Stanley Fish Criticism - Essay

Barbara K. Lewalski (review date July 1969)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

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Earl Miner (review date October 1973)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Robert W. Uphaus (review date Summer 1974)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Virginia R. Mollenkott (review date April 1979)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Gerald Graff (review date 14 February 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Paul Strohm (review date Spring 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Richard Wolfheim (review date 17 December 1981)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Anthony C. Yu (review date August 1982)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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John Ellis (review date 27 July 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Peter Kivy (essay date Winter 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Frank Donoghue (review date December 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Fred Siegel (essay date Spring 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Robert Stecker (essay date Summer 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Robert Hauptman (review date Autumn 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Alastair Fowler (review date October 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

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Roger Shiner (review date Fall 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Michael Neth (review date Autumn 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

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Hans Bertens (review date January 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Cass R. Sunstein (review date 6 December 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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George Scialabba (review date 31 January 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Daniel J. Silver (review date February 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Wilson Quarterly (review date Spring 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Kenneth E. Andersen (review date Summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Scott Malcolmson (review date 9 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Scott Evans (review date Spring 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Terry Eagleton (review date 24 November 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Valentine Cunningham (review date 8 December 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Rick Perlstein (review date 18 December 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Steven Connor (review date April 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Steven Connor (review date January 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Harvey C. Mansfield (review date 7 February 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Raymond Tallis (review date 25 February 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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