Stanley Fish Essay - Critical Essays

Fish, Stanley


Stanley Fish 1938-

(Full name Stanley Eugene Fish) American critic, nonfiction writer, and essayist.

The following entry presents an overview of Fish's career through 2000.

A provocative literary theorist and intellectual gadfly, Stanley Fish has earned distinction for his investigations into the subjectivity of textual interpretation, specifically his explication of the concept of an “interpretive community.” While in the first major portion of his publishing career Fish explored the role of the reader in determining the meaning of a text (as seen through the lens of seventeenth-century English literature), he later applied his particular brand of literary theory to legal studies. He has also critiqued the work of his own colleagues, questioning the tendency of academics in English literature to politicize their writings. Fish is known, if not always appreciated, by his peers for his controversial stances.

Biographical Information

Fish was born in Providence, Rhode Island, on April 19, 1938. His family moved to Philadelphia, where he attended the University of Pennsylvania and received his B.A. in 1959. Upon graduating from college, he married Adrienne A. Aaron, with whom he had a daughter; Fish and Aaron divorced in 1980. He attended graduate school at Yale, earning his Ph.D., with a thesis on the English poet John Skelton, in 1962. Fish's first teaching job was at the University of California at Berkeley, where he received incremental promotions from the position of instructor, beginning in 1962, to that of professor of English in 1969. While at Berkeley Fish released his first book, John Skelton's Poetry (1965), as well as subsequent volumes that established his critical reputation. In 1974 Fish moved to Johns Hopkins University, where he was named Kenan Professor of English. During this period, he married his second wife, Jane Parry Tompkins, also a professor, in 1982. Fish began working at Duke University in 1985, where he served as Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English and Law, chair of the English department, associate vice provost, and executive director of Duke University Press. Since 1999 he has held the position of dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Major Works

Beginning his career with strictly academic subjects, Fish's writings came to include concerns outside of the classroom. His first book, John Skelton's Poetry, which grew out of his doctoral thesis, takes a radical perspective in interpreting Skelton's work. Fish contends that Skelton was basically a private poet and that his implicitly Christian verse serves as a record of the poet's religious development; at the center of Fish's argument is the “psychological (spiritual) history” of what he refers to as the “protagonist.” In his next book, Surprised by Sin (1967), Fish daringly argues that the subject of John Milton's masterpiece, Paradise Lost, is actually the reader. Fish attempts to show that the text of the poem, controlled by its author's didactic goals, uses different techniques involving form and theme to call attention to the reader's interpretive inadequacies; the reader's deficiencies are pointed out by the poem, making the reader open to being educated as to “the ways of God to men.” Self-Consuming Artifacts (1972) presents a more direct confrontation of the matter of form within a text. In this book Fish identifies two types of literature: rhetorical, which confirms and reinforces the author's position, therefore affirming the reader's expectations and “self-esteem”; and dialectical, which undermines, or “consumes,” the reader's self-esteem by challenging assumptions and subverting expectations. Fish contends that seventeenth-century writers such as John Donne, George Herbert, John Bunyan, and Milton construct texts that are consumed under their own authority—thereby winning Fish's favor. In Is There a Text in This Class? (1980), Fish continues to explore the idea of reader-as-subject. This collection of essays provides a broader statement of the author's notion that the reader, instead of merely discovering the meaning of a text, actually determines it. The author also calls into question the credibility of facts, maintaining that what are considered facts actually rely on certain assumptions within particular institutions. Facts thus depend upon the agreement of the members of an institution; if the nature of the institution is questioned, then the facts embraced by that institution can also be called into doubt. Is There a Text in This Class? emphasizes the role of an “interpretive community,” whereby meaning is attributed to a text through readers who, as members of such a group, share certain “interpretive assumptions.” Doing What Comes Naturally (1989) broadens the scope of the author's work in literary criticism to include legal studies. In this collection of essays, Fish examines the relation of theory to practice, the connection between meaning and context, and the influence of rhetoric on argument. In There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too (1994), Fish argues that free speech cannot be separated from partisan politics and therefore scorns liberals who believe in the possibility of neutrality. Fish's interest in politics continued with Professional Correctness (1995), in which he criticizes academics for investing their scholarly writings with political meaning, and The Trouble with Principle (1999), in which he uses, among other examples, the debate over affirmative action to assert that an emphasis on principles impedes democracy.

