Stanley Fish's latest column is titled "Stop Me Before I Write More," and I'd just as soon he stop writing on this topic as well, because it's tiresome, really. For example:
These points are part of the “everything is political” argument, which, as I have said before, is both true and trivial. It is true because in any form of social activity there are always alternative courses of action — different ways of doing things — and those differences will, more often than not, reflect opposing ideas of what is important and valuable. Even something so small as giving more time to Wallace Stevens than to Robert Frost in a semester could be described as political. One could say, then, that on the most general level the decisions that go into making up a syllabus and the decisions that lead you to vote for one candidate rather than another are equally political.Anyone else shocked that Fish's example involves two dead white men from the same general time period? Choosing more Stevens than Frost isn't a political decision--it's a matter of taste. Choosing June Jordan over either of them, now--that's more of a political decision. Choosing Adrienne Rich, Derek Walcott, Thom Gunn--those are political choices in this context, and they're choices that, frankly, any teacher of 20th century literature should make, because they reflect the world that our students live in--a loud, vibrant, unapologetically political world where one's identity is at least as important as one's stand on universal health care. And make no mistake about it--if I chose to teach a poetry class that focused solely on white male voices, that would be as much a political statement as if I chose to ignore them entirely. (I'm talking, of course, about survey courses as opposed to specialized courses.)
The other point I wish to contest is this one:
Some would reply that the task is much larger than I acknowledge, if only because “universities have moral & political purposes” and “seek to prepare men & women for life in a democratic, commercial, high tech culture.” “Look at divestment,” says THK; by such practices “universities have clearly established themselves as institutions that have real relationships with international politics.” To the extent that this is true, universities should stop. They have no more business declaring themselves on the great, disputed issues of the day than do the teachers they employ.He's just wrong here, because he fails to acknowledge that universities have already declared themselves on the great disputed issues of the day by being invested in these countries. Now, if Fish is arguing that universities should stop investing their endowments, thereby removing themselves from the "great, disputed issues of the day," then fine--but he isn't, because he's responding to divestment, not investment. Sorry, Dr. Fish--universities which invest have already involved themselves in those great issues, and investment is a signal that the actions those nations are taking are fine with the university. If a university community is sufficiently outraged and demands action to change that, then it is the university's duty to engage in that political act. It works both ways.
Labels: Stanley Fish