Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Summer 1984


Volume 10 Issue 4
    • 557Quentin Bell
    • This was to have been a confutation. My intention was to rebut and for the record’s sake to correct certain fashionable errors concerning the life of Virginia Woolf. What could be more proper, and what, it has to be said, more tedious? If the defence of truth had remained my only objet, I should have left these words unwritten, or at least should have addressed them to a very small audience. But the pursuit of truth sent me back to my sources, and there I found a story, in many ways sad, but also funny and certainly instructive. It seemed worth extracting this record of a friendship from the great mass of evidence in which it is embedded. I hope that the reader will agree with me in finding it interesting in itself but, just as Prince’s Hal’s “plain tale” is made livelier by being contrasted with Falstaff’s “eleven buckram men,” so too the simple facts are made more striking by the intentions of Virginia’s recent interpreters. Let me therefore begin with a quotation from one of them.

      Volume I [of Virginia Woolf’s Letters] has a rarely preserved portrait of a female artist in the making, love and work intensely intertwined in her relations with women who encouraged her to write, read, and think, and gave her the nourishment of womanly love and literary criticism, which she was to seek and find in female friendship all her life. Bloomsbury fades into insignificance as an “influence” next to the radiance of Woolf’s relationships with Margaret Llewelyn Davies, head of the Cooperative Working Women’s Guild, Janet Case, her Greek teacher, violet Dickinson, Madge Vaughan, and her aunt Caroline Stephen, the Quaker whom she called “Nun.”1

      These words were written by Professor Jane Marcus, a person of great charm and ability, whose opinions are, I understand, accepted by a multitude of admirers. In those articles by her which I have read, she hardly disguises her contempt for me as a biographer. But, painful though it is to have incurred the disdain of so influential a personage, it much be allowed that, if the influence of Virginia Woolf’s husband, her sister, and her closest friends “fades into insignificance” when compared with that of Miss Caroline Stephen and Mrs. W. W. Vaughan, then indeed I have gone sadly astray.

      See also: Quentin Bell, Art and the Elite

      Quentin Bell is the author of, among other works, Virginia Woolf: A Biography, Bloomsbury, Ruskin, and On Human Finery. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry include “Art and the Elite” (Autumn 1974) and “Bloomsbury and ‘the Vulgar Passions’ ” (Winter 1979).

    • 567Ralph W. Rader
    • “O, rocks!” Molly exclaims in impatience with Bloom’s first definition of metempsychosis, “tell us in plain words” (p. 64). Looking forward, then, we remember that Bloom asks Murphy if he has seen the Rock of Gibraltar and (after receiving an ambiguous reply, which Bloom interprets affirmatively) asks further what year that would have been and if Murphy remembers the boats that plied the strait. “I’m tired of all them rocks in the sea,” replies Murphy (here characterized as “the wily old customer” [p. 630]).

       

      Bloom’s interest derives from Molly’s connection with Gibraltar, and Molly herself in her monologue remembers the boats well and thinks of missing the boat at Algeciras (opposite from Europa point), just before the book ends with her thoughts of the awful deepdown torrent,” the tide that moves like a river through the strait. Imaginatively she moves with that torrent, figuratively the torrent of time that plunges from the future to the past, which she accepts, with her yes, going deeply with the flow of life, and with her goes Murphy/Joyce, touching on Gibraltar at last. Molly remembers Ulysses S. Grant getting off a boat in Gibraltar, an occurrence that Adams sees as unduly stretching probability merely in order to bring Molly in incidental touch with a man named Ulysses.19 But remembering that Murphy is a “wily old customer,” we may remember also that the Ulysses of Joyce’s favorite Dante cannot rest with Penelope but, in search of knowledge and excellence, moves on through the two rocks of the straits of Gibraltar, the pillars of Hercules, to further adventure and also to destruction; and we may then think that with this reference, Joyce took pains to tell us that the Ulysses of this book here completes in hidden climax the design and purpose of his work, and sails on to oblivion, or rather to dispersion and reconstitution as everyone in the new adventure of Finnegans Wake.

