Course Catalog from the Jonathan Franzen Night School

The birdwatching class is mandatory

I n honor of Jonathan Franzen’s retirement, here’s a humor piece I wrote about him three years ago that nobody would publish because, I assume, it was too mean. Luckily the world has gotten much meaner since then and also my man has at least like 5 million dollars and can handle some ribbing. (Donate $500K to RAICES and I’ll take it down!) If it’s too mean for you, just substitute the name of any other highly-rated writer who once proposed to ameliorate his sense of distance from young people’s cynicism by adopting an Iraqi orphan.


One of the things that had put me in mind of [adopting an Iraqi orphan] was a sense of alienation from the younger generation. They seemed politically not the way they should be as young people. I thought people were supposed to be idealistic and angry. And they seemed kind of cynical and not very angry. At least not in any way that was accessible to me.”  

Jonathan Franzen

Here at Jonathan Franzen Night School, we respect that your intellectual approach is distinctive, maybe even avant garde. Others might learn about youth culture and activism by talking to young people, but not you — you’re too perspicacious, too heteroclite. Not for you the dry academic consideration of the thing itself. You learn about young people by getting yourself an orphan.

Our fall curriculum is designed to nurture that lateral thinking approach, while also providing flexible class times that fit into your schedule of reinventing the novel and caring for whatever young life-lessons you have at home.

Introduction to Ornithology: This is a required course at Jonathan Franzen Night School. There is no field component, and neither binoculars nor outdoor gear will be required. Instead, we will focus on understanding birds by contemplating the benthic abyss of social media. We will understand the habits and life cycles of birds in the negative space of Facebook’s slick insincerity or the shriek of the Twitter harridan. Once we arrive at the conclusion that birds are real, the internet is fake, and truth manifests only in pain and risk, we will meticulously apply ticks to our legs in order to achieve genuine emotion.

Accelerated German: We will approach the German language not through the deceitful portals of grammar and vocabulary, but through bodily immersion in the Teutonic animus, via eating schnitzel while listening to a recording of my translation of Karl Kraus. Conversational fluency will be achieved through intimate analysis of the psyche of a German woman who once declined to sleep with me.

Home Economics: Students will learn what it’s like to care for a bag of flour by carrying around a human baby for one week.

Students will learn what it’s like to care for a bag of flour by carrying around a human baby for one week.

International Relations: For the lab section of this course, we will hire people from immigrant backgrounds for assistance with childcare, home cleaning, landscaping, personal grooming, and/or vehicle maintenance. For the lecture section, we will explain to our families and colleagues how well we pay these employees and how much we respect their culture.

Women’s Studies 101: For a thorough, intersectional understanding of the challenges women have faced under patriarchy and the complex social and political factors that perpetuate this oppression, we will spend some time deeply contemplating me, Jonathan Franzen. We will stare into my eyes, palms, and navel as I lounge semi-nude on a Le Corbusier chaise longue. Once we have achieved a state of personal oneness with me, Jonathan Franzen, my assistant will ring a single clear bell, and we will experience the profound relief of floating within privilege, both buoyed by it and powerless to combat it. To celebrate our shared unity we will find some women who are engaging critically with my public persona and yell at them.

Special Topics in Creative Writing: In this class, we will explore ways to amplify the honesty, purity, and freedom of our expression of the human condition by slagging off other writers, and/or adopting them.

Please hand-write your application on expensive stationery and deliver it via 8-year-old chimney sweep. DO NOT EMAIL.

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