Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities / Edition 1

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Overview

Stanley Fish is one of America's most stimulating literary theorists. In this book, he undertakes a profound reexamination of some of criticism's most basic assumptions. He penetrates to the core of the modern debate about interpretation, explodes numerous misleading formulations, and offers a stunning proposal for a new way of thinking about the way we read.

Fish begins by examining the relation between a reader and a text, arguing against the formalist belief that the text alone is the basic, knowable, neutral, and unchanging component of literary experience. But in arguing for the right of the reader to interpret and in effect create the literary work, he skillfully avoids the old trap of subjectivity. To claim that each reader essentially participates in the making of a poem or novel is not, he shows, an invitation to unchecked subjectivity and to the endless proliferation of competing interpretations. For each reader approaches a literary work not as an isolated individual but as part of a community of readers. 'Indeed," he writes, "it is interpretive communities, rather than either the text or reader, that produce meanings."

The book is developmental, not static. Fish at all times reveals the evolutionary aspect of his work--the manner in which he has assumed new positions, altered them, and then moved on. Previously published essays are introduced by headnotes which relate them to the central notion of interpretive communities as it emerges in the final chapters. In the course of refining his theory, Fish includes rather than excludes the thinking of other critics and shows how often they agree with him, even when he and they may appear to be most dramatically at odds. Engaging, lucid, provocative, this book will immediately find its place among the seminal works of modern literary criticism.

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Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement

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

Criticism
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.
Barbara Herrnstein Smith
These essays demonstrate why Fish has become the center--as both source and focus--of so much intellectual energy in contemporary American critical theory. For brilliance and forcefulness in argumentation and for sheer boldness of mind and spirit, he has no match.
Times Literary Supplement - Denis Donoghue
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.
Times Literary Supplement
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674467262
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1982
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 408
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.08 (d)

Meet 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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Table of Contents

PART ONE: Literature in the Reader

1. Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics

2. What Is Stylistics and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things About It?

3. How Ordinary Is Ordinary Language?

4. What It's Like To Read L'Allegro and II Penseroso

5. Facts and Fictions: A Reply to Ralph Rader

6. Interpreting the Variorum

7. Interpreting "Interpreting the Variorum"

8. Structuralist Homiletics

9. How To Do Things with Austin and Searle: Speech-
Act Theory and Literary Criticism

10. What Is Stylistics and Why Are They Saying Such Terrible Things About It? Part II

11. Normal Circumstances and Other Special Cases

12. A Reply to John Reichert

PART TWO: Interpretive Authority in the Classroom and in Literary Criticism

13. Is There a Text in This Class?

14. How To Recognize a Poem When You See One

15. What Makes an Interpretation Acceptable?

16. Demonstration vs. Persuasion: Two Models of Critical Activity

Notes

Index

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