       

      19. See Adams, Surface and Symbol, p. 233.

      See also: Ralph W. Rader, Fact, Theory, and Literary Explanation

      Ralph W. Rader, professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of Tennyson’s “Maud”: The Biographical Genesis. He is currently working on a theoretical study of form in the novel and other genres. His previous contributions to Critical Inquiry include “The Literary Theoretical Contribution of Sheldon Sacks” (Winter 1979) and “The Dramatic Monologue and Related Lyric Forms” (Autumn 1976).

    • 579Larzer Ziff
    • On the night of 12 November 1958, Walt Whitman witnessed a meteor shower which he later described in his notebook. The lines never found their way into a published piece. But when he came to write his poem about the year 1859-60, the year in which Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas contested the presidency, John Brown was hanged in Virginia, and the mighty British iron steamship the Great Eastern arrived in New York on its maiden voyage, he remembered the heavenly phenomenon of the year before and began his poem, “Year of meteors! brooding year!”1

      Brooding, indeed, because this poem, the first version of which was completed after the Civil War, is concerned with the year in which South Carolina seceded from the United States, thereby plunging the union of Whitman’s celebrations into bloody divisiveness. Yet the onset of that event is never mentioned in the poem. Rather, its imminence is expressed in the meteor imagery—the portent of human history written in the heavens, a fairly rare example of Whitman employing a traditional literary convention.

      Among the events of the “Year of meteors,” and seemingly the least of them, certainly the one that appears most unconnected with the “brooding,” “transient,” “strange” atmosphere invoked in the poem, is the visit Edward, Prince of Wales, paid to New York on 11 October 1860 (pp. 238, 239). Whitman saw the prince’s procession, recorded it in his notebook, and introduced it, somewhat incongruously, into his poem, devoting three lines to it:

                  And you would I sing, fair stripling! Welcome

                              to you from me, young prince of England!

                  (Remember your surging Manhattan’s crowds as you

                              pass’d with your cortege of nobles?

                  There in the crowds stood I, and singled you out

                              with attachment;)

      [P. 239]


      1. Walt Whitman, “Year of Meteors (1859-60),” Leaves of Grass, ed. Sculley Bradley and Harold W. Blodgett (New York, 1973), p. 238; all further references to Whitman’s poetry will be cited by page number from this edition and will included in the text.

      See also: Jorge Luis Borges, Walt Whitman: Man and Myth

      Larzer Ziff is Caroline Donovan Professor of English at the Johns Hopkins University. He has written several books on American culture, the most recent of which is Literary Democracy: The Declaration of Cultural Independence in America (1981).

    • 592David Marshall
    • In Smith’s view, the dédoublement that structures any act of sympathy is internalized and doubled within the self. In endeavoring to “pass sentence” upon one’s own conduct, Smith writes, “I divide myself, as it were, into two persons; and … I, the examiner and judge, represent a different character from that other I, the person whose conduct is examined into and judged of” (p. 113). Earlier in his book, Smith claims that in imagining someone else’s sentiments, we “imagine ourselves acting the part” of that person (p. 75); here he pictures us trying to play ourselves by representing ourselves as two different characters. “The first,” writes Smith, “is the spectator, whose sentiments with regard to my own conduct I endeavour to enter into, by placing myself in his situation.” The second character, according to Smith, is “the agent, the person whom I properly call myself, and of whose conduct, under the character of a spectator, I was endeavouring to form some opinion” (p. 113). In the version of this chapter that appeared in the first edition, Smith made these roles explicitly by stating that “we must imagine ourselves not the actors, but the spectators of our own character and conduct” (p. 11 n.2). In his final exposition, he makes it clear that we are both actors and spectators of our characters. We are actors not just because we appear before spectators played by ourselves but also because, as Smith describes, we personate ourselves in different parts, persons, and characters. The self is theatrical in its relation to others and in its self-conscious relation to itself; but it also enters the theater because “the person whom I properly call myself” must be the actor who can dramatize or represent to himself the spectacle of self-division in which the self personates two different persons who try to play each other’s part, change positions, and identify with each others. Ironically, after founding his Theory of Moral Sentiments on a supposedly universal principle of sympathy, and then structuring the act of sympathy around the epistemological void that prevents people from sharing each other’s feelings, Smith seems to separate the self from the one self if could reasonably claim to know: itself. In order to sympathize with ourselves, we must imagine ourselves as an other who looks upon us as an other and tries to imagine us. Indeed, calling the spectator within the self the person judged of, Smith writes, “but that the judge should, in every respect, be the same with the person judged of, is as impossible, as that the cause should in every respect, be the same with the effect” (p. 113). Thus the actor and spectator into which one divides oneself can never completely identify with each other or be made identical. Identity is itself undermined by the theatrical model which pictures the self as an actor who stands beside himself and represents the characters of both spectator and spectacle.14

