Friday, January 30, 2009

Stanley Fish?

I used to read literary criticism or what called itself that - sometimes it made my reading of books much richer. I recall that a reading of William Empson's "Seven Types of Ambiguity" had a large effect on my reading in my twenties, especially of poetry, and encouraged such reading.
I have not found much motivation to read what describes itself as literary criticism in recent years, and I am astonished to find that Stanley Fish of all people has my problem.
But a quotation from an article about a recent speech he gave a Brown University offers this gist of his argument. “Professors ‘shouldn't be trying to reform the characters of their students, or teaching for social justice, or producing exemplary citizens for a democratic society.’ Teachers are not meant to be experts at any of these tasks, he insisted; they are credentialed in their areas of scholarship and therefore should only be concerned with transmitting to their students a body of knowledge and the analytical skills of their disciplines. Beliefs are meant to be evaluated in the academy, he emphasized, not to be celebrated or promoted.”

OK maybe not exactly my problem but something a lot like it. Much of the academic humanities profession rant on about scientific reductionism, while imposing a reductionism of their own that is even more difficult to justify. At least the scientists and engineers can lad something on the moon. Though maybe connecting Freud and Marx is also a great techincal achievement!

DISCLOSURE: My understanding is that Empson got a math degree. That may explain something.


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