Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Fish Argues Against Interpretation Via Digital Humanities
He’s at it again. Fish has another post contra-digital humanities, this time centering on interpretation. Not surprisingly, he’s opposed, which is consistent with remarks he made about stylistics, including computational stylistics, in one or two of the essays in Is There A Text in This Class? What IS surprising, given the arguments in that—arguably ancient—book, is his final paragraph:
But whatever vision of the digital humanities is proclaimed, it will have little place for the likes of me and for the kind of criticism I practice: a criticism that narrows meaning to the significances designed by an author, a criticism that generalizes from a text as small as half a line, a criticism that insists on the distinction between the true and the false, between what is relevant and what is noise, between what is serious and what is mere play.
When did he revert to the beliefs he so strenuously argued against in that text, the beliefs that made him a Major Theorist?
But, of course, he’s allowed to change his beliefs. We all are. For that matter, some of the positions he’s arguing against aren’t terribly attractive to me, at least as he presents them. But that’s neither here nor there.
My major problem is that he’s implicitly asserting that digital humanities stands or falls on its service to interpretation. It doesn’t. And, heretical though though the idea may seem, interpretation need not be the central activity of literary criticism. We’ve been too long too greedy after meaning. Understanding how texts work is not at all co-extensive with figuring out, case by case, what this or that text means.