Stanley Fish is a professor of humanities and law. He’s hella old, but instead of retiring to Florida, he did the next best thing: Got a job writing editorials for the New York Times. Oh, and took an academic job in Florida. Before that, he taught at UC Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Duke and University of Illinois, Chicago. During his protracted journeyings around this great nation, he’s built an intellectual reputation for advancing anti-foundationalism and extreme relativism. Not the fake kind of relativism, where it just means you like gay people and disagree with Glenn Beck, but the real kind, where you go around like a dickhead telling everyone that truth doesn’t exist and human nature is just a bunch of historically contingent cultural norms.
Looking at his Wikipedia page, I find that critiques of his philosophical stance are legion. For instance, Judith Shulevitz reports Fish “rejects wholesale the concepts of ‘fairness, impartiality, reasonableness,'” Terry Eagleton “excoriates Fish’s ‘discreditable epistemology’ as ‘sinister,'” and Martha Nussbaum says he “‘relies on the regulative principle of non-contradiction in order to adjudicate between competing principles,’ thereby relying on normative standards of argumentation even as he argues against them.” I’m glad someone finally said something! That’s basically what I was going to point out myself, but I didn’t want to be the first to one bring it up.
Knowing that Fish’s discreditable epistemology and regulative principle of non-contradiction have been duly addressed, we can turn with an easy conscience to this blog’s rightful concern: His writing for the Times. Specifically, his sentences. Fish is a master of sentences, having authored the recent volume How to Write a Sentence. So it’s fitting that we look to his methods for guidance and instruction. What kind of sentences can a world-famous Milton scholar, teacher to generations of young minds, and distinguished commentator for the Paper of Record turn out?