(Stanley) Fish Food for Thought: Aesthetic Reflections

Welcome to Part 3 of PUP’s Stanley Fish series, Fish Food for Thought. All selections are excerpted from Fish’s new book, Think Again: Contrarian Reflections on Life, Culture, Politics, Religion, Law, and Education.


Fish Food for Thought

Part 3: Aesthetic Reflections

2.1 Why Do Writers Write?writing

February 11, 2007

Fish on the internal satisfaction when writing.

If you’ve found something you really like to do — say write beautiful sentences — not because of the possible benefits to the world of doing it, but because doing it brings you the satisfaction and sense of completeness nothing else can, then do it at the highest level of performance you are capable of, and leave the world and its problems to others, (41)

2.4 The Ten Best American Movies

January 4, 2009

Fish on one of his favorite movies, 1980’s ‘Raging Bull.’

Most boxing movies trace the classic pattern of rise, fall, and redemption…or tell a moral tale about the corruption of the sport… or detail the corruption of the protagonist. Raging Bull offers no triumph and no moral. It just exhibits the self-destructiveness of its central figure again and again…the wonder is that Scorsese was able to make something lyrical out of a polluting self-destructiveness, but that is what he did, (55)

2.6 Larger than Life: Charlton Heston

April 13, 2008

Fish on former Hollywood star Charlton Heston.

The fact is that Heston’s size, his monumentality, was an obstacle he had to overcome in order to become the actor he wanted to be… Not only was Heston capable of playing a small man; the tension between the inner smallness he was portraying and his physical mass added strength and poignancy to the performance,(63)

2.8 Little Big Men

March 1, 2010

Fish on identifying with actors.

Seeing men you know to be small playing big on the silver screen is comforting, even though the comfort depends on a very suspect transference…But you take your comfort where you can get it, and for me, comfort at the highest level would be identifying with a short, tough guy who is also Jewish, (71-72)

2.13 Country RoadsThink Again jacket

July 1, 2007

Fish on the world of country music.

But if you enter, if only vicariously, into the country music culture, you have to swallow, along with your enjoyment, some stances and attitude that might you pause (or might not, depending on who you are). It’s a man’s world… It’s a Christian world… It’s a white world… It’s a patriotic world… And it is a world that knows everything I have just said about it, revels in it, and puts it all into the songs, (88-89)


(Stanley) Fish Food for Thought, Part 2: Reflections on Liberal Arts Education

Welcome to Part 2 of PUP’s Stanley Fish series, Fish Food for Thought. All selections are excerpted from Fish’s new book, Think Again.


Fish Food for Thought

Part 2: Reflections on Liberal Arts Education

7.1 Why We Built the Ivory Tower

May 1, 2006

Fish on the difference between the academic and advocacy worlds.

In short, don’t cross the boundary between academic work and partisan advocacy, whether the advocacy is yours or someone else’s. Marx famously said that our job is not to interpret the world, but to change it. In the academy, however, it is exactly the reverse: our job is not to change the world, but to interpret it. (301)

7.4 Devoid of Content

May 31, 2005

Fish on teaching language structure, not content, in the classroom.

Students who take so-called courses in writing . . . are learning how to marshal arguments in ways that will improve their compositional skills. In fact, they will be learning nothing they couldn’t have learned better by sitting around in a dorm room. . . . They will certainly not be learning anything about how language works; and without a knowledge of how language works, they will be unable to either spot the formal breakdown of someone else’s language or to prevent the formal breakdown of their own. (313)

7.6 Will the Humanities Save Us?

January 6, 2008

Fish on the purpose of humanities courses.

To the question, ‘Of what use are the humanities?’, the only honest answer is none whatsoever. And it is an answer that brings honor to its subject. Justification, after all, confers value on an activity from a perspective outside its performance. An activity that cannot be justified is an activity that refuses to regard itself as instrumental to some larger good. The humanities are their own good. There is nothing more to say, and anything that is said . . . diminishes the object of its supposed praise.(323)

7.7 The Uses of the Humanities

January 13, 2008

Fish on why he teaches humanities subjects.