       

      14. Smith’s depiction of the impartial spectator and the relations it creates within the self suggest that he has been reading Shaftesbury. The characterization of the impartial spectator as the “man within the breast” (p. 130) recalls Joseph Butler’s discussion of “the witness of conscience” in his sermons “Upon the Natural Supremacy of Conscience” (The Works of Joseph Butler, 2 vols. [Cambridge, Mass., 1827], 2:52, and see 2:47-65. Smith may or may not have read Butler; see Macfie, The Individual in Society, p. 99). Hume discusses the moral value of considering how we appear in the eyes of those who regard us: “By our continual and earnest pursuit of a character, a reputation in the world, we bring our own deportment and conduct frequently in review, and consider how they appear in the eyes of those who approach and regard us. This constant habit of surveying ourselves, as it were, in reflection, keeps alive al the sentiments of right and wrong” (Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, p. 276). It is Shaftesbury, however, who expounds a “doctrine of two persons in one individual self” as he presents his “dramatic method” (“Soliloquy or Advice to an Author,” in Characteristics of Men, Manner, Opinions, Times, etc., ed. John M. Robertson, 2 vols. [Gloucester, Mass., 1963], 1:121) …. The terms and figures of theater are clearly inscribed within Smith’s characterizations of sympathy and the impartial spectator but they are clearly informed by Shaftesbury’s meditation on the dramatic character of the self and the problem of theatricality that threatens the self as it appears before the eyes of the world. This interpretation of Shaftesbury is developed at length in my The Figure of Theater.

      See also: William J. Rankin, The Epistemology of the Suburbs: Knowledge, Production, and Corporate Laboratory Design

      David Marshall, assistant professor of English and comparative literature at Yale University, has written on Rilke and Shakespeare. The present essay is adapted from a chapter of his forthcoming book, The Figure of Theater: Shaftesbury, Defoe, Adam Smith, and George Eliot.

    • 614Anthony Newcomb
    • I do not by any means with to take on the philosophy or aesthetics of music as a whole. In his review of Edward Lippman’s Humanistic Philosophy of Music, Monroe Beardsley lists six areas in which an ideal philosophy of music ought to provide guidance: (1) an ontology of music, an answer to the question What is a musical work of art? (2) a taxonomy of music, a categorical scheme for the basic and universal aspects of music; (3) a hermeneutics or semiotics of music, an answer to the question What, if anything, can music refer to? (4) an epistemology of music; (5) a theory of music criticism, an answer to the question What makes one musical work better than another? (6) the foundations of a social philosophy of music.4 My subject here is the third item. I want most particularly to separate it from the fifth item, for to arrive at an interpretation of a particular piece is not to arrive at an evaluation of it. I shall also try, particularly in my discussion of Nelson Goodman’s seminal Languages of Art, to avoid the first item.5 And I shall try throughout to avoid embroilment in the question of how the aesthetic experience can be separated from the nonaesthetic.

      My subject is in fact only a part of the third item above, namely, current theories of musical expression. “Expression” is not equivalent to “meaning”; I understand and shall use the word “expression” to indicate a kind of meaning that entails some kind of reference outside the internal syntax of the artwork itself. As Goodman remarks, “rather obviously, to express is to refer in some way to what is expressed.”6 How this reference is made by the artwork is interaction with the listener, and what sort of purpose it serves—these concerns will be the focus of this essay. To choose this focus is not to deny something of which I have no doubt, both from Peter Faltin’s careful arguments and from my own experience: there is a kind of musical meaning that is purely syntactic, that operates without reference outside the internal operations or procedures of musical systems themselves.7 But through this may be ontologically the most fundamental kind of musical meaning, it is not the only kind. To listen for this alone is not the only way to approach music. Indeed, I should guess it is not the most fundamental way for many listeners.

