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Reviews 135 REVIEWS Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies by Stanley Fish. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1989. pp. 613. $35.00 (cloth). Put most simply, Stanley Fish's latest book, Doing What ComesNaturally, is an elaboration of the position he proposed at the end of Is There a Text In This Class?, namely, that humans interact and communicate to one another "from within a set of interests and concerns , and it is in relation to those interests and concerns that I assume [my interlocutor] will hear those concerns.'" Because of this placement—from the very beginning of his "theory"—in a world mediated by language, appeals outside of that mediated reality are impossible, since the latter are also mediated. We may think they're objective, but they're just as "tainted" by interest as any other "subjective" position. Fish's assumptions are instructive for historical materialism, which has sometimes claimed a scientific objectivity in its analyses of products of culture. Lately, such claims have given way to more muted ones: that historical materialism, while not producing knowledge outside of ideological constructions , nevertheless can provide an ideological space for the construction of new (ideological) knowledge; that, through (ideological) analyses of ideological language, discourse can operate upon itself ideologically to uncover previously unquestioned (and often oppressive) rhetorics. Fish seems to lend credence to these "softened" versions of historical materialism, though (as we shall see) his analysis of mediated interpretations is blind to its own mediated nature.2 InDoing What ComesNaturally, Fish discusses the implications of this "conventionalist" position in the practice of law, social and literary criticism in twenty-two chapters, all but three of which have been published previously. Let me speak to two local objections first in short order. To begin with, one could have wished for greater economy: much of what Fish has to say in several of these chapters is repetitive, often to the point of repeating phrases and citations. For example, Fish's polemic against Ronald Dworkin (two chapters near the beginning of the book, and one near the middle) employ the same argument, cite the same passages from Dworkin's essay, and come to the very same conclusion. Had Fish been a little more careful in editing—or perhaps conscientious enough to produce one thoughtful essay out of the three he's largely left intact—this book might hold the reader's interest more than it does. Second, what we get in this book is much the same as in Is There a Text in This Class?: a record of Fish's thoughts from the beginnings of his ruminations on this subject (from about 1978) to his present position. Unlike the previous book, however, which consisted in an evolution of thought, Doing What ComesNaturally does not record so much an evolution as an entrenched practice: a debunking of both the "essentialist" right and the "anti-foundationalist" left. Moreover, this "debunking" is performed less as a coherent strategy than as individual quarrels with legal and literary theorists, each of whom he "takes on" in separate essays. This method of debunking poses no problem for Fish, since at the end of each chapter he asserts the embeddedness of every theory in local or political assumptions . However, it does pose a severe problem for the stated purpose of his book, and, ultimately, for his critical project as a whole. That project consists, first, in outlining what critical theory and practice are left with after the notion of formalism has been eliminated. Fish takes as his beginning premise that "meaning [in texts] is a matter of what a speaker situated in a particular situation has in mind" (7). Intentionalists counter with an appeal to the context of the speaker and the listener: we should be able to reconstruct the speaker's intention from the context or situation in which the utterance has occurred. But, Fish goes on, "the context itself must be imputed— given an interpreted form—since the evidence one might cite in specifying it—the evidence of words, marks, gestures—will only be evidence, have a certain shape rather than another, if its own shape has already (and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 135-140
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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