Friday, January 27, 2012
More Fishy Business
Mark Liberman has a run at Stanley Fish‘s recent fusillade against digital humanties, which turns on a pair of plosives in a paragraph in Milton’s Aeropagetica. Fish makes a big deal of Milton’s p’s and b’s while Liberman does a statistical analysis of their occurence in the text and concludes that Fish’s argument is much ado about nothing.
Which translates rather easily into much ado about Stanley Fish, opportunist extraordinaire. In the spirit of my own brief post from a couples days ago, I made the following comment to Liberman’s piece:
It’s difficult to know just how seriously to take this little performance, but it’s worth setting it in the larger context of Fish’s career as a theorist of methodology. Back in the dark and benighted times of the 1970s he wrote some take-downs of linguistic and statistical methods in stylistics which were included in his very influential 1980 collection, Is There A Text in This Class? Elsewhere in that collection he argued his version of the notion that the meanings critics find in texts are the meanings that they themselves put there (as authorised by their local ‘interpretive community’). It was his ability to argue that point that put him on the map as a BIG THEORIST.
That, of course, is rather different from the position he’s now claiming in this piece, namely that the meaning is put there by the author and that it’s the critic’s job to find it through arguments that can be right, a good thing, or wrong, not so good. THAT was the mainstream position at mid-20th century; that was the position Fish and others were then deposing.
So perhaps he’s changed his mind. Though I note that only a few years ago he was arguing that what critics, such as himself, do is pretty much play around with texts in a way that is unfettered by utility in any way, shape, or form. And that’s the glory of it all.
And that DOES seem to be what Fish was doing in his plosives palaver in this piece, playing around.
I note that in one of his excursions in the current piece, Fish argues against one Stephen Ramsay, who “doesn’t want to narrow interpretive possibilities, he wants to multiply them.” That is, Ramsey seems to view digital explorations of texts as a means of playing around even more, a comfortable demodernist postconstructive recouperation of post-industrial capitalist technology. So, if Fish is going to position himself against THAT, well, what better position to assume than arguing for truth, justice, and the old intentionalst way?