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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 ...

The Estate Agent

Terry Eagleton: Stanley Fish, 2 March 2000

The Trouble with Principle 
by Stanley Fish.
Harvard, 328 pp., £15.50, December 1999, 0 674 91012 5
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... 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 so politically addled that ‘liberal’ can mean ‘state interventionist’ and ‘libertarianism’ letting the poor die on the streets, this is perhaps not wholly unpredictable ...

Save it for HBO

Jenny Diski: Stanley Fish and ‘The Fugitive’, 17 March 2011

The Fugitive in Flight: Faith, Liberalism and Law in a Classic TV Show 
by Stanley Fish.
Pennsylvania, 152 pp., £16.50, November 2010, 978 0 8122 4277 5
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... Fandom can tempt intellectuals to take uncharacteristic risks with their primary sources. Even Stanley Fish, who as the author of Is There a Text In This Class? knows better than anyone how important the division of insider and outsider is for keeping amateurs at bay. In 1993, Fish-the-fan, enamoured of the American ...

It’s all just history

Scott Malcomson, 9 June 1994

There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It’s a Good Thing Too 
by Stanley Fish.
Oxford, 332 pp., £16.95, February 1994, 0 19 508018 1
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... idea of crucial theoretical work appears to me laughably pretentious. Crucial to whom? How? Why? Stanley Fish has created a role for himself as America’s most theoretical anti-theorist, an eager nay-sayer splashing about in Philosophy’s vain, ever-babbling spring. He has polemicised steadily on behalf of an anti-foundational pragmatism, his only ...

Doing something different

John Ellis, 27 July 1989

Doing what comes naturally: Change, Rhetoric and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies 
by Stanley Fish.
Oxford, 613 pp., £35, July 1989, 9780198129981
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... 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 1980, he published his first volume devoted to theory of criticism, Is there a text in this class?, a collection of his essays from the Seventies ...

Everything is over before it begins

A.D. Nuttall: Milton criticism, 21 June 2001

How Milton Works 
by Stanley Fish.
Harvard, 616 pp., £23.95, June 2001, 0 674 00465 5
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... an honesty which necessarily ended by exposing the weakness of the case for God. In 1967 Stanley Fish published Surprised by Sin, in which he allowed that Milton gives frequent expression to anti-Christian views and feelings but insisted that these passages always describe a temporary temptation. The great similes, drawn from pagan ...

Princeton Diary

Alan Ryan: In Princeton , 26 March 1992

... is Paul Berman’s Debating PC, culled from the contributions of George Will, Dinesh D’Souza, Stanley Fish, and others of the usual suspects.) The National Association of Scholars, formed to fight the illiberal plague, keeps up a light drizzle of complaint; Stanley Fish and friends have halfheartedly organised ...

Who can blame him?

Frank Kermode, 5 April 1990

Critical Terms for Literary Study 
edited by Frank Lentricchia and Thomas McLaughlin.
Chicago, 369 pp., £35.95, March 1990, 0 226 47201 9
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The Ideology of the Aesthetic 
by Terry Eagleton.
Blackwell, 426 pp., £35, February 1990, 0 631 16302 6
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... Something is happening to the way we think,’ said Clifford Geertz in 1980, and Stanley Fish is right to add that Geertz was partly responsible for the shift. But Fish, in a bold essay on rhetoric included in the Lentricchia-McLaughlin volume, qualifies Geertz’s remark: ‘something,’ he adds, ‘is always happening to the way we think ...

In the Gaudy Supermarket

Terry Eagleton: Gayatri Spivak, 13 May 1999

A Critique of Post-Colonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present 
by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
Harvard, 448 pp., £30.95, June 1999, 0 674 17763 0
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... we have, and so to leave critics like herself particularly vulnerable. Nobody would imagine that Stanley Fish was not up to his ears in capitalism, not least Stanley Fish; but there are a number of gullible souls in US graduate programmes who might just make the mistake of seeing Gayatri Spivak as some avatar of ...

Das Nuffa Dat and BigGloria3

Elaine Showalter: Up and Down the Academic Ladder, 1 November 2001

Academic Instincts 
by Marjorie Garber.
Princeton, 187 pp., £11.95, February 2001, 9780691049700
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Postmodern Pooh 
by Frederick Crews.
North Point, 175 pp., $22, October 2001, 0 86547 626 8
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... are too high.’ Perhaps inevitably, Garber’s example of such an envied and resented star is Stanley Fish. Fish’s salaries and lecture fees have been part of the lore of academic culture since David Lodge’s Changing Places (1975), where he appeared thinly disguised as Morris Zapp, who, ‘enviably offered his ...
... and forms of art in the traditional sense of ‘dominance’: but they have not yet achieved what Stanley Cavell calls the ‘modernist’ condition, in which the medium has to be reinvented with each new achievement. We may hear people leaving the movies saying, ‘That was weird’ (or ‘different’, or ‘original’), but we don’t hear them ...


Donald Davie, 20 May 1982

In Defence of the Imagination 
by Helen Gardner.
Oxford, 197 pp., £12.50, February 1982, 0 19 812639 5
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... or some other’s attempts to find in Shakespeare 20th-century ‘relevance’. Next man up is Stanley Fish, author of Surprised by Sin, Self-Consuming Artefacts and Is there a text in this class? Fish is a resilient veteran of many tumbles in such tourneys, and he seems to thrive on them, but because he is engaged ...

Good Girl, Bad Girl

Elaine Showalter, 5 June 1997

Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment 
by Jane Gallop.
Duke, 104 pp., £28.50, June 1997, 0 8223 1918 7
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A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned 
by Jane Tompkins.
Addison-Wesley, 256 pp., $22, January 1997, 0 201 91212 0
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Bequest and Betrayal: Memoirs of a Parent’s Death 
by Nancy Miller.
Oxford, 208 pp., £19.50, February 1997, 0 19 509130 2
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... and searching, A Life traces the process (including her marriage to the star critical theorist Stanley Fish) by which Tompkins became a well-known professor of American literature at Duke University, and then the process of her disillusionment at the lack of community and humanity in higher education. ‘At the age of 49,’ she begins, ‘having ...


Elaine Showalter: At the Modern Language Association , 9 February 1995

... coverage on CNN and National Public Radio was serious, and the Republican pundits had bigger fish to fry – word was out that they will soon try to eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities, the primary funding source for academic research, and its sister agency, the National Endowment for the Arts. Gingrich is also gunning for the Corporation ...


John Bayley: On V.S. Pritchett, the Man of Letters, 30 January 1992

... put an end to discussion of his books as experience. It is true that the reception theorists and Stanley Fish have discovered a more ingenious and less obvious tactic: confusion and viscosity can themselves be turned to account, when the text becomes an aporia awaiting a battery of interpretative machines. But how much more illuminating as well as ...

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