The advanced fragmentation of intellectual life in America means that personalities and issues that loom large in one field are often invisible in another. For the sociologist or the economist, the name Stanley Fish probably means little or nothing. For those in more literary domains, however, this scholar, university administrator, and critic has for decades been a familiar figure.
An Awareness of What is Missing: Faith and Reason in a Post-Secular Age By Jürgen Habermas (Polity Press, 87 pp., $14.95) The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere By Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West Edited by Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen (Columbia University Press, 137 pp., $19.50) On October 14, 2001, the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas stepped up to the lectern at the Paulskirche in Frankfurt to deliver a short address called “Faith and Knowledge.” The occasion was his acceptance speech of the Peace Prize, a yearly honor that the German Book
The Anatomy of Influence: Literature as a Way of Life By Harold Bloom (Yale University Press, 357 pp., $32.50) With The Anatomy of Influence, Harold Bloom has promised us his “swan song” as a critic. Fat chance.
For Richard Blumenthal to claim that he has been “misspeaking” in implying that he fought in Vietnam rather than obtaining multiple deferments and finally waiting things out in the Marine Reserves right here at home is repulsive. I am not exactly the first one out of the gate on that. However, he is also using language in the same way a great many Americans do when doing what they think of as The Right Thing. And as speakers of English always have – as well as speakers of any human language.
I find the voice undeniably authentic (yes, I know the book was written “with the help” of Lynn Vincent, but many books, including my most recent one, are put together by an editor). It is the voice of small-town America, with its folk wisdom, regional pride, common sense, distrust of rhetoric (itself a rhetorical trope), love of country and instinctive (not doctrinal) piety. It says, here are some of the great things that have happened to me, but they are not what makes my life great and American.
In the August/September issue of Policy Review, Stanley Fish has a long essay explaining why teachers should not strive to "fashion moral character or produce citizens of a certain temper." Instead, the goal of educators should be to "equip those same students with the analytical skills — of argument, statistical modeling, laboratory procedure — that will enable them to move confidently within those traditions and to engage in independent research after a course is over." Fish is much more concerned by classroom advocacy than seems warranted (although admittedly he probably has his ear pretty
Over on the NYT's opinion page, Stanley Fish is taking on the newest manifestation of the "intellectual diversity" movement: CU Boulder's plan to endow a Chair in Conservative Thought and Policy. I'm of two minds about this. There's obviously something obnoxious, contradictory, and slightly hypocritical about conservatives--who deride affirmative action and diversity as formless tokenism, or worse--demanding affirmative action for themselves. (Oddly, this goes back to the beginning.
That's the title of Stanley Fish's blog post, "Think Again," on todays New York Times website. It is based on the numerous responses he received to another posting he did on how Hillary is the target of what he sees as calumnies. Of course, Fish means to dissuade from the substance of those criticisms. But his readers or, rather, respondents prove--if the polls haven't already--that there is this phenomenon out there, out there widely, of terrible resistance to Hillary's presidency. Among liberals, among moderates, among radicals, among conservatives, even among younger women and men.
Stanley Fish is way too preemptive in declaring Hillary the Democratic nominee. While she is certainly the favorite, it's just too early to dismiss Obama given his fund-raising success and favorable polling in the early primary states. Still, the question of Hillary's running-mate is an interesting one, and I agree with Fish that, no matter what Newt Gingrich thinks, there's no way we see a Clinton-Obama ticket.
After Theory By Terry Eagleton (Basic Books, 231 pp., $25) I. When I attended Cambridge in the mid-1980s, "theory" was sickly ripe. What looked like its fiercest flush of life, the red of its triumph, was in fact the unnatural coloring of fever. Paul de Man had just died, Harold Bloom was preparing his second career as a weak misreader of Clifton Fadiman, Roland Barthes was gone, the Yale gang of deconstructionists was breaking up, and much postmodern silliness among the signifiers was just around the corner.