(Stanley) Fish Food for Thought: Cultural Reflections

Welcome to Part 5 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 5: Cultural Reflections


3.1 Professor Sokal’s Bad Joke

May 21, 1996

Fish on why Professor Sokal is wrong about sociologists.

When Professor Sokal declares that “theorizing about ‘the social construction of reality’ won’t help us find an effective treatment for AIDS,” he is at once right and wrong. He is right that sociologists will never do the job assigned properly to scientists. He is wrong to imply that the failure of the sociology of science to do something it never set out to do is a mark against it, (95)

3.3 Dorothy and the Tree: A Lesson in Epistemology

April 25, 2011apples

Fish on why Dorothy picked an apple from a speaking tree without thinking.

Another way to put this is to say that changes of mind tend to be local and piecemeal, not systemic. Wholesale conversions like Paul’s on the road to Damascus do occur, but more often a change will affect only a small corner of one’s conceptual universe. After her conversation with the tree, Dorothy may no longer place trees and persons in completely different compartments, but much that she used to think, she will still think, (107)

3.5 What Did Watson the Computer Do?

February 21, 2011

computerFish on the difference between computers and humans when following the rules.

The inability or unwillingness of human beings to follow the rules or be
content with their guidance is not a weakness but a strength; it is the strength of being able to adjust when the rules have nothing helpful to say or produce absurd results in a situation the rule-markers did not anticipate. Only a fool will persist in adhering o a rule or set of directives when its application is clearly counterintuitive and even disastrous… The computer I am writing this column on is a fool,
(113)

3.7 Can I Put You on Hold?

November 16, 2009

Fish on the annoying little things everyone encounters.

There is a class of utterances that, when encountered, produces irritation, distress and, in some cases, the desire to kill… Mine is a three-word announcement on the TV Screen, “To Be Continued,” which says, “I know that you have become invested in this story and are eager to find out how it ends, but you’re going to have to wait for a few days or a week or a month or forever.” In the great order of things, it is only a minor inconvenience, but it is experience as a deprivation; you were banking on something and now it has been taken away, (120)

3.10 Favoritism is Good

January 7, 2013

Fish on why favoritism is sometimes the preferred thing.

Favoritism – giving more than an even break to your own kind – is not a distortion of judgment, but the basis of judgment. And being impartial to those who are a part of you – through blood or creed or association or profession (think of the thin blue line) – is not to be virtuous but to be ungrateful and disloyal, more concerned with hewing to some abstract principle of respect for all than with discharging the obligations that come along with your most intimate relations, (129-130)

 

(Stanley) Fish Food for Thought: Reflections on Religion

Welcome to Part 4 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 4: Reflections on Religion


6.1 The Three Atheists

June 10, 2007

Fish on why God did not create a perfect species.

If Adam and Eve were faithful because they were programmed to be so, then the act of obedience (had they performed it) would not in any sense have been theirs. For what they do or don’t do to be meaningful, it must be free, (240) adam-and-eve-798376_640

6.4 God Talk

May 3, 2009

Fish on answering theological questions.

The fact that science, liberal rationalism, and economic calculation cannot ask – never mind answer – such questions should not be held against them, for that is not what they do. And, conversely, the fact that religion and theology cannot provide a technology for explaining how that material world works should not be held against them, either, for that is not what they do, (249-250)

6.8 Serving Two Masters: Sharia Law and the Secular State

October 25, 2010

Fish on people abiding by state laws when it conflicts with religious laws.

On the one hand, there is the liberal desire to accord one’s fellow human beings the dignity of respecting their deepest scalelawbeliefs. On the other hand, there is the fear that if those beliefs are allowed their full scope, individual rights and the rule of law may be eroded beyond repair,(273)

6.10 Religion Without Truth
March 31, 2007

Fish on the truths of religion in secular environments.

Of course, the ‘one true God’ stuff is what the secular project runs away from, or ‘brackets.’ It counsels respect for all religions and calls upon us to celebrate their diversity. But religion’s truth claims don’t want your respect. They want your belief and, finally, your soul. They are jealous claims. Though shalt have no other God before me, (282)

6.13 When Is a Cross a Cross?
May 3, 2010

Fish on the the argument for religious symbols in public places.

It is one of the ironies of the sequence of cases dealing with religious symbols on public land that those who argue for their lawful presence must first deny them the significance that provokes the desire to put them there in the first place… So you save the symbols by leeching the life out of them. The operation is successful, but the patient is dead, (292)

 

(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)