       

      4. I paraphrase and abbreviate from Monroe C. Beardsley, review of A Humanistic Philosophy of Music by Edward A. Lippman, Musical Quarterly 66 (Apr. 1980): 305.

      5. See Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art: An Approach to a Theory of Symbols (Indianapolis, 1968); all further references to this work, abbreviated LA, will be included in the text.

      6. Goodman, “Reply to Beardsley,” Erkenntnis 12, pt. 1 (Jan. 1978): 171; and see Edward T. Cone: “Expressive values in any art … cannot arise from analytical values alone. How could they? Unless one wishes to explain what it could possibly mean for a work of art to ‘express itself,’ then one must agree that expression, by its very definition, implies a relationship between the work of art and something else; while analytical values are derivable purely from internal structure” (“Beyond Analysis,” Perspectives of New Music 6 [Fall-Winter 1967]: 46).

      See also: Roger Scruton, Photography and Representation

      Anthony Newcomb, professor of music at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of The Madrigal at Ferrara. He is currently at work on a book on musica ficta, Understood Accidentals in Renaissance Vocal Polyphony, 1450-1600, and a study of the relationship between structure and expression in nineteenth-century music.

    • 644Jonathan Beck
    • Let us look first at poetry. It is well known that by the fifteenth century, lyric poetry had undergone a radical transformation; the early lyric fluidity and formal variability (the now famous mouvance of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries) had hardened into the nonlyric and even, some maintain, antilyric forms fixes which characterize the poetic formalism of late medieval France. Dispensing with the details of how and why this occurred, the essential point is that by the end of the Middle Ages, the poet in France and Burgundy saw himself as an artisan of words, not as a singer.6 He refers to himself as a craftsman (a facteur, faiseur, rhétoricien), and it is plain, sometimes painfully so, to anyone who reads the works that the rhétoriqueur is, indeed, an artisan of forms—or, if you will, an architecte de la parole, a specialist in verbal matter. He works words, sounds, metric and strophic forms into intricate patterns and arranges his elaborate designs in blocks of exact and harmonious symmetry. He is, in fact, from Machaut on, a virtuoso of the verbal equivalent of the architectural art of carrelage (“Tile designs”) which adorned the princely château in which he worked and lived. No one familiar with the period will avoid noticing the strikingly similar types of patters in the poet’s works and in his surroundings.

      I have gathered elsewhere the visual documentation which bears out Zumthor’s suggestions quoted above (“analogies of perception” and “proximity of design”) with respect to the meticulously constructivist mentality of the Franco-Burgundian artisan. But the analogies I found are much more than perceptual. It is true that the elaborate designs on the walls, floors, ceilings, windows, woodwork, and so forth of the early Renaissance château are, indeed, composed of intricate blocks of material; but their function is not merely decorative (that is, analogously restricted to this simple plane when compared with contemporaneous poems), it is also narrative, with emblematic motifs and allegorical figures arrayed in linear patterns of “visual” discourse—the invariable “discours de la gloire” (see ML, pp. 56-77) which silently proclaims the magnificence of the patron prince and proprietor of the château (see figs. 1-4).7

       

      6. A summary of internal and external factors in the transformation of lyric to Rhetoric is provided in my review of Die musikalische Erscheinungsform der Trouvèrepoesie by Hans-Herbert S. Räkel (Bern, 1977), in Romance Philology 34 (Nov. 1980): 250-58.

      7. This following collage of fragments from ML was constructed (like a Renaissance quodlibet) ôto serve as commentary on photographs of tile designs compared with verbal texts, in an earlier version of this paper (“Formal Constructivism in Late Medieval French Poetry: Lyric to Rhetoric, mouvance to formex fixes, canso to carreau”), from which the examples in figs. 1-4 are taken.

