Stanley Fish

Stanley Fish is a professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, in Miami.

Why Literary Criticism is like Virtue

Stanley Fish, 10 June 1993

There is a great difference between trying to figure out what a poem means and trying to figure out which interpretation of a poem will contribute to the toppling of patriarchy or to the war effort. Until recently the assertion of this difference would have been superfluous, but in many circles it has come to be an article of faith that the idea of a distinctively literary system of facts and values is at best an illusion and at worst an imposition by the powers that be of an orthodoxy designed to suppress dissent. It is thought to be an illusion for the reason that both the form and the content of a discourse are not self-generated, but have the shape they do by virtue of relationships (of similarity and difference) with other discourses that are themselves relationally, not essentially, constituted. If literature, under some definitions, occupies (has title to) the realm of the ‘imagination’ it is because other enterprises – law, sociology, chemistry and engineering would be interestingly different candidates – find their self-definition (and their methodologies) in a renunciation (not a negative, but an enabling gesture) of that realm; and each of these enterprises will in turn gain a franchise by pushing away as beside its point responsibilities and concerns that ‘belong’ elsewhere.’

Academics: beware of loving what you write about. Fandom can tempt intellectuals to take uncharacteristic risks with their primary sources. Even Stanley Fish, who as the author of Is There a Text...

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‘The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of angels and God, and at liberty when of devils and Hell, is because he was a true poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing...

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The Estate Agent: Stanley Fish

Terry Eagleton, 2 March 2000

It is one of the minor symptoms of the mental decline of the United States that Stanley Fish is thought to be on the Left. By some of his compatriots, anyway, and no doubt by himself. In a nation...

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It’s all just history

Scott Malcomson, 9 June 1994

People who can find the world in a grain of sand are not necessarily people one wants to spend a lot of time with. At a recent conference held in a SoHo gallery in New York, the moderator spoke...

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Doing something different

John Ellis, 27 July 1989

Before Stanley Fish started doing what comes naturally, he wrote standard works of literary criticism which dealt, as most such books do, with particular literary figures and periods. Then, in...

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