Sunday, December 13, 2009

Stanley Fish and the Banality of Civilization's End

Stanley Fish is a bizarre character, approaching the end of a very distinguished academic career in a state of rage against the liberal establishment. His review of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue is one of the most bizarre things ever to appear in the New York Times; he obviously saw this as an opportunity not to engage with the book, but to spit in the eye of the establishment liberals who have somehow done him such vast, unspecified harm.

But Va at Whiskey Fire saw something deeper:
From time to time, we are confronted with events that confirm dark suspicions we have entertained as at a distance, but never grasped as true or necessary. . . . I confess I anticipated the possibility that Fish would review Going Rogue, but I hoped it wouldn't be quite like this. But now, there it is, indelibly posted on Stanley Fish's blog forever, daring me to believe that there is any point in going on, that there is any amount of success and eminence you can achieve that can't be hopelessly shat away. I make my living, such as it is, reading books and teaching other people how to read them, so I take Fish's embarrassing review as a personal affront. But it's more than personal; it's existential. Not only is Fish's review an object lesson is just how inane it is possible for a person to be and still mean it, it implicates all human endeavor in its inanity. It says: the only context in which it makes sense for you to be reading this is in a rocking chair, slowly rocking, on the front porch of civilization, rocking slowly as the sun sets, rocking slower, and ever slower, until you and everything there is expires.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Fish seems to have decided that, in his later years, he would enliven the time by becoming a coot. As soon as I saw that he had reviewed Palin's book, I knew he would praise it. I skimmed his review, mainly to enjoy the perspicacity of my own prediction.

It's possible Fish is seeking revenge for some slight; but I think he's simply entertaining himself.