Critical Reception

Critics have greeted Fish's writings with a mixture of admiration and opposition. His first major scholarly work, Surprised by Sin, was praised by reviewers for its consideration of Paradise Lost, particularly in illustrating how the poem forces a sense of guilt upon the reader to open the reader to the work's instructive aims. This idea of the “guilty reader,” however, was also criticized for rendering the reader incapable of forming a critical judgment and thus precluding criticism of the work. Critics began to take serious note of Fish's ideas with Is There a Text in This Class? Fish's enervating writing style apparently played a significant role in the book's success in winning critics over to his argument that, even more so than the text itself, the reader's response creates the meaning of a text. There's No Such Thing as Free Speech generated a considerable debate. Fish was criticized for what was observed to be an overly strong cynicism concerning liberalism; on the other hand, the book was praised as helping to revive, through wit and word play, the rather weary state of current legal discourse. Critics also reacted strongly to Professional Correctness. While Fish's case that the university holds the most promise as a site for intellectual integrity was accepted, critics argued that he was incorrect in pointing to the academic world as the source of its own potential demise, instead locating the danger in the contemporary political climate; in any case, “professionalism” was not expected by critics to save the day. The Trouble with Principle again caught the attention of reviewers, who pointed out Fish's methods for exposing the actual lack of neutrality in the “democratic discourse” of liberals. Fish's opposition to the “principles” of liberalism, however, was not found to be either original in its stance or conclusive in terms of supplying a remedy for the current political state. Despite the criticisms found in response to the author's claims, Fish is known as an insightful critic of contemporary culture, one certainly not timid about potentially drawing the ire of his peers; whether they agree with him or not, critics have recognized Fish for the energetic creativity of his thought.

Principal Works

John Skelton's Poetry (criticism) 1965

Surprised by Sin: The Reader in “Paradise Lost” (criticism) 1967

Seventeenth-Century Prose: Modern Essays in Criticism [editor] (criticism) 1971

Self-Consuming Artifacts: The Experience of Seventeenth-Century Literature (criticism) 1972

The Living Temple: George Herbert and Catechizing (criticism) 1978

Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities (essays) 1980

Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies (essays) 1989

There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too (essays) 1994

Professional Correctness: Literary Studies and Political Change (nonfiction) 1995

The Stanley Fish Reader (essays and criticism) 1999

The Trouble with Principle (nonfiction) 1999


Barbara K. Lewalski (review date July 1969)

SOURCE: A review of Surprised by Sin, in Journal of English and German Philology, Vol. 68, No. 3, July, 1969, pp. 517-21.

[In the following review, Lewalski praises Fish's interpretation of Milton's Paradise Lost, but objects to his suggestion that the text works upon the reader's own sinfulness and demands an uncritical leap of faith.]

The much-discussed interpretative cruxes in Paradise Lost—the heroism and magnificence of Satan in Books I and II, the sympathetic portrayal of Adam and Eve sinning, the unattractive harshness of God’s speeches in the Heavenly Council—have been viewed from two basic critical perspectives. William Empson, A. J....

(The entire section is 2220 words.)

Earl Miner (review date October 1973)

SOURCE: A review of Self-Consuming Artifacts, in Journal of English and German Philology, Vol. 72, No. 4, October, 1973, pp. 536-43.

[In the following review, Miner praises the achievement of Self-Consuming Artifacts, though he takes issue with Fish's interpretation of Plato's Phaedrus and his dismissal of Thomas Browne. Miner also discusses Fish's perspective and importance as a leading practitioner of reader-response criticism.]

