In an era when much of what passes for debate is merely moral posturing--traditional family values versus the cultural elite, free speech versus censorship--or reflexive name-calling--the terms "liberal" and "politically correct," are used with as much dismissive scorn by the right as "reactionary" and "fascist" are by the left--Stanley Fish would seem an unlikely lightning rod for controversy. A renowned scholar of Milton, head of the English Department of Duke University, Fish has emerged as a brilliantly original critic of the culture at large, praised and pilloried as a vigorous debunker of the pieties of both the left and right. His mission is not to win the cultural wars that preoccupy the nation's attention, but rather to redefine the terms of battle.
In There's No Such Thing as Free Speech, Fish takes aim at the ideological gridlock paralyzing academic and political exchange in the nineties. In his witty, accessible dissections of the swirling controversies over multiculturalism, affirmative action, canon revision, hate speech, and legal reform, he neatly eviscerates both the conservatives' claim to possession of timeless, transcendent values (the timeless transcendence of which they themselves have conveniently identified), and the intellectual left's icons of equality, tolerance, and non-discrimination. He argues that while conservative ideologues and liberal stalwarts might disagree vehemently on what is essential to a culture, or to a curriculum, both mistakenly believe that what is essential can be identified apart from the accidental circumstances (of time and history) to which the essential is ritually opposed.
In the book's first section, which includes the five essays written for Fish's celebrated debates with Dinesh D'Souza (the author and former Reagan White House policy analyst), Fish turns his attention to the neoconservative backlash. In his introduction, Fish writes, "Terms that come to us wearing the label 'apolitical'--'common values', 'fairness', 'merit', 'color blind', 'free speech', 'reason'--are in fact the ideologically charged constructions of a decidedly political agenda. I make the point not in order to level an accusation, but to remove the sting of accusation from the world 'politics' and redefine it as a synonym for what everyone inevitably does." Fish maintains that the debate over political correctness is an artificial one, because it is simply not possible for any party or individual to occupy a position above or beyond politics. Regarding the controversy over the revision of the college curriculum, Fish argues that the point is not to try to insist that inclusion of ethnic and gender studies is not a political decision, but "to point out that any alternative curriculum--say a diet of exclusively Western or European texts--would be no less politically invested."
In Part Two, Fish follows the implications of his arguments to a surprising rejection of the optimistic claims of the intellectual left that awareness of the historical roots of our beliefs and biases can allow us, as individuals or as a society, to escape or transcend them. Specifically, he turns to the movement for reform of legal studies, and insists that a dream of a legal culture in which no one's values are slighted or declared peripheral can no more be realized than the dream of a concept of fairness that answers to everyone's notions of equality and jsutice, or a yardstick of merit that is true to everyone's notions of worth and substance. Similarly, he argues that attempts to politicize the study of literature are ultimately misguided, because recharacterizations of literary works have absolutely no impact on the mainstream of political life. He concludes his critique of the academy with "The Unbearable Ugliness of Volvos," an extraordinary look at some of the more puzzing, if not out-and-out masochistic, characteristics of a life in academia.
Penetrating, fearless, and brilliantly argued, There's No Such Thing as Free Speech captures the essential Fish. It is must reading for anyone who cares about the outcome of America's cultural wars.
"Often provocative, sometimes perverse--but always teeming with punchlines--this book provides enjoyable reading material."--Hindu "He revels...in an exhilarating negative capability, providing a collection of essays that delights in the wholesale slaughter of sacred cows."--Sunday Times (London) "These essays should...stimulate and provoke a reader of any political persuasion, and all will appreciate Fish's perspicuous and engaging writing style....Especially worthwhile reading."--The Review of Politics "A unicorn in the toughminded workaday world of legal education....Mr. Fish deflates anointed truths with joyful abandon, and he is at his best in exposing the often baleful effects wrought by mean-spirited defenders of traditional values."--The New York Times Book Review "Splendid essays by Milton scholar and literary theorist Fish that express his centrist, mediating, pragmatic position in the recent cultural wars over theory, politics, and the place of literature in society....Clear, eloquent, personalbe....Fish offers here exactly what he argues for: clarity, integrity, conviction, the common place of common sense."