Why do I do it? . . . I don’t do it because it inspires me to do other things, like change my religion or go out and work for the poor. If I had to say, I’d say that I do it because I get something like an athletic satisfaction from the experience of trying to figure out how a remarkable verbal feat has been achieved. . . . [I]t is like solving a puzzle—but the greater satisfaction is the opportunity to marvel at what a few people are able to do with the language we all use. (324325)

7.10 Deep in the Heart of TexasThink Again jacket

June 21, 2010

Fish on recognizing a quality education.

But sometimes (although not always) effective teaching involves the deliberate inducing of confusion, the withholding of clarity, the refusal to provide answers. . . . And sometimes that disappointment, while extremely annoying at the moment, is the sign that you’ve just been the beneficiary of a great course, although you may not realize it for decades. (340)


(Stanley) Fish Food for Thought: Personal Reflections

Think Again jacketFrom 1995 to 2013, Stanley Fish’s provocative New York Times columns consistently generated passionate discussion and debate. In Think Again, he has assembled almost one hundred of his best columns into a thematically arranged collection with a substantial new introduction that explains his intention in writing these pieces and offers an analysis of why they provoked so much reaction. Welcome to the new weekly blog series,Fish Food for Thought. Each week, we will feature particularly memorable quotes and excerpts from  Think Again: Contrarian Reflections on Life, Culture, Politics, Religion, Law and Education. You can also check out his weekly opinion pieces in The Huffington Post.




Fish Food for Thought

Part 1: Personal Reflections

1.1 My Life Report

October 31, 2011

Fish on what he’s done well and what he’s learned along the way.

I was lucky, and that, I believe, made all the difference … So that’s what I did well. I arrived at places at the right time and had enough sense to seize the opportunities that were presented to me … even the opportunity to write for this newspaper [New York Times] … as usual, I didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do, but I said yes anyway to this newest piece of luck, (4)

1.2 ‘Tis the Season

December 21, 2009

Fish on feeling guilty giving to others during the Holiday season.

No deed a fallen man or woman might perform is free of what George Herbert called the ‘tincture of the private.’ Apparently selfless acts are always done in the service of the ego’s enhancement … In short, however much you try – indeed, because you try – you can’t be good or do good, (9)

1.5 My Life on the Court

March 22, 2009

Fish on the pleasures of playing basketball.

The marvel is that focused intensity can be achieved even in the act of failure, even by someone who knows what to do next but most of the time can’t quite do it … In those moments of surrender to the game, all one’s troubles, all one’s strivings, all one’s pretty irritations fall away. And if, occasionally, you actually do set the hard pick or deliver the perfect pass or make the improbable shot, well, that’s just icing on the cake,(20)

1.8 I am, Therefore I Pollute

August 3, 2008

Fish on being environmentally friendly.

I don’t want to save the planet. I just want to inhabit it as comfortably as possible for as long as I have… I am wholly persuaded by the arguments in support of the practices I resist. I believe that recycling is good and that disposable paper products are bad. I believe in global warming. I believe in Al Gore. But it is possible to believe something and still resist taking the actions your belief seems to require, (26-28)

1.11 Moving On

May 27, 2013

Fish on departing with all of his books.

What I saw on the shelves was work to which I would never return, the writings of fellow critics whom I will no longer engage, interpretive dilemmas someone else will have to address. The conversations I had participated in for decades have now gone in another direction (indeed, several other directions), and I have neither the time nor, if truth be told, the intellectual energy required to catch up. Farewell to all that. So long, it’s been good to know you. I’m sure you’ll do fine without me, (33)


Happy birthday, Gita

001_Davis_figEvery great living religious work must have had a birth, but not many celebrate their birthdays. The Bhagavad Gita, a classic Hindu scripture, does. This year Hindus are celebrating the Gita Jayanti today, December 2.

