Is There a Text in this Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities

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Harvard University Press, 1980 - Literary Criticism - 394 pages
7 Reviews

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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Review: Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities

User Review  - Michael - Goodreads

Twenty-three years after I read the first chunk in a graduate seminar, I've now read the whole thing. KABOOM! Graceful, witty, and arrogant writing on epistemology as manifested in the context of ... Read full review

Review: Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretive Communities

User Review  - Annie Chanse - Goodreads

Stanley Fish is an arrogant ass, but he is also quite brilliant. That's really all I have to say about that for now. I may write an actual, DECENT review later, but for now, I'm just too tired. Read full review


Introduction or How I Stopped Worrying
Affective Stylistics
What Is Stylistics and Why Are They Saying Such
T How Ordinary Is Ordinary Language?
What Its Like To Read LAllegro and II Penseroso
A Reply to Ralph Rader
Interpreting the Variorum
Interpreting Interpreting the Variorum
What Is Stylistics and Why Are They Saying Such
Normal Circumstances and Other Special Cases
A Reply to John Reichert
Interpretive Authority in
How To Recognize a Poem When You See One
What Makes an Interpretation Acceptable?
Two Models

Structuralist Homiletics

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About the author (1980)

Stanley Eugene Fish, who writes on law and literary criticism and history, was born on April 19, 1938, in Providence, Rhode Island. He was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. Fish holds a Ph.D. from Yale. During his career, he has held major academic posts, serving as Kenan Professor of English at Johns Hopkins University from 1974 to 1985 and as Arts and Sciences Distinguished Professor of English and Law at Duke University since 1985. He is known for his expertise in English literature and literary theory, particularly the subjectivity of textual interpretation. Fish's works include Is There a Text in This Class?: The Authority of Interpretative Communities, 1980 and Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies, 1989. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1969.

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