      Culte de l’objet subtilement travaillé, au-delà de toute fonctionnalité primaire (28) *** primat du labeur ardu, patient, du difficile, de l’inattendu (212) *** les mots mêmes semblent travaillés d’un besoin de scientificité fictive, d’anoblissement par le savoir (76) *** les … mots ne sont plus que les particules d’une parole dont la seule signification est globale (50) *** matériau émancipé (autant que faire se peut) des contraintes de la phrase, transposé sur un plan où le signe devient le nom vide de ce signe (195) *** goût du bricolage plutôt que de l’industrie; … du bariolage plus que du fondu et de la nuance; de l’équilibre numéral des parties plus que de la synthèse; du multiple plus que de l’un. Outil forgé martelé d’ “aornures” sans fonction utilitaire; enchâssements cubiques, coniques, pyramidaux, cruciformes du bâtiment … meubles marquetés, forrés de tiroirs minuscules et secrets (134) [and so forth].

      For the iconography of these examples (and numerous others), see Emile Amé, Less Carrelages émaillés du Moyen Age et de la Renaissance (Paris, 1859), pp. 61-108.

      See also: Christopher Nealon, The Poetic Case

      Jonathan Beck is associate professor of French at the University of Arizona. He is the author of Théâtre et propaganda aux débuts de la Réforme (forthcoming in 1984), a sequel to his edition and study, Le Concil de Basle: Le Origines du theater réformiste et partisan en France.

    • 668Walter A. Davis
    • Interpretation is an institutional activity and that may be the most significant fact about it; we are, indeed, a profession, and as such we train students to think about literature in certain ways. Membership in the community is determined by how well one masters the rules of the game. These inescapable facts may be the source of our greatest problems—or their hidden solution. Stanley Fish champions the latter alternative, arguing, in his most recent book, that “the interpretive community” is the ultimate principle of authority in criticism and is capable of resolving all the problems of interpretation.1 If we want to know what reading is, how texts achieve determinate meaning, what constitutes validity in interpretation, or how to resolve the “conflict of interpretations,” we must, Fish argues, focus on the community itself, for it is here alone that these matters are determined.

      Though he has had more than his share of professional attention, having developed this argument makes Fish’s work worthy of further consideration. He quite simply presents the best picture we are likely to get of the “mind” of the profession, and, in treating him at length here, I am primarily concerned with his representative status. His great achievement is to have articulated the assumptions and beliefs underlying the practices that are favored in our profession: the tacit theoretical position composed of ideas and commonplaces that are so deeply held and constantly in use that they “prestructure” both our dealings with literature and our debates over those dealings. While remaining for the most part “unconscious,” these ideas nevertheless function as self-evident and unassailable truths. (Fish’s focus on general rules shared by everyone cuts across both the debates among theorists of different persuasions and the old opposition between theory and practical criticism.) If we are to move, as I think we must, toward experiencing a crisis in our discipline, we first have to know where we are. And for that, Fish is invaluable because he has set out to become the official spokesman and efender of the profession.

      See also: Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels, Against Theory

      Walter A. Davis, associate professor of English at the Ohio State University, is the author of The Act of Interpretation: A Critique of Literary Reason. The present essay is from a recently completed work on contemporary criticism. He is currently writing a book on modern American drama.

    • 695Stanley Fish
    • Perhaps the best place to begin would be with the model or picture of things Davis opposes to mine. It is a familiar model that has at its center an independent text, or at least a text that is independent enough to provide “common reference points” that serve as a check against, and a means of discriminating between, the operation of different interpretive strategies (p. 681). In my account of interpretation, Davis complains, there is no such check, and therefore different interpretive strategies are free to “create completely different texts with no point of comparison”; as a result, “all attempts to ground criticism in commonly observed data are ruled out” (p. 681).

