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Stanley Fish

Satisfactory Essays
Stanley Fish

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.

Stanley Fish, lawyer and literary critic, is in truth about as left-wing as Donald Trump. Indeed, he is the Donald Trump of American academia, a brash, noisy entrepreneur of the intellect who pushes his ideas in the conceptual marketplace with all the fervour with which others peddle second-hand Hoovers. Unlike today's corporate executive, however, who has scrupulously acquired the rhetoric of consensus and multiculturalism, Fish is an old-style, free-booting captain of industry who has no intention of clasping both of your hands earnestly in his and asking whether you feel comfortable with being fired. He fancies himself as an intellectual boot-boy, the scourge of wimpish pluralists and Nancy-boy liberals, and that ominous bulge in his jacket is not to be mistaken for a volume of Milton.

In a series of audacious bounds, then, we have argued our way from a 'radical' anti-foundationalism to a defence of the Free World. This leaves Fish in the enviable position of accruing cultural capital to himself by engaging in avant-garde theory while continuing to defend the world of Dan Quayle. A superficially historicist, materialist case - our beliefs and assumptions are embedded in our practical forms of life - leads not only to a kind of epistemological idealism, but to the deeply convenient doctrine that our way of life cannot be criticised as a whole. For who would be doing the criticising? Not us, since we cannot leap out of our local cultural skins to survey ourselves from some Olympian viewpoint; and not them either, since they inhabit a different culture which is incommensurable with our own. They may think that we are raiding their raw materials and exploiting their labour power, but that is just because they have never heard of the civilising mission of the West. The felicitous upshot is that nobody can ever criticise Fish, since if their criticisms are intelligible to him, they belong to his cultural game and are thus not really criticisms at all; and if they are not intelligible, they belong to some other set of conventions entirely and are therefore irrelevant.
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