Critical movements are made up of people who find each other’s ideas or personalities congenial, or who share common enemies, and there seldom exists a common method of doctrine agreed upon in detail. The so-called...

(The entire section is 4304 words.)

Robert W. Uphaus (review date Summer 1974)

SOURCE: A review of Self-Consuming Artifacts, in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 32, No. 4, Summer, 1974, pp. 572-73.

[In the following review of Self-Consuming Artifacts, Uphaus finds contradictions in Fish's Platonic-Christian perspective and “anti-aesthetic” argument.]

For readers of this journal, the importance of Fish’s book [Self-Consuming Artifacts] rests with his challenge to the dominant assumption of the autonomy of art objects. Although Fish’s principal subject is the literature of seventeenth-century England, particularly that literature informed by a combination of Platonic and Christian assumptions, it is the...

(The entire section is 1001 words.)

Virginia R. Mollenkott (review date April 1979)

SOURCE: A review of The Living Temple, in Journal of English and German Philology, Vol. 78, No. 2, April, 1979, pp. 255-58.

[In the following review, Mollenkott provides an overview of Fish's critical argument in The Living Temple and discusses paradoxical and controversial aspects of his assertions.]

If Surprised by Sin set off among certain Miltonists the reaction of Fish-baiting, and Self-Consuming Artifacts widened the scope of that reaction, The Living Temple: George Herbert and Catechizing will probably draw even more seventeenth-century critics into the current of swimming against the Fish. The reasons are not difficult to...

(The entire section is 1432 words.)

Gerald Graff (review date 14 February 1981)

SOURCE: “Culture and Anarchy,” in The New Republic, February 14, 1981, pp. 36-8.

[In the following review of Is There a Text in This Class?, Graff provides an overview of Fish's critical perspective and exposes fundamental logical flaws in his assertions about the nature of perception and social communication.]

One day in 1971, Professor Stanley Fish tried an experiment in one of his literature classes. Pointing to a random list of names on the blackboard left over from a previous class, Fish told the students “that what they saw on the blackboard was a religious poem of the kind they had been studying,” and he asked them to interpret it. Immediately, he...

(The entire section is 2829 words.)

Paul Strohm (review date Spring 1981)

SOURCE: A review of Is There a Text in This Class?, in Criticism, Vol. 23, No. 2, Spring, 1981, pp. 177-81.

[In the following review of Is There a Text in This Class?, Strohm provides a summary of Fish's critical arguments and offers a positive assessment of the volume.]

Is There a Text in This Class? is Stanley Fish’s critical autobiography, a collection of twelve essays published over the last decade (Chapters 1–12) and four previously unpublished lectures delivered at Kenyon College in 1979 (Chapters 13–16) held together by an introductory outline of the development of his thought and by prefatory notes at the head of each chapter which...

(The entire section is 1667 words.)

Richard Wolfheim (review date 17 December 1981)

SOURCE: “The Professor Knows,” in New York Review of Books, December 17, 1981, pp. 64-6.

[In the following unfavorable review of Is There a Text in This Class?, Wolfheim finds contradictions and logical lapses in Fish's theory of literary interpretation.]

Stanley Fish is a prominent professor of English who now teaches at Johns Hopkins University; he is a seventeenth-century scholar of distinction and a force among those literary critics who not merely assert but exercise the broader claims of their subject. In Is There a Text in This Class? he provides us with a decade’s reflections on what literary criticism is and what literary works are. Thus...

(The entire section is 5613 words.)

Anthony C. Yu (review date August 1982)

SOURCE: A review of Is There a Text in This Class?, in Modern Philology, Vol. 80, No. 1, August, 1982, pp. 113-16.

[In the following review of Is There a Text in This Class?, Yu provides an overview of Fish's critical perspective and commends his “charm, wit, and acumen” but dismisses his elaborate defense of a “lopsided thesis.”]

