Monday, August 13, 2007


I have to give props to one of my friends, who will remain nameless for reasons of professional interest, for the following insight.

There's an old saying that goes: "Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he'll eat for a lifetime. At SPEP, the aim is neither to give a man a fish nor to teach a man to fish, but just to convince a man that 'fishing' is cool."

As much as I hate to admit it, I didn't have to ask my friend to explain what he meant. I've definitely seen my share of the pomp-and-circumstance papers at conferences of late. Whole lot of thunder, whole lot of lightning... no rain.

But there is an even more specific variety of critique that I think he was aiming at, and that is a criticism of a certin "cult of personality" philosophy. To be an expert at this, one needs only to intimate a profound observation, to gesture toward or call into question or (my favorite) to problematize a particular theme or concept, in order to draw attention to it, but without actually saying anything substantial about it. To go back to the fishing analogy, it's as if these people aren't really aware of the fact that somebody might be hungry and might actually need the fish. Or they don't care. Either way, it's all about the presentation of the illusion of serious thought. (See my post on "The Prestige" for elaboration.)

So, let me state my position clearly. Fishing is, in fact, cool. But it's only cool because it's a way to catch fish. If you're going to take the meat out of the equation, you might as well be standing on the riverbank picking your nose.



Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

I tried applying this trope to SAAP, but it is not as snappy: "We should get off our butts and go fish. [They do not move]"

But speaking of Fish, here is another example of the generic use of "deconstruction" - in this case, it means "sustained ridicule."

Here's my favorite quip:

"As multidegreed as he is, I have a feeling that it would be an invaluable addition to his education if professor Fish spent a week "serving" as a barista. You know: For someone who believes in perspectives rather than foundations (except when it comes to grants), it would seem like a useful additional perspective on the whole coffee-servant question."

Doctor J said...

great article on Stanley Fish! Thanks for the reference...