Fish a POMO?!

seddon's picture
Submitted by seddon on Sun, 2012-12-30 01:44

Stanley Fish, the Miltonist, is normally characterized as a postmodern thinker. But in his recent book, Versions of Antihumanism, he sounds suspiously unlike a postmodernist. Here is a selection of quotations and you can judge for yourself.

1. “. . . it is quite another [and bad] thing to say that no text could possibly mean anything determinate, because all texts are radically indeterminate by nature. This is not a preliminary to interpretation, but an announcement of its impossibility, . . . For it every text means everything, it means no single thing and anything you say about it cannot even rise to the level of being wrong. (132-3)

2. But if he [C. Kendrick] is saying that apart from its construction by interested readers there is no text and no meaning, . . . he has rendered whatever he has to say about Milton without interest. . . . (133)

3. If a text were to alter with every change in the circumstance of its reception . . . [it would have] infinite meanings. And if that were the case, disagreement about the text’s meaning would be impossible, and literary criticism would not progress beyond the assertion and counterassertion of “it means this to me” and “maybe so, but it means this to me.” The very activity in which Carey [one of Fish’s critics] engages—criticizing my account of Milton’s meaning—commits him to believing that Samson Agonistes does have a meaning and that it is our business as critics to figure out what it is. (97)


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