To the question posed by the title of this book, its author has provided the most succinct answer at the outset. “There isn’t a text in this or any other class if one means by text what E. D. Hirsch and others mean by it, ‘an entity which always remains the same from one moment to the next’ (Validity in...

(The entire section is 1701 words.)

John Ellis (review date 27 July 1989)

SOURCE: “Doing Something Different,” in London Review of Books, July 27, 1989, pp. 20-2.

[In the following review of Doing What Comes Naturally, Ellis finds logical fallacies in Fish's argument and disapproves of his alignment with certain fashionable schools of contemporary criticism.]

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. Doing What Comes...

(The entire section is 3360 words.)

Peter Kivy (essay date Winter 1989)

SOURCE: “Fish's Consequences,” in British Journal of Aesthetics, Vol. 29, No. 1, Winter, 1989, pp. 57-64.

[In the following essay, Kivy examines various contradictions and logical flaws of Fish's theoretical perspective, particularly those involving distinctions between demonstration and persuasion models of criticism and their respective implications for literary interpretation.]

I want to examine, in this essay, the consequences for the practice of criticism there would necessarily be if what Stanley Fish says about that practice were indeed the truth. I am not interested, here, in truth, but in consequences. Fish believes that the implications of his view for...

(The entire section is 4267 words.)

Frank Donoghue (review date December 1989)

SOURCE: A review of Doing What Comes Naturally, in MLN, Vol. 104, No. 5, December, 1989, pp. 1189-91.

[In the following review, Donoghue offers a positive assessment of Doing What Comes Naturally.]

Stanley Fish states that Doing What Comes Naturally “reduces to an argument in which the troubles and benefits of interpretive theory are made to disappear in the solvent of an enriched notion of practice” (viii). In dismissing the premise, still powerful in mainstream American literary studies, that what we do with any given text must be accountable to some general theory of interpretation, Fish sets himself an extremely ambitious task. In order to...

(The entire section is 1187 words.)

Fred Siegel (essay date Spring 1990)

SOURCE: “Is There a Fish in This Class?,” in Dissent, Vol. 37, Spring, 1990, pp. 259-60.

[In the following essay, Siegel comments on Fish's sophistry and apparent lack of concern for the real-world implications of his theoretical arguments, as demonstrated by his remarks at a public lecture.]

Stanley Fish, the Duke University Arts and Sciences professor of English, chair of the Duke English Department, distinguished professor of law, and self-described “academic leftist,” has just finished a dazzling performance. The overflow audience at Princeton has sat rapt as Fish, who made his reputation as a critic of Renaissance poetry and a theorist of “self-consuming...

(The entire section is 673 words.)

Robert Stecker (essay date Summer 1990)

SOURCE: “Fish's Argument for the Relativity of Interpretative Truth,” in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 48, No. 3, Summer, 1990, pp. 223-30.

[In the following essay, Stecker examines Fish's theoretical claims about the contextual modes of literary meaning and interpretation, as presented in Is There a Text in This Class; Stecker concludes that Fish's effort to assert the validity of interpretative assumptions as an alternative to relativism or foundationalism ultimately results in its own form of relativism.]

There are four interrelated philosophical problems about the interpretation of literature. While I speak here of literature, these...

(The entire section is 5776 words.)

Robert Hauptman (review date Autumn 1990)

SOURCE: A review of Doing What Comes Naturally, in World Literature Today, Vol. 64, No. 4, Autumn, 1990, p. 707.

[In the following review of Doing What Comes Naturally, Hauptman commends Fish's writings on academic professionalism and the impossibility of “critical self-consciousness,” but finds much of the collection jargon-ridden and unconvincing.]

Stanley Fish is one of the most important practicing critics of the U.S. His previous works, especially Is There a Text in This Class?, have been extremely influential; his studies of the intersection of literature and law are at the cutting edge of criticism; and his writings on professionalism...

(The entire section is 724 words.)

