The following are excerpts from "The Uses of the Humanities, Part Two," written by Stanley Fish, as published in the New York Times.  To read the complete article, please click here.  This article is the second part of an article previously posted on the blog, to read the first part of Fish’s argument, click here


“The questions raised in my previous column and in the responses to it are: what is the value of such work, why should anyone fund it, and why (for what reasons) does anyone do it?

Why do I do it? I don’t do it because Herbert and I are co-religionists. I don’t believe what he believes or value what he values. I don’t do it because it inspires me to do other things, like change my religion, or go out and work for the poor. If I had to say, I’d say that I do it because I get something like an athletic satisfaction from the experience of trying to figure out how a remarkable verbal feat has been achieved.”

“The satisfaction is partly self-satisfaction – it is like solving a puzzle – but the greater satisfaction is the opportunity to marvel at what a few people are able to do with the language we all use. “Isn’t that amazing?,” I often say to my students. “Don’t you wish you could write a line like that?” (In the column I used the word “pleasure” to describe the reward of discussing and unpacking literary texts, but “pleasure” is at once too narrow and too broad; it is the very particular pleasure that attends cognitive awareness of an effect you not only experience but can now explain.)”

“What is in need of defense is not the existence of Shakespeare, but the existence of the Shakespeare industry (and of the Herbert industry and of the Hemingway industry), with its seminars, journals, symposia, dissertations, libraries. The challenge of utility is not put (except by avowed Philistines ) to literary artists, but to the scholarly machinery that seems to take those operating it further and further away from the primary texts into the reaches of incomprehensible and often corrosive theory. More than one poster decried the impenetrable jargon of literary studies. Why, one wonders, is the same complaint not made against physics or economics or biology or psychology, all disciplines with vocabularies entirely closed to the uninitiated?”


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