      Davis cites as a piece of “commonly observed data,” which in my argument “suddenly become[s] problematic,” the fact that “God is represented as somewhat ponderous and dull in book 3 of Paradise Lost” (p. 681). Now it is certainly the case that much criticism has been grounded in this piece of data, and it is also the case that it has been “commonly observed,” in the sense that many commentators begin by assuming it before proceeding either to lament it or explain it or explain it away. The question I would ask, however, is “What is its source?” Davis’ answer is already given; its source is the text; but I would suggest that its source is a tradition of literary judgment at least as old as the pronouncements of Alexander Pope, a tradition that over a period of time was consolidated and became so authoritative that it acquired the status of a commonplace, which, in combination with other related commonplaces, made up the context within which the act of reading occurred. In short, I would want to historicize (and perhaps rhetorize) the category of commonly observed data, and I would do this in part by pointing out first, that the category is a relational one—formed not by direct inspection but by a system of differences that inform perception—and second, that what is in the category can change (although change is one of the things Davis claims that I cannot accommodate).

       

      Stanley Fish is the William Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and the Humanities at the Johns Hopkins University. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include “Working on the Chain Gang: Interpretation in the Law and in Literary Criticism” (September 1982) and “Profession Despise Thyself: Fear and Self-Loathing in Literary Studies” (December 1983).

    • 706Walter A. Davis
    • Interpretation is an institutional activity and that may be the most significant fact about it; we are, indeed, a profession, and as such we train students to think about literature in certain ways. Membership in the community is determined by how well one masters the rules of the game. These inescapable facts may be the source of our greatest problems—or their hidden solution. Stanley Fish champions the latter alternative, arguing, in his most recent book, that “the interpretive community” is the ultimate principle of authority in criticism and is capable of resolving all the problems of interpretation.1 If we want to know what reading is, how texts achieve determinate meaning, what constitutes validity in interpretation, or how to resolve the “conflict of interpretations,” we must, Fish argues, focus on the community itself, for it is here alone that these matters are determined.

      Though he has had more than his share of professional attention, having developed this argument makes Fish’s work worthy of further consideration. He quite simply presents the best picture we are likely to get of the “mind” of the profession, and, in treating him at length here, I am primarily concerned with his representative status. His great achievement is to have articulated the assumptions and beliefs underlying the practices that are favored in our profession: the tacit theoretical position composed of ideas and commonplaces that are so deeply held and constantly in use that they “prestructure” both our dealings with literature and our debates over those dealings. While remaining for the most part “unconscious,” these ideas nevertheless function as self-evident and unassailable truths. (Fish’s focus on general rules shared by everyone cuts across both the debates among theorists of different persuasions and the old opposition between theory and practical criticism.) If we are to move, as I think we must, toward experiencing a crisis in our discipline, we first have to know where we are. And for that, Fish is invaluable because he has set out to become the official spokesman and defender of the profession.

       

      Walter A. Davis, associate professor of English at the Ohio State University, is the author of The Act of Interpretation: A Critique of Literary Reason. The present essay is from a recently completed work on contemporary criticism. He is currently writing a book on modern American drama.

    • 695Stanley Fish
    • It may seem that I am simply confirming Davis’ assertion (and accusation) that in my view of the critical process “different interpretive strategies create completely different texts with no point of comparison” (p. 681); but the differences are not all that complete. While many readers now see (and argue for) a God who is more dramatically effective than Pope’s “school divine,” they still see a God who exists in a defining relationship with the figure of Satan, a Satan who is himself significantly changed from the energy-bearing Byronic antihero who was for so long a “given” in the interpretive landscape. The point is, again, that changes do not occur in isolation, because the facts that have undergone change (and, on occasion, dislodgment) did not exist in isolation either. In the history of Milton criticism, any judgment against God is always and simultaneously a judgment for Satan (of course the ways of making that positive judgment are themselves varied); and it follows that a reversal in one pole of the judgment cannot occur without a corresponding—that is, related—reversal in the other. Any increase in the literary “cash value” of Milton’s God will be registered at the expense of his Satan.