Alastair Fowler (review date October 1990)

SOURCE: “Serious or Rhetorical?,” in Essays in Criticism, Vol. XL, No. 4, October, 1990, pp. 339-47.

[In the following review of Doing What Comes Naturally, Fowler finds shortcomings in Fish's theoretical positions and specious arguments, but commends his ability to skillfully dissect the inadequacies of vying critical stances.]

Stanley Fish seems always ahead of the game. Over more decades than seems possible for anyone to stay with it, he has kept up a brilliant cascade of fluent criticism, always au fait, always state of the art, always extending the operations of a school beginning to be fashionable, always knowing pointed questions to put it to....

(The entire section is 3142 words.)

Roger Shiner (review date Fall 1991)

SOURCE: A review of Doing What Comes Naturally, in Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 49, No. 4, Fall, 1991, pp. 375-78.

[In the following review, Shiner provides discussion of Fish's theoretical arguments in Doing What Comes Naturally, particularly those involving legal studies. Shiner offers a positive assessment of Fish's collection, though he concludes that it is “not a great book.”]

The position of Stanley Fish in the canon of canon-busters is deservedly assured. This splendid collection of essays [Doing What Comes Naturally] is required reading for all ichthyophiles (and -phobes), and indeed for anyone who wishes to be...

(The entire section is 3027 words.)

Michael Neth (review date Autumn 1991)

SOURCE: “Johnny One-Note,” in The American Scholar, Vol. 60, No. 4, Autumn, 1991, pp. 608-13.

[In the following review of Doing What Comes Naturally, Neth commends the scope and ambition of Fish's writings, but objects to his “self-fulfilling” assertions and “disingenuous” motivations.]

Stanley Fish’s intellectual ingenuity and argumentative rigor were established in his previous books, Surprised by Sin (his controversial study of Paradise Lost, published in 1967) and its sequel, Self-Consuming Artifacts (1972), and in his first full-length incursion into the arcane realm of literary theory, the collection of essays that Fish,...

(The entire section is 2348 words.)

Hans Bertens (review date January 1992)

SOURCE: A review of Doing What Comes Naturally, in Modern Language Review, Vol. 87, No. 1, January, 1992, pp. 160-61.

[In the following review, Bertens offers a positive assessment of Doing What Comes Naturally, which he concludes is “an irreverent, important book that addresses highly interesting issues with force and clarity.”]

In his preface, Stanley Fish tells us that he can imagine at least two objections to this massive collection of essays [Doing What Comes Naturally]. A first charge might be made against the extraordinary diversity of a collection that offers essays on Austin’s speech-act theory, on the work of Wolfgang Iser, on the...

(The entire section is 958 words.)

Cass R. Sunstein (review date 6 December 1993)

SOURCE: “The Professor's New Clothes,” in The New Republic, December 6, 1993, pp. 42-6.

[In the following review of There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too, Sunstein objects to Fish's brand of abstract pragmatism and his dismissal of all human claims as mere “politics” without distinction. Sunstein contends that Fish's theoretical notions pose self-defeating implications for free expression and educational reform on university campuses.]

The contemporary debate about free speech on the campus follows a predictable script. On one side stand the self-described absolutists. Proudly decrying political correctness, they claim to...

(The entire section is 4390 words.)

George Scialabba (review date 31 January 1994)

SOURCE: “Only Words,” in The Nation, January 31, 1994, pp. 135-37.

[In the following review of There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too, Scialabba commends Fish's “dazzling facility” but disagrees with his views on affirmative action.]

“Poetry makes nothing happen,” Auden wrote—nothing political, anyway. And neither does philosophy, as Richard Rorty has recently shown. You’d never know it, though, from the last decade or so of all-out cultural polemics. The sky is falling, warns the right, and it’s the fault of tenured radicals and trendy artistes. Racism, sexism and imperialism remain unsmashed, complains the...

(The entire section is 2004 words.)

