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Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities Paperback – 1 Jul 1990

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Product details

  • Paperback: 402 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (1 July 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674467264
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674467262
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15 x 2.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 174,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


It is a great...pleasure these days to find a critic willing to discuss language, literature, reading, writing, and the community of readers on the understanding that the reader plays a real part in the production of his experience. -- Denis Donoghue Times Literary Supplement No bare summary of his conclusions can do justice to the brilliance of his analyses...Is There a Text in This Class? is a substantial achievement which deserves the serious consideration of all students of literature. Its arguments are cogent, forceful and engaging, its style witty, personable and unpretentious, and its analyses are just, incisive and economical. Most important, the theory it advocates is provocative, comprehensive and, I believe, true. Criticism

About the Author

Stanley Fish is Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His many books include There's No Such Thing as Free Speech, and It's a Good Thing Too.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

By Eileen Shaw TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 10 Jan. 2014
Format: Paperback
"Imagine not being able to distinguish the real cause, from that without which the cause would not be able to act, as a cause. It is what the majority appear to do, like people groping in the dark; they call it a cause, thus giving it a name that does not belong to it. That is why one man surrounds the earth with a vortex to make the heavens keep it in place, another makes the air support it like a wide lid. As for their capacity of being in the best place they could be at this very time, this they do not look for, nor do they believe it to have any divine force, but they believe that they will some time discover a stronger and more immortal Atlas to hold everything together more, and they do not believe that the truly good and 'binding' binds and holds them together."
--Plato, Phaedo 99

Literary Criticism has come under some profound challenges, especially over the last half century. In this book Stanley Fish labours long and hard through some of the historical and teleological features of the practice of Literary Criticism. He admirably dismisses Stylistics and Literary as opposed to Ordinary language, de-constructs Structuralist Homiletics, partly co-opts Austin and Searle's Speech Act Theory, discusses what makes Interpretation acceptable and debates Demonstration vs Persuasion. (Please forgive the Victorian capitals). Contrary to the comments of one reviewer (on Amazon.com) he does not propose a final answer to the question: Is there a text in this class? Or if he does it's "yes and no".
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 8 reviews
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Literature Is What You Make It 11 July 2009
By Jeremy Garber - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Fish provides an originally shocking, but now almost taken-for-granted, argument: there is no such thing as meaning sitting around in a book waiting to be mined like a physical object. Rather, everyone who comes to a book finds exactly what they were looking for in the first place. And the rules for what they find, and what is considered "acceptable" interpretation, comes not from some magic rule for all time but from particular groups of readers at particular times and places. Using Milton, Shakespeare, the students from his history as a literature professor at Johns Hopkins, and various other texts of all kinds, Fish makes a remarkable and witty argument for the stable but temporary interpretation of literature. There is no literature except what you call literature.

So, the text doesn't tell you what it means. The reader doesn't decide what it means. The meaning in reading anything comes from the act of reading itself, shaped by the rules of the interpretive community.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Community Full of Fish 15 Jun. 2013
By Martin Asiner - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
ITTTC continues Fish's trend towards self-consuming. He admits that he has considerably altered his views toward reader-response. Now not only does he take back what he just wrote, he adds that his words have no practical use or relevance. His new paradigm is that there is no such thing as a text since the reader subsumed it into his own world-view. Second, there is also no such person as a reader either since the individual reader was now to be seen as a very small cog in a very big wheel called an "interpretive community." The reader is like a Borg drone from Star Trek; he exists physically but his mind is part of an all-encompassing Gestaltic hive mind. It is the act of interpretation by an interpretative community that creates any text. Without interpretation of a text to give that text meaning, there is no text just characters and symbols printed on paper. An unread and uninterpreted series of pages with words printed on them is not a text since it has no meaning. It is here that Fish runs into trouble with his interpretative community. He is vague about what it really is, how one may join, how one may leave, how one may qualify to join, how the individual drones smooth over their interpretive differences (if indeed they have any), why some interpretative communities may not agree with one another, and why it must even be necessary for one drone to persuade another if both have access to the same interpretive strategies. This concept of an interpretive community makes Fish seem like a relativist, but he asks his readers to take his word for it that he is not. His defense against relativism or solipsism is that the mere presence of a drone as one member of an interpretive community must mean that the community's sense of group think ensures an objectivity that would otherwise be lacking in a free agent. Hence, the ongoing stability of the community is a bulwark against encroaching relativism. Since the unread text has no meaning and the free agent drone is a potential relativist, it is to the interpretive community that establishes meaning. Fish does not address whether such a community might one day change its mind about anything nor does he consider how the other drones within that community establish with certainty the sources of agreement. One final problem: if an interpretive community thinks and acts like a single mind, then how does the collective differ from the individual? Why would then the opinion of the collective be objective and non-relativistic and the opinion of the individual subjective and relativistic? One potential clue to any and all the aforementioned lies in how Fish describes the well-read reader who presumably is a qualified candidate for admission. Such a candidate is not merely well-read; he must be intimately acquainted with a myriad of disciplines, must have supremely developed skills of perception and analysis, and must be a cogent and persuasive writer. In short, this candidate is Fish himself.
10 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Interpretation is the only game in town 10 Nov. 2008
By W. Jamison - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
SF is a pragmatist and basically follows John Searle, J.L. Austin, and P.F. Strawson regarding philosophy of language. One aspect of this is to move away from an interpretive stance to the view that there is a clear effect of the reading of a passage on fluent speakers of the language and secondarily an interpretive effect dependent on each speakers (readers) point of view. (There is a nice Paul Ricoeur quote.) SF critiques relativism using it in the sense that is untenable. What makes an interpretation acceptable? "Interpretation is the only game in town." "There are no moves that are not moves in the game, and this includes even the move by which one claims no longer to be a player."
15 of 40 people found the following review helpful
Is there a Fish in this text? 22 July 2010
By Kindle Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I am amused to read reviews of this book which praise Fish's brilliance, sensitivity, nuanced critical abilities, etc., given that Fish does not believe in authorial intention and thinks the meaning of the text is co-created by the reader. Perhaps, though, these reviewers are praising their own genius, brilliance, etc. Or that is my reading of their texts ...
1 of 12 people found the following review helpful
My Review about Stanley Fish's Book 10 Feb. 2012
By Yasmin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is really interesting!
I recommend this book to all people who want to learn more about the Law and Literature movement!!
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