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Stanley Fish is my Homegirl

from Saturday, April5th of the year2008.

I adore Stanley Fish. This week, he has a particularly lovely blog entry on French theoretical thought in the 60’s and why, basically, it freaked people out and enjoyed an ironic boost in the 80’s during the so-called culture wars. I stanley-fish.jpghave always been madly suspicious of people who hate on post-structuralist theory because it means that (a) they weren’t paying attention and (b) they might be secretly those idiot people who think that more students study The Color Purple than Shakespeare or whatever those arguments were. Fish writes,

It doesn’t take anything away from us. We can still do all the things we have always done; we can still say that some things are true and others false, and believe it; we can still use words like better and worse and offer justifications for doing so. All we lose (if we have been persuaded by the deconstructive critique, that is) is a certain rationalist faith that there will someday be a final word, a last description that takes the accurate measure of everything. All that will have happened is that one account of what we know and how we know it “” one epistemology “” has been replaced by another, which means only that in the unlikely event you are asked “What’s your epistemology?” you’ll give a different answer than you would have given before. The world, and you, will go on pretty much in the same old way.

What I love about this is “It doesn’t take anything away from us.” This is the sort of reassuring phrase you’d want to hear from a parent if you were about to move, or had had some kind of death in the family ““ it happens. I find it strangely reassuring; perhaps Dinesh D’Souza just needs a hug?

Here’s some June Tabor for you:

[audio:05 He Fades Away.mp3]
June Tabor He Fades Away from Against the Streams

In other news, Stanley Fish’s essay Speaking in Code from There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech is one of my favorite things in the world. It was one of the first things I read that helped me synthesize a bunch of different thoughts about race in the 80’s (which is when I was a kid, and looking back at that time, it was very interesting to analyze my gut reaction to all these racially coded terms like affirmative action, among others, as a young adult). Thanks, Stanley Fish!


  • Entirely off-topic comment, but doing a Sunday reading of some of your old posts and all the enthusiasm you have for the structure of languages couldn’t avoid remembering a sort of old but decisive book by Oliver Sacks on sign language, and all its possibilities concerning an “universal” and pre-reflexive idiom. But the most sparkling idea hidden there is that such language has a tridimensional grammar, constructed in space with gestures, much more complex and sophisticated than we dare guess. Sorry for my english, the book is better than that. “Seeing voices” that I’v read while dating a deaf boy, who told me that in one week in Japan he was able to talk with other deaf japanese, and again in a congress with people from around the globe, sign language, despite some regional variations, slang, coloquialisms, is kind of common and innate; an epiphanic “loquebantur” situation, perhaps?

  • There is a little (though perhaps not a lot) more at stake than Fish maintains. It is the difference between saying “such-and-such is true (or false)” and “I believe that such-and-such is true, but my belief may be false.” The second position allows one to be open to new evidence, to be sure, but also to deeper appreciations and wider sympathies.

    I don’t think luiz’s comment is at all off-topic; it raises the possibility that gesture — like music and movement — has an even deeper structure than propositional language. That makes the whole rationalist/post-structuralist debate academic, in both senses of the word.