

  • Week 3

    Entertainment and/as addiction

    • Introduction entertainment and/as addiction

      Video introduction to week 3.

    • Freedom extract

      Brief excerpts from Wallace's novel Infinite Jest

    • Recovery extract

      Excerpt from 'Infinite Jest' on recovery

  • Week 4

    Irony and the self

    • Introduction to week 4

      Video intro for week 4

    • Irony

      Some ideas about irony

    • The Self

      The self in Infinite Jest

    • Infinite Jest extract

      Short excerpt from Infinite Jest

  • Week 5


    • Introduction to the post-postmodern

      Intro to week 5.

    • 'Consider the Lobster'

      Wallace's food magazine essay.

  • Week 6

    The relationship between author and reader

    • Intro

      Introduction to the story 'Octet' in the collection 'Brief Interviews with Hideous Men'

    • Octet

      A short story central, both structurally and philosophically, to 'Brief Interviews with Hideous Men'

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Evaluate some of the philosophical questions raised by Wallace's work
  • Engage with a range of Wallace's writings
  • Interpret the different styles and genres of Wallace's literature
  • Debate some of the cultural questions raised in Wallace's work

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in philosophy, culture, and literature, and specifically in the work of David Foster Wallace.

It is particularly suited to pre-undergraduate level students hoping to deepen their learning about literature and philosophy.

Who will you learn with?

Andrew is Head of Religion and Philosophy at MGS. He did his PhD at Durham on Gillian Rose and Frankfurt School social philosophy. He has been lecturing and teaching for nearly 20 year

Annabelle is Deputy Head of English at Manchester Grammar School and has 25 years teaching experience.

Who developed the course?

Manchester Grammar School

Our history dates back to the time of Henry VIII, when The Manchester Grammar School was founded in 1515 by Hugh Oldham, Bishop of Exeter, to provide ‘godliness and good learning’ to the poor boys of Manchester.

The School proceeded to build a reputation as one of the country’s leading educational establishments, a position it still holds today as an independent day school.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

Do you know someone who'd love this course? Tell them about it...

You can use the hashtag #davidfosterwallace to talk about this course on social media.