Daniel J. Silver (review date February 1994)

SOURCE: “The Higher Gamesmanship,” in Commentary, Vol. 97, No. 2, February, 1994, pp. 58-61.

[In the following review, Silver gives an unfavorable assessment of There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too, which he dismisses as “a parody of liberalism.”]

Stanley Fish, a professor at Duke University, is a famous Milton scholar who has also written a great deal on the theory of literary criticism and the philosophy of law. His recent and more general notoriety, however, rests on his participation in a series of public debates with Dinesh D’Souza, the author of Illiberal Education,1 on the status of “political...

(The entire section is 1624 words.)

Wilson Quarterly (review date Spring 1994)

SOURCE: A review of There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too, in Wilson Quarterly, Vol. 18, No. 2, Spring, 1994, pp. 87-8.

[In the following review, the critic provides a summary of Fish's ideas and positions presented in There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too.]

While the current impulse in the so-called “canon wars” may be toward conciliation, there’s little likelihood that Fish will have a seat at the peace table if multiculturalists and traditionalists bury their differences and shake hands on the White House lawn. Fish, a professor of literature and law at Duke University, is an idiosyncratic and...

(The entire section is 680 words.)

Kenneth E. Andersen (review date Summer 1994)

SOURCE: A review of There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too, in Journalism Quarterly, Vol. 71, No. 2, Summer, 1994, pp. 476-77.

[In the following review of There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too, Andersen commends Fish's thought-provoking writings, though he notes that Fish raises more questions than he resolves.]

Stanley Fish, professor of English and Law at Duke University, recently named to head the Duke University Press, has combined previous articles, speeches, an interview, and new material to yield a provocative, frustrating, ultimately engaging book.

Despite its title, the book...

(The entire section is 555 words.)

Scott Malcolmson (review date 9 June 1994)

SOURCE: “It's All Just History,” in London Review of Books, June 9, 1994, p. 9.

[In the following review, Malcolmson provides an overview of Fish's theoretical perspective and arguments in There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too. Malcolmson commends Fish's dissection of political correctness and multiculturalism but finds contradictions in his historical determinism and disavowal of principle.]

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 of interventions and discursive spaces, of...

(The entire section is 2121 words.)

Scott Evans (review date Spring 1995)

SOURCE: “Free Speech: No Such Thing,” in The Review of Politics, Vol. 57, No. 2, Spring, 1995, pp. 368-72.

[In the following review, Evans offers a positive analysis of Fish's postmodern perspective and critical legal-studies arguments in There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too.]

This collection of popular and academic essays continues the project of the author’s Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies (1989) in which he employs principles of postmodernist literary theory to analyze a variety of academic topics of current interest. The new collection [There’s No...

(The entire section is 1995 words.)

Terry Eagleton (review date 24 November 1995)

SOURCE: “The Death of Self-Criticism,” in Times Literary Supplement, November 24, 1995, pp. 6-7.

[In the following negative review of Professional Correctness, Eagleton derides Fish as a disingenuous conservative who, despite his relativist claims, dismisses the validity of political criticism in the interest of preserving the status quo.]

Nobody can seriously disagree with Stanley Fish. If you understand what he is saying, then you and he share an “interpretive community” which runs deeper than any local wrangling. If he can’t understand what you are saying, this is probably because you inhabit a world of discourse incommensurable with his own, and so...

(The entire section is 2927 words.)

Valentine Cunningham (review date 8 December 1995)

SOURCE: “Motormouth Silliness,” in New Statesman & Society, December 8, 1995, pp. 27-8.

[In the following review, Cunningham presents a strongly negative assessment of Fish's assertions in Professional Correctness.]

If decibel levels settled arguments, Stanley Fish would be the cock of the critical walk. The American theorist has had little fresh to say about the nature of criticism for a long time. He continues to attract attention, though, by booming out the old stories with ever greater stridency. Should you presume to venture a demurral, you’ll be met by a mere repetition in a louder voice. Professor Fish doubtless thinks, in the words of the poet, he’s...