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The Bhagavad Gita records a conversation on the battlefield of Kurukshetra between two figures, Krishna and Arjuna, just before the start of a great eighteen-day battle. The warrior Arjuna is distraught over the prospect of fighting against his relatives and teachers, and Krishna seeks to persuade him to engage in the upcoming battle. The discussion deals not just with the propriety of war, but also with the ethical dilemmas, the religious practices, and the philosophical issues that concerned Indian elites at the time of its composition. And we are told in the Mahabharata, the massive epic poem of which the Bhagavad Gita is a small portion, that their dialogue took place on the eleventh day of the waxing moon in the lunar month of Marghashirsha. This year, that day falls on December 2 of our solar calendar.When I visited Kurukshetra in 2011 for the Gita Jayanti, a local official told me with great confidence that the Gita was celebrating its 5103rd birthday. That would make the Gita 5106 years old today. Textual historians are more circumspect. According to current scholarship, the Bhagavad Gita was composed in the century or two before or after the time of Christ. But scholarly skepticism does not diminish the observances that mark the birth and life of this classic text.Around the world, in Singapore or Malaysia, the United Kingdom or the United States, wherever Hindus have come to live, the Gita Jayanti is celebrated. Most often it is a modest festival. It may consist entirely of a collective recitation of the seven-hundred verses of the Bhagavad Gita text. Some communities organize competitions for children in Gita recitation. One group, the Swadhyay Parivar, arranges for young people to give speeches on the philosophy of the Gita. According to its website, 2.2 million children participated last year. For the International Society of Krishna Consciousness devotees, recitation of the text is combined with distribution of copies of the Gita, as translated by the founder of ISKCON, Swami Prabhupada.Nowhere is the Gita Jayanti celebrated with greater élan than in Kuruksetra, a small pilgrimage town in the state of Haryana, where according to tradition the Gita took birth. Since 1989, the Kurukshetra Development Board has organized and promoted the celebration of Gita Jayanti as part of a larger five-day Kurukshetra Festival. In addition to recitations and discourses on the work, Kurukshetra hosts a procession of musician and holy men, cultural performances in several great tents, political leaders being felicitated, fireworks, an enormous crafts fair of over five hundred displays from throughout India, and a lovely Deep Daan, where hundreds of dainty clay oil-lamps are set afloat at nightfall in the water-tank at the center of town. My teenaged friend Akash Rana writes that he and his friends are “enjoying too much” the festival this year, with the dances of all the different states and the spicy foods from all around India. He wishes I could be there.Like many great religious works, the Bhagavad Gita has lived a long and varied life since its time of birth. Readings and recitation, translations and commentaries have reinscribed this classical Sanskrit work into new currents and disputes for two millennia. Medieval Brahmin scholars and Krishna devotees, British colonial scholars and German Romantics, globe-trotting Hindu gurus and Indian anticolonial freedom fighters, and modern spiritual seekers in India and around the world have all kept the work alive through their own dialogues with the Gita. In celebrating the birthday of the Bhagavad Gita today, we can also celebrate this long interpretive history.

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This is a guest post by Richard H. Davis, professor of religion at Bard College and author of The Bhagavad Gita: A Biography.

The Marginalia Review of Books announces the “Lives of Great Religious Books Essay Competition”

From The Marginalia Review of Books web site:


The Marginalia Review of Books announces the “Lives of Great Religious Books Essay Competition.” We invite essay submissions of up to 3,000 words related to the theme of the reception of religious books, broadly conceived. Those interested should read past essays to ensure their submissions correspond to MRB‘s style. The eminent philosopher Roger Scruton will join the MRB editors to judge the competition. The winner will receive Princeton University Press’s entire Lives of Great Religious Books series, and we will consider all submissions for publication in early 2015.

The competition closes on November 1 and the winner will be announced in January 2015.

For details on how to submit an essay for consideration, please visit The Marginalia Review of Books web site.

About the Lives of Great Religious Books series:

Lives of Great Religious Books is a new series of short volumes that recount the complex and fascinating histories of important religious texts from around the world. Written for general readers by leading authors and experts, these books examine the historical origins of texts from the great religious traditions, and trace how their reception, interpretation, and influence have changed–often radically–over time. As these stories of translation, adaptation, appropriation, and inspiration dramatically remind us, all great religious books are living things whose careers in the world can take the most unexpected turns.

Carlin Romano called the series “innovative,” in his earlier article for The Chronicle of Higher Education and Bruce Elder, writing for The Sydney Morning Herald praised the series as an “inspired publishing idea.”

For a list of the books currently available in the series, please click here.

To see the list of forthcoming volumes, please click here.


The 2013 Bird Migration Series

The Warbler GuideAs the first day of fall fast approaches (September 22nd to be exact), bird migrations are already starting. To note this annual phenomenon, we are celebrating during the months of September and October with giveaways, free downloads, online quizzes, gorgeous pictures, and countless blog posts from some of the best bird writers we know.

