across the state of Illinois sat at their desks,
curled over their pencils, stuck their tongues
.between their teeth, and wrote five-paragraph
essays about wearing uniforms to school. All
except one. Hias essay began, "I never thought
much about dancin' circles before today, but if
that's what you want to know about, well, here
goes ... " And somewhere in North Carolina,
some poor soul will reach into the stack of 500
essays she will have to read that day. Four hundred
and ninety-nine will be about wearing
uniforms, and one won't. It will be "off topic."
The IGAP rules say that it must receive the
lowest possible score. But I wish I could watch
her face when she reads that first line. If she
keeps reading and smiles, I know there might
be hope for us.
From a speech given by David Foster Wallace in
March at "Metamorphosis: A New Kafka," a
symposium sponsored by the PEN American Center
in New York City to celebrate the publication of
a new translation of The Castle by Schocken
Books. Wallace is a contdributing editor of Harper's
Magazine; his short story "The Depressed Person"
appeared in the January issue.
One reason for my willingness to speak
publicly on a subject for which I am sort of underqualified
is that it affords me a chance to declaim
for you a short story of Kafka's that I
have given up teaching in literature classes and
miss getting to read aloud. Its English title is
"A Little Fable";
"Alas," said the mouse, "the world is growing
smallerevery day. At the beginning it wasso big
that Iwasafraid,Ikept running and running, and
Iwasgladwhen at last Isawwallsfar awayto the
right and left, but these longv wallshave narrowed
so quickly that Iam in the last chamber already,
and there in the corner stands the trap that I
must run into." "Youonly need to change yourdirection,"
said the cat, and ate it up.
For me, a signal frustration in trying to read
Kafka with college students is that...