(The entire section is 1186 words.)

Rick Perlstein (review date 18 December 1995)

SOURCE: “Criticism vs. Citizenship,” in The Nation, December 18, 1995, pp. 792-97.

[In the following unfavorable review of Professional Correctness, Perlstein provides an overview of Fish's rise to prominence and dismisses as naive his assertions about the place of literary criticism and humanities scholarship in light of the grim realities facing aspiring university professors.]

I have just returned from a scholarly conference on the sixties, where I met Michael. In 1971, Michael was a high school senior in Winona, Minnesota. Flush with visions of possible worlds, he skipped college, joined a communal farm and became an early coordinator of the co-op...

(The entire section is 2586 words.)

Steven Connor (review date April 1997)

SOURCE: A review of There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too, in Modern Language Review, Vol. 92, No. 2, April, 1997, pp. 412-13.

[In the following review, Connor provides a summary of Fish's concerns and arguments in There's No Such Thing as Free Speech and It's a Good Thing, Too.]

In these courteously combative, affably brawling essays [in There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech and It’s a Good Thing, Too] Stanley Fish continues to rage against the mistaken objectivism and universalism that he detects not only in the neoconservative defenders of cultural tradition and the American way but also in the liberal promoters of...

(The entire section is 769 words.)

Steven Connor (review date January 1998)

SOURCE: A review of Professional Correctness, in Modern Language Review, Vol. 93, No. 1, January, 1998, pp. 149-50.

[In the following review of Professional Correctness, Connor finds fault in Fish's pat conclusions and unwillingness to recognize ambiguity.]

This book, [Professional Correctness] which is a revised and expanded version of the Clarendon Lectures that Stanley Fish gave at Oxford in 1993, is directed against the ideal of interdisciplinarity at large in literary studies and the humanities and, more narrowly, the promise often held out by those who urge this ideal, that breaking out of narrow disciplinary assumptions will allow literary...

(The entire section is 521 words.)

Harvey C. Mansfield (review date 7 February 2000)

SOURCE: “The Trouble with Stanley,” in National Review, February 7, 2000, pp. 46-8.

[In the following unfavorable review of Professional Correctness, Mansfield expresses appreciation for Fish's assaults on liberal intellectuals but objects to his strict contextual view of reality and his reduction of principle to mere rhetoric.]

The trouble with principle, we learn from Stanley Fish, is that it does not necessarily accord with what we like. And when it doesn’t, instead of sacrificing our desires to principle—as we should—we sacrifice principle to our desires.

It’s not a new point, but Fish, a man of the Left, uses it mainly to...

(The entire section is 1826 words.)

Raymond Tallis (review date 25 February 2000)

SOURCE: “Will the Real Stanley Fish Stand Up, Please?,” in Times Literary Supplement, February 25, 2000, pp. 6-7.

[In the following unfavorable review of The Trouble with Principle, Tallis finds serious shortcomings in Fish's skeptical relativism and disavowal of principle. Tallis contends that “principles alone are insufficient; but they are necessary.”]

Stanley Fish’s many enemies—he has been described as “the most feared English teacher in the world”—have served him well over the years. Notoriety has propelled him from stardom to megastardom. But this has sometimes prevented him from being taken as seriously as he sometimes deserves. He...

(The entire section is 2580 words.)

Further Reading


Begley, Adam. “Souped-Up Scholar.” New York Times Magazine (3 May 1992): 38.

Provides an overview of Fish's controversial theoretical perspective and its application to literary criticism, multiculturalism, and issues of political correctness.

Galston, William A. “The Trouble with Fish.” The Public Interest 139 (Spring 2000): 99-105.

A negative review of The Trouble with Principle in which Galston finds contradictions and dangerous implications in Fish's reduction of all political ideals to equal forms of rhetoric and his dismissal of independent normative justifications to differentiate...

(The entire section is 386 words.)