To kick off this winged adventure, we’re taking to the skies with a Rafflecopter giveaway event!

Our prize package includes a copy of The Warbler GuideThe Crossley ID Guide: Raptors, and How to Be a Better Birder, a pair of Zeiss TERRA binoculars, and the audio companion for The Warbler Guide.

The Crossley ID GuideHow to win? Visit this post for details, but there are numerous ways to win, including liking any of the three books Facebook pages, emailing us at blog@press.princeton.edu, signing up for our email alerts for Bird and Natural History Titles at http://press.princeton.edu/subscribe/,or tweeting at @PrincetonNature or at any of the author’s Twitter pages (@IDCrossleyGuide or @The WarblerGuide). The winner will be selected at the beginning of October.

Plus weHow To Be A Better Birder have two free downloads that are available at our blog site:

Crossley ID Guide Raptors : A sampler raptor guide in PDF format
Quick Finders from The Warbler Guide : A ‘quick finder’ designed to help you identify over 50 warblers faster with targeted color photos.

Most of all, stay tuned as we continue to post everything you ever wanted to know about bird migrations throughout the fall season.

Woodrow Wilson Presidential Centennial: 2012-2013

November 5, 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson’s presidential election. The Woodrow Wilson Centennial committee has created a display at the Princeton Public Library to celebrate this anniversary, which features Princeton University Press’ 69 volume series composed of letters, speeches, interviews, press conferences, and public papers on Woodrow Wilson. Series editor, Arthur S. Link, shows how these materials are essential to understanding Wilson’s personality, his intellectual, religious, and political development, and his careers as educator, writer, orator, and statesman. The Papers of Woodrow Wilson not only reveal the private and public man, but also the era in which he lived, making the series additionally valuable to scholars and others in various fields of history between the 1870s and the 1920s.

Check out the Woodrow Wilson Book Display at the Princeton Public Library:

The book display will be up until March 15, 2013. More info, here.

Curious to know more? Check out these PUP books on Woodrow Wilson:

The Making of Princeton University: From Woodrow Wilson to the Present
by James Axtell. Read Chapter 1, here.

The Crisis of American Foreign Policy: Wilsonianism in the Twenty-first Century
by G. John Ikenberry, Thomas J. Knock, Anne-Marie Slaughter & Tony Smith. Read the Introduction.

To End All Wars: Woodrow Wilson and the Quest for a New World Order
by Thomas J. Knock

This Week’s Book Giveaway

We’re back with another giveaway! This week we’re giving our Twitter followers a chance to win 1 of 4 great books from our new Princeton Puzzlers series. The lucky winner will get to choose from Across the Board: The Mathematics of Chessboard Problems by John J. Watkins, Duelling Idiots and Other Probability Puzzlers by Paul J. Nahin, Slicing Pizzas, Racing Turtles, and Further Adventures in Applied Mathematics by Robert B. Banks, and Chases and Escapes: The Mathematics of Pursuit and Evasion by Paul J. Nahin.

All you have to do to win is follow Princeton University Press on Twitter and retweet one of our tweets beginning today until 10am EST Friday 7/20. We’ll select our random winner on Friday at 11am EST.

For more information on Princeton Puzzlers, please visit:

What do Leibniz and Bob Dylan have in common? The I Ching

How can you not like an author who writes this “crazy” recipe:

Here’s a crazy idea. First, you find an ancient Chinese philosophical text–let’s say the most influential book in China’s entire cultural tradition (and also pretty damned important in Korea, Japan, Vietnam and Tibet). Then you put it in the hands of some eighteenth century Jesuit missionaries in China who think it is a corrupted version of the Bible. After that, you go looking for a second group of Jesuits who hate the first group, even though they all call each other “brother,” and convince them to translate the book into Latin. Now Latin, as we all know, is a dead language and of no use to anyone (keep those cards and letters coming!), so you find additional people to translate the book into dozens of other languages, including English. What happens next? Well, suppose a counter-cultural movement develops in Europe and the Americas during the 1960s. Wouldn’t it be great if you had an exotic Asian text that you could embrace in order to show your disdain for conventional middle-class values and frozen TV dinners? And wouldn’t it be especially nice if you could use that text to tell fortunes, write poems, produce novels, compose music, choreograph dances, and create art? Boom! That’s exactly what has happened to the I Ching (also spelled Yijing), or Classic of Changes (also known as the Book of Changes).