--Kirkus Reviews "Fish, the author of numerous books on Milton, literary theory, and the politics of teaching, has become in recent years famous for defending the contemporary academy in a series of debates held at various colleges and universities with the neo-conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza. In anticipation of these debates, he prepared five remarkable essays, which constitute the core of this learned and wide-ranging collection. Other essays concern the political and historical context of controversies of the notion of 'free speech,' as well as with the enduring legacy of Milton and the masochism of Volvo-driving academics. Despite his public reputation, Fish's views cannot be easily subsumed under such laabels as 'deconstructionist,' 'post-structuralist,' or even 'leftist.'...Many readers will find pleasure in Fish's simultaneously literate but blunt prose style. Recommended."--Library Journal "Contemporary culture without Stanley Fish? Without his intrepid brilliance? Without his verve? Without his zest--for controversy and for life? What a bleak, impoverished place contemporary culture would be."--Catharine R. Stimpson, Rutgers University "Let the reader beware! Stanley Fish's new book There's No Such Thing As Free Speech will prompt liberals and conservatives alike to campaign to have this English professor named to fill the next U.S. Supreme Court vacancy. While not a lawyer, Fish's essays convince me that the nation needs his brand of historically aware, politically astute, and culturally attuned pragmatism on its highest court."--Derrick Bell, New York University School of Law "Those who know Stanley Fish will tell you that arguing with him is always an exhilarating and edifying experience, and his new book can be depended on to give its readers the same pleasures and rewards. Brilliant and audacious, There's No Such Thing As Free Speech is vintage Fish: with its swingeing wit, rapid-fire reductios, and bold turns of argument, Fish turns the 'cultural wars' inside out."--Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of Loose Canons, and W.E.B. Du Bois Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University "By turns funny, savage, and sly--a brilliant and devastating indictment of first amendment orthodoxy."--Richard Delgado, Charles Inglis Thomson Professor of Law, University of Colorado School of Law "An important book for those who wish to find some common sense, eminently argued, regarding the culture wars that presently embroil American society."--The Bloomsbury Review "This book is Stanley Fish at his best, passionately hilarious, conservatively radical, delightfully disagreeable, subversively autonomous. This deeply intelligent reflection on campus politics, political pedantry and the first amendment is sure to provoke both insight and argument, yet it avoids the main-spirited sound and fury that has characterized too much recent debate on these toughest of topics."--Patricia J. Williams, Professor of Law, Columbia University "Good sense, clarity, liveliness."--The Washington Post "Quite possibly the clearest response to the attacks on curricular reform to date."--The Boston Globe "A fine introduction to one of the greatest and most accessible minds in contemporary Western thought."--The Independent "Bracing stuff, confrontational and edgy and eminently worth grappling with....[Fish is] the Bobby Hurley of intellectuals. He's the scrappy guy from Duke who's always fun to watch--until it's your own favorite team (or idea) he's harassing. But have you ever noticed? He always seems to make your team play harder."--The Independent Weekly "This is not after dinner or just before bed reading. But if you want to know more about the debate that is about to boil off our campuses and start affecting our lives, There's Not Such Thing as Free Speech is the place to start."--Roanoke Times & World News "If you believe in tolerance, fairness, merit, free speech--you know, all the golden verities that have supposedly held Western Civilization together--meet Stanley Fish, who may well be your worst nightmare. Not only does he not believe in any of these, he argues against all of them, forcefully, wittily, and--sometimes--persuasively."--American Way "Stanley Fish is the Roseanne Barr of the professoriate, an immensely talented ham who delights in offending the pious."--Cleveland Plain Dealer "There is such a thing as Stanley Fish...and it's a good thing, too."--Globe and Mail "This is an important book for those who wish to find some common sense, eminently argued, regarding the culture wars that presently embroil American society."--Scott Vickers, The Bloomsbury Review
|Introduction: "That's Not Fair"||p. 3|
|The Common Touch, or, One Size Fits All||p. 31|
|Preface to Chapters 3 through 7||p. 51|
|The Empire Strikes Back||p. 53|
|Reverse Racism, or, How the Pot Got to Call the Kettle Black||p. 60|
|You Can Only Fight Discrimination with Discrimination||p. 70|
|Bad Company||p. 80|
|Speaking in Code, or, How to Turn Bigotry and Ignorance into Moral Principles||p. 89|
|There's No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It's a Good Thing, Too||p. 102|
|Jerry Falwell's Mother, or, What's the Harm?||p. 120|
|Liberalism Doesn't Exist||p. 134|
|The Law Wishes to Have a Formal Existence||p. 141|
|Play of Surfaces: Theory and the Law||p. 180|
|Almost Pragmatism: The Jurisprudence of Richard Posner, Richard Rorty, and Ronald Dworkin||p. 200|
|Being Interdisciplinary Is So Very Hard to Do||p. 231|
|The Young and the Restless||p. 243|
|Milton's Career and the Career of Theory||p. 257|
|Milton, Thou Shouldst Be Living at This Hour||p. 267|
|The Unbearable Ugliness of Volvos||p. 273|
|Appendix. Fish Tales: A Conversation with "The Contemporary Sophist"||p. 281|
|Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.|
Number Of Pages: 346
Published: 1st November 1994
Dimensions (cm): 20.4 x 13.4 x 2.3
Weight (kg): 0.29