Join “The Empty Plenum” Reading Group

Wallace’s “The Empty Plenum” is one of his more challenging pieces of nonfiction.  Lucky for everyone, Dominik Steinhilber has put together a reading group that’s going on NOW. Head over to to read.  Below is Dominik’s original post on the project:

A few weeks ago, I was complaining about the fact that, while my students have the chance to sit together with peers who have a similar background knowledge and discuss/unravel a difficult text together, I have to struggle with the details of David Foster Wallace’s “The Empty Plenum” all by myself. As you all might have experienced yourselves at some point in your lives, sitting together and working on a text will drastically improve your understanding.

Then Matt Bucher and others messaged me suggesting I should start a reading group. Apparently, others feel the way I do as well. Then, not much happened. But this changes now.

So here’s the deal. This site is meant to serve as a platform for a group reading of David Foster Wallace’s essay “The Empty Plenum”. Originally, I wanted to do a group reading using the annotation plug-in (if you haven’t heard of it yet, TRY IT) but copyright issues got in the way. So we’re going to tackle this text the old-fashioned way.

Beginning August 19, I will be uploading short posts about background info, my thoughts and my remaining problems concerning subsections of the essay (more about these, debatable, subsections I’ve selected below). These posts will probably vary in size and style from shortish but well formulated essay-bits to bullet points or a mix of the two.

If you’re interested in joining this project, I encourage you to

  • contact me (theemptyplenum[at] and send me your email/wordpress profile so I can give you permission to comment and write your own posts (in these days of online-bullying I’d suggest we use real names. This isn’t the 2000s anymore.)
  • write your own posts and comments. Explain bits you understand, add your specialist background knowledge (there’s a lot to talk about from the Tractatus to Cavell. Someone who has actually read Wittgenstein’s Mistress could be of help as well), and most importantly, ASK QUESTIONS

Sort of like a uni-seminar. But with more motivated people (I didn’t say that. MY students are motivated most of the time). And about one essay only.

I’ve separated the essay into 10 parts which will serve us as a way to timetable our reading. This does not mean you cannot post anything about other sections of the essay if you’ve found out something interesting. However, please use the subsection ‘title’ so we all know what you’re talking about.

We’ll be using the version from Both Flesh and Not, so try to cite the pages from that collection for clarity.

If this goes well and you’re still interested, maybe we can read other DFW essays together as well.



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