Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies

Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies

Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies

Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies

Synopsis

In a succession of provocative and wide-ranging chapters, Stanley Fish explores the rational basis of our literary, legal, and psychoanalytic interpretations. He argues that while we can never separate our judgements from the context in which they are made, those judgements are neverthelessauthoritative, and in the only way that matters, objective. He explores the implications of his ideas on the nature of professional and institutional culture, on literary theory, the philosophy of law, and the sociology of knowledge, and assesses the place of reason in a rhetorical world.

Excerpt

I can imagine at least two objections to the following pages. Some might complain that they do not comprise a book, but rather present a collection of essays on diverse topics: Milton, Freud, the law, professionalism, formalism, the teaching of composition, irony, literary history, speech acts, change, rhetoric, blind submission, the uses of theory, literary history. Others might voice the opposite complaint: every essay in this book is the same; no matter what its putative topic each chapter finally reduces to an argument in which the troubles and benefits of interpretive theory are made to disappear in the solvent of an enriched notion of practice. This second group would be right.

In the course of this book, I say very little about its title, Doing What Comes Naturally. I intend it to refer to the unreflective actions that follow from being embedded in a context of practice. This kind of action--and in my argument there is no other--is anything but natural in the sense of proceeding independently of historical and social formations; but once those formations are in place (and they always are), what you think to do will not be calculated in relation to a higher law or an overarching theory but will issue from you as naturally as breathing. In the words of John Milton, "from a sincere heart"--that is, a heart embedded in a structure of conviction--"unimpos'd expressions" will come "unbidden into the outward gesture" (Apology, Complete Prose Works of John Milton, ed. Don M. Wolfe, New Haven, 1953, p. 941).

A number of chapters have been previously published, often in shorter forms. Chapters 2, 10, and 14 were published in Critical Inquiry; Chapter 3 first appeared in Diacritics. Chapter 4 first appeared both in Critical Inquiry and the Texas Law Review; Chapter 5 appeared in the Texas Law Review. Chapter 6 was first published in the Stan ford Law Review . . .

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