      In short, since literary judgments or observations are not made piecemeal, the process of challenging and (perhaps) changing them is not piecemeal either. That is why it is not “contradictory,” as Davis asserts, “to talk about recalcitrant features of a text” in the context of a thesis that makes the text’s features a function of interpretation (p. 672). The source of recalcitrance or resistance is not the text as it exists independently of interpretation, but the text as an authoritative and elaborated interpretation has given it to us. I stress “elaborated” because the interpretation is not a single assertion but a complex of assertions; and when a challenge is made to the interpreted text at one point, its other points constitute a reservoir from which objections and “counterchallenges” can emerge. Thus, when someone offers a revisionist account of Milton’s God, a skeptical or unpersuaded reader will respond by observing that this account is incompatible with what we know to be true about other parts of the poem: the characterization of Satan, or of the War in Heaven, or of books 11 and 12. It is then the obligation of the revisionist critic either to demonstrate there is no incompatibility or (and this is the more usual path) to extend his new reading in such a way as to recharacterize those parts of the poem that seem to stand as refutations of the revisionist’s reading. He will then be working against resistance, but it will not be the resistance of something that stands outside interpretation; rather it will be the resistance offered by one interpretively produced shape to the production of another.

       

      Stanley Fish is the William Kenan, Jr., Professor of English and the Humanities at the Johns Hopkins University. His contributions to Critical Inquiry include “Working on the Chain Gang: Interpretation in the Law and in Literary Criticism” (September 1982) and “Profession Despise Thyself: Fear and Self-Loathing in Literary Studies” (December 1983).

    • 706Walter A. Davis
    • Fish has always been adept at revising his position to incorporate what he’s learned from his critics while repaying the favor by assigning them a position they never took. The latter practice naturally helps conceal the borrowings, but as Fish’s position evolves it becomes progressively difficult to determine who is the author of his essays. (Fish Unlimited Inc., abc) I am, of course, gratified to see how much Fish has learned from me. It is salutary to find that Fish is finally just a humble historian working with others at “recovering a system of thought and feeling” (p. 697) that will enable us to establish the historical context of Milton’s most probable intentions and realizing, as many historians of literature don’t, that we can only do so by bringing concepts provided by literary theory—form, function, artistic purpose, and so forth—to bear on the mass of historical materials at our disposal.3 It is also gratifying to see that Fish has discovered the law of context and now realizes that there are no local matters. Had he discovered that earlier, we’d have been spared Aunt Tilly and the discussion of Mr. Collins—as well as the general notion extrapolated from those examples that anything a sizable group decides to do will fly since nothing else constraints interpretation. We’d also have been spared the concepts of reading and affective criticism presented in Fish’s early work and the unchecked linguistic hijinks used to sustain those readings. I derive my deepest pleasure, however, from finding that Fish has finally discovered the conflict of interpretations proper and its primacy—“the resistance offered by one interpretively produced shape to the production of another” (p. 699)—though I must sadly abridge this progress report by noting that he finds himself powerless to do anything with this recognition. That is as it must be, for the most interesting thing about Fish’s borrowings is where he stops—and why he has to. Having let me write the first 5 ½ pages of his reply, he suddenly stops taking dictation so that he can simply reassert, in all its abstract glory, his tried-and-true resolution of all interpretive controversy by community interest. Had he read further, he would have discovered that a good deal more emerges if one attempts to preserve and deal with the conflict of interpretations rather than to do away with it. He would even have discovered my epistemology and would have learned the main lesson—that his position is not an alternative to mine but an early moment it contains and sublates in a larger context.

      Have taught Fish so much, I found myself, instead, poorly repaid by the position he foists upon me. Constantly caught up in an effort to reiterate the dichotomy on which his entire theorizing depends, Fish’s fixed need is to rework all disputes into an opposition between the party of independent fact-disinterested reason and the party of interest so that he might triumphantly resolve all difficulties by once again discovering the simple fact of interests. Lest this strategy hide behind a common misconception, our debate is not a case where distinct frameworks are simply misreading one another, as they must, but one where one framework must deliberately and seriously misread others since it has no other way to sustain itself. If the account Fish gives of my argument is the way things must look from his framework, all that this fact signifies is the paucity of his framework and its inability to achieve even minimal descriptive adequacy.

       

      3. But even here things are a good deal more complex than Fish imagines. For a good statement of the logic and problems of historical interpretation, see Robert Marsh, “Historical Interpretation and the History of Criticism,” in Literary Criticism and Historical Understanding, ed. Philip Damon (New York, 1967), pp. 1-24.