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Stanley Fish Biography
Stanley Fish (born 1938) is a prominent literary theorist. Fish earned his Ph.D. from Yale University in 1962. He taught English at the University of California at Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University before becoming Arts and Sciences Professor of English and professor of law at Duke University from 1986 to 1998. From 1999 to 2004 he was Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Considered a leading scholar of Milton, he is best known for his work on interpretive communities, an offshoot of reader-response criticism that studies how the interpretation of a text by a reader depends on the reader's membership in one or more communities defined by acceptance of a common set of foundational assumptions or texts. This work can be viewed as an explanation of how meaning is possible in the context of a particular interpretive community, even if one accepts the deconstructionist position that no single privileged reading of any text exists.

A simple illustration of interpretive communities is Fish's story of baseball umpire Bill Klem, who once waited a long time to call a particular pitch. "Well, is it a ball or strike," the player asked impatiently. To which Klem replied, "Sonny, it ain't nothing 'til I call it" - saying, in effect, that balls and strikes are not facts in the world but "come into being only on the call of an umpire." This example shows how his scholarship questions our conventional assumptions about fairness, justice, and truth.

His famous essay "How to Recognize a Poem When You See One" (from the book Is There a Text in This Class?) deals with similar issues of individual freedom of interpretation and cultural influence, and uses the example of a class he taught where a group of students took a list of random names on the board and assumed it was a religious poem just because Fish told them that it was, and because that was their area of expertise. Fish concludes that culture fills our minds with assumptions and beliefs that are not only similar, but "alike in fine detail," and, because of this, individual originality and creativity are convenient fictions of our time.

A prominent public intellectual, his works include Is There a Text in This Class? Interpretive Communities and the Sources of Authority (1982), There's No Such Thing As Free Speech: And It's a Good Thing, Too (1994 ISBN 0195093836), and The Trouble with Principle (1999). As his provocative titles indicate, Fish has vigorously debunked pieties of both the left and the right, sometimes in the same sentence.

He has said that deconstruction: "relieves me of the obligation to be right . . . and demands only that I be interesting."

Charles Murray of the conservative Hoover Institution [1] ( calls that "a silly thing for a grown man to say and a criminal thing for a teacher to say."[2] ( However, Fish's complicated relationship with deconstructionism makes it unclear whether to accept the statement as an argument for or against the practice. More likely, it's a description of a doctrine's consequences, of which his statement is a compelling example.

Stanley Fish has also appeared in a PBS documentary film on the ACLU, saying something similar to "These people think that ideas should just be able to just bounce into each other and somehow we will figure out what's right. I know of no way to tell sense from nonsense."

Fish has written extensively on the politics of the university, having taken positions justifying campus speech codes and criticizing political statements by universities or faculty bodies on matters outside their professional areas of expertise.
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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Stanley Fish.