[Soon to be X-posted at the Valve. Would've been already but I didn't want to bump this beauty from its deserved position of prominence.]
. . . that Stanley’s figured it out. Don’t get me wrong: I love reading Fish with a passion equal in intensity to the vehemence with which I disagree with him. But how can any intellectual brawler dislike a man whose very titles “betray” aggressive condescension?
“Wrong Again,” opines the title of Fish’s 1973 article in the Texas Law Review. Still don’t understand? Stanley will say it again “One More Time” (CI 6.4). Is it any wonder the likes of Walter Davis suffer from an acute “Fear of Fish” (CI 10.2)? (If you think this fear related to his stature, a smiling Fish will enumerate the reasons “Why No One’s Afraid of Wolfgang Iser” [Diacritics 11.1].)
I don’t mean to suggest that his prose never misfires. For example, the regular appearance of “my italics” in his parenthetical citations demonstrate—in direct opposition to the rationale behind the quotations themselves—how manipulative Fish is. Fortunately, his manipulation quickly becomes visual, what with every other word of the other fellow’s prose being italicized.
That said, his 1972 omnibus review of “Recent Studies in the English Renaissance” is the only viscerally enjoyable example of the genre I’ve ever read. His deliciously causidical prose is worth its weight in bandwidth:
I suspect that every writer of these omnibus reviews is at some point tempted to call for a moratorium. Of course, such a call would go unheeded, and in its place I would like to urge a more realizable course of action: publishers and those who advise publishers should be made more aware of their responsibility to a reader’s time and money. They should not, for instance, be a party to the making of a book like Burton Weber’s The Construction of Paradise Lost (Souther Illinois). First of all, I am nowhere cited. But then neither are John Shawcross, Dennis Burden, Jon Lawry, Michael Wilding, John Reesing, Irene Samuel (Dante and Milton), A.B. Giamatti, Wayne Shumaker, Davis Harding, John Steadman, John Peter, Christopher Ricks, Arthur Barker, Northrop Frye, Anne Ferry, Frank Kermode, Bernard Bergonzi, Thomas Greene, Patrick Murray, Douglas Knight, Roy Daniels, Louis Martz, James Simms, and Thomas Kranidas, to name only a few. The reasons for these omissions (and others) is simple: Weber’s bibliography stops in 1962 even though his preface was written in December of 1970. This is disturbing on its face; it is even more disturbing in the context of his intention, which is nothing less than to resolve the points of issue in the Milton controversy. As everyone knows, however, that controversy did not end in 1962, and since 1962 the focus of the debate has shifted away fom the narrow polarization which dictates the shape of Weber’s arguments. I do not know why he ignores a decade of criticism, but even in the context of things as they were in 1962 his is a very weak book . . .
This is a decision that is made prior to any examination of the text, and the text is then systematically made to support it. His system consists largely of the number 4 . . . . The analysis which spports these equations consists of nothing more than extended plot summaries counterpointed by repetitions and amplification of the fourfold scheme. Since no evidence which contradicts the thesis (or as he terms, the “theory") is allowed—that has all been banished to the notes—the argument is perfectly coherent and perfectly arid. I confess that I am puzzled by this book, by its method, its assumptions, its existence . . .
As criticism, J.B. Leishman’s Milton’s Minor Poems (Pittsburgh) is only slightly more illuminating than The Construction of Paradise Lost, but as a document in the history of the history of criticism, it is not without interest. Like Weber’s book, it is outdated before it appears, in this case because it represents as Geoffrey Tillotson tells us “a late stage” of the manuscript Leishman was preparing at the time of his death in 1963. This is misleading, however, since the spirit in which Leishman writes is closer to 1936 . . . . For the most part, he simply talks (these were originally lectures), and it is the kind of talk American students hear about but hardly ever hear. The subject is nominally Milton, but the true subject is Leishman, what he likes, what he knows, and above all what he has read. [The] weakness of the critical analysis is beside the point, which is the very real pleasure of watching Leishman perform incredible feats of recall and association . . .
No such spirit informs John R. Knott Jr.’s Milton’s Pastoral Vision: An Approach to Paradise Lost (Chicago). Indeed the book is strangely mechanical and atomistic. Page follows page and chapter, chapter, but it is often difficult to perceive any rationale in the order. Knott has the disconcerting habit of gesturing in the direction of points that have not been made and of replying to positions no one holds . . . . In the end, however, the very weaknesses of the book are responsible for its single attraction: it is very easy to read. One balks occasionally at sweeping and undocumented generalizations, but these do not exert their pressure for very long, and within a sentence or two they are forgotten . . .
Numerological critics, like other persecuted minorities, tend to stick together . . .
So yes, if you’re still with me—Why wouldn’t you be?—all this serves as lengthy prelude for the announcement which landed in my inbox this morning:
The Critical Theory Emphasis presents the
2006 Koehn Lecture in Critical Theory
Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and Law, Florida International University
Lecture title: “The Position"
It took quite a long time, but Stanley finally cornered “The Position,” the unimpeachable Truth Observation Vector before which the world practically interprets itself (my italics).