Go read the rest of Richard Smith’s ruminations on the I Ching and 7 of the thinkers it has inspired at the Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-j-smith/i-ching-religion_b_1453281.html#s906222&title=Gottfried_Wilhelm_Leibniz


FACT: “Pandora Radio’s Tim Westergren studied piano and political science at Stanford, then worked as a nanny, ran an admissions office at Stanford, and started a rock band, touring with it for nearly a decade before deciding to move on to freelance composing. During his composing years, Tim had the idea to create a music database (which he called ‘the music genome project’) that categorized music based on a long list of attributes and that suggested to users new artists and songs that fit their tastes. In 1999, Tim met Jon Kraft, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur. The two decided to pursue Tim’s idea and formed Pandora (originally called Savage Beast), adding Will Glaser, a talented software engineer, as the third cofounder and CTO.”

The Founder’s Dilemmas:
Anticipating and Avoiding the Pitfalls That Can Sink a Startup

by Noam Wasserman

Often downplayed in the excitement of starting up a new business venture is one of the most important decisions entrepreneurs will face: should they go it alone, or bring in cofounders, hires, and investors to help build the business? More than just financial rewards are at stake. Friendships and relationships can suffer. Bad decisions at the inception of a promising venture lay the foundations for its eventual ruin. The Founder’s Dilemmas is the first book to examine the early decisions by entrepreneurs that can make or break a startup and its team.

Drawing on a decade of research, Noam Wasserman reveals the common pitfalls founders face and how to avoid them. He looks at whether it is a good idea to cofound with friends or relatives, how and when to split the equity within the founding team, and how to recognize when a successful founder-CEO should exit or be fired. Wasserman explains how to anticipate, avoid, or recover from disastrous mistakes that can splinter a founding team, strip founders of control, and leave founders without a financial payoff for their hard work and innovative ideas. He highlights the need at each step to strike a careful balance between controlling the startup and attracting the best resources to grow it, and demonstrates why the easy short-term choice is often the most perilous in the long term.

“This book provides the rare combination of practical advice and scholarly research. It gets to the heart of the people issues that can bedevil every, and I do mean every, startup. Issues such as founder motivations, equity splits, and equity control can make or break a company. I guarantee that the price of this book is approximately one-thousandth of what you’ll pay lawyers to clean up your mess if you don’t read it.”—Guy Kawasaki, author of Enchantment and former chief evangelist of Apple

We invite you to read Chapter 1 here: http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/s9687.pdf

A “gem of a little book” — Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography reviewed in New York Review of Books

It’s always nice to discover a review like this on a Monday morning: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/mar/08/tale-two-bishops-and-brilliant-saint/

In a round-up review of several books about Augustine and The Confessions, Peter Brown has very nice things to say for the inaugural book in our Lives of Great Religious Books series. Brown says the biography is “another gem of a little book by Garry Wills.”

He continues, writing that “Wills describes brilliantly the manner in which this strange work seeped slowly through literary circles…His book is a passionate plea that we should read Augustine’s strange book as it was first heard, and in the light of the purposes for which it was first written.”

Happily his review dovetails nicely with the purpose of the series which is to examine the history and “life” of major religious texts — tracing generation, interpretation, uses, and misuses over time. We are gearing up for the launch of the next two books in the series — biographies of The Book of Mormon and The I Ching — in April.

This Week’s Book Giveaway

We’re back with another giveaway, and this is one you don’t want to miss! This week, we’ll be selecting 2 winners—one from our Facebook page and one from our Google+ page. Each winner will receive three great prizes:

— A copy of The I Ching or Book of Changes edited by Hellmut Wilhelm and translated by Cary F. Baynes

The I Ching or Book of Changes interactive app featuring coins, yarrow stalks, quick and manual input oracle methods, related Hexagrams, and more

— Plus one of the first copies of the forthcoming book The I Ching: A Biography by Richard J. Smith

We’ll select our random winners on Friday, 2/17 at 3 pm. Be sure to like us on Facebook and add us to your circle on Google+ to be entered to win. Good luck!