Stanley Fish (1938-) - Key Figures in Literary Theory

The Blackwell Guide to Literary Theory - Gregory Castle 2007

Stanley Fish (1938-)
Key Figures in Literary Theory

Stanley Fish was born in Providence, Rhode Island, and educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University. He received his doctorate in 1962 and soon began teaching at the University of California at Berkeley. He went on to teach at Johns Hopkins University and Duke University, where he was Arts and Sciences Professor of English and professor of law (1968-98).

Fish's early professional life was spent teaching medieval and seventeenth-century literature. His first major work, Surprised by Sin (1967), advanced a then-unique argument about the reader of Paradise Lost, who is seduced by Milton's language into experiencing Satan's temptation of Adam and Eve. Fish's “affective stylistics,” which stresses the reader's response to a literary text, departed from the formalism of the New Critics. His next book, Self-consuming Artifact (1972), overcame some of the limitations of affective stylistics and offered a new theory of interpretive communities, cohorts of readers who agree, in principle, on a specific set of conventions and strategies. Is There a Text in this Class? brings together essays from the 1970s along with new material that contrasts his early conceptions of affective stylistics with his later formulations of reader response and interpretive communities. These later texts show the influence of Wolfgang Iser and Roman Ingarden who were developing similar projects in Europe at this time.

During the 1980s and '90s, Fish turned his attention to matters of law and legal theory, rhetoric, ethics, and the professionalization of literary studies. His interest in pragmatism and logic made him a formidable and often amusing interlocutor. Fish's attacks on Postmodernism were eloquent reminders that principles and standards are inevitable in human society and that the important issue is not protesting their existence but in constructing smart and tolerable ones. In 1989, Fish published Doing What Comes Naturally, a seminal work in the Critical Legal Studies movement. This was followed by his controversial volume on the first amendment, There’s No Such Thing as Free Speech: and It’s a Good Thing, Too (1994). From the mid-1990s, Fish's career settled into legal studies and administration. He served as Dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois, Chicago (1999-2004). In 2005, he joined the faculty of Florida international University College of Law, where he is Davidson-Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Humanities and Law.


Fish, Stanley. Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies. Durham: Duke University Press, 1989.

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

Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980.

---- . Professional Correctness: Literary Studies and Political Change. New York: Clarendon Press, 1995.

---- . The Stanley Fish Reader. Ed. H. Aram Veeser. Malden MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1999.

---- . Surprised by Sin: The Reader in Paradise Lost. 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967, 1998.