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Friday, November 17, 2023

Can Stanley Fish Be Taken Seriously?

Stanley Fish, who is now teaching at New College in Florida, was interviewed by the Chronicle of Higher Education (paywalled with free registration). Put aside the fact that he is giving some legitimacy to  the DeSantis/Rufo takeover of higher education, and consider this comment about his involvement at Ralston College:

I have a lot more to ask about New College. But first I wanted to ask about Ralston College, in Savannah, Ga., which you’ve been involved with at the planning stage, and which seems to promise a kind of great books or neotraditional education.

It took about a decade of fundraising and planning and gift-giving for the college to begin but it’s now in operation. I was there less than a year ago, giving a lecture and talking to students and faculty members. I gave a talk about hate speech and free speech. And the morning before the talk, I attended a class on Homer, the Iliad. What was amazing about it was that not only was the Iliad being read in the original Greek, but the conversations between the students and the faculty member were being conducted in Greek. And six months before this course began, no student in it — and there were about 25 — had any knowledge whatsoever of the Greek language or Greek culture.

It is simply not plausible that 25 students could become fluent in Greek in just six months. Maybe a few savants could learn a language that well in a short time, in a total immersion program – including reading it in a different alphabet – but it more than strains credulity to think that 25 such marvels would all be at Ralston College at the same time.  (Oh, and by the way, Ralston College is unaccredited, although it is authorized to grant degrees by South Carolina.)

The interviewer thought so too:

It seems almost impossible.

Not that I was able to participate! I wish I could. I took a little Greek 110 years ago and have long since forgotten it, but it was inspiring. These people were thoroughly engaged.

I took Greek as an undergrad. It took me three years to be able to laboriously translate, with a crib, over the course of an hour, maybe a page of Homer. I was by no means the world’s best Greek student. But there were other students with more talent in the class — at least one of them went on to become a professor of classics — but none of them could have conducted a discussion in Greek about the Iliad.

Yes, that’s right. And the discussion was very precise about details of the verse and how it worked, and how various words interacted with one another or were opposed to one another.

This does not seem to be a parody:

How did you know, if it was in Greek?

Oh, I could tell that much. There’s a certain kind of gesturing with respect to texts that is known to any of us who have worked with texts for a while.

Yes, the great Stanley Fish claims that he can deduce the content of a classroom discussion -- in a language he does not understand -- based on hand signals, which he says are "known" among academics. 

Somebody is kidding somebody, but who? Could it be Morris Zapp?

Comments are open.


Posted by Steve Lubet on November 17, 2023 at 08:32 AM | Permalink


Thank you for this blog post. I burst out in a good long laugh upon reading where he says the students were speaking Greek in class. Presumably ANCIENT Greek, which no one speaks (I'm a classics major BTW)!! But then I was laughing uncontrollably when the interviewer asked Prof. Fish how he knew what the students were talking about. His attempt to put a straight face on such dishonest nonsense is better than any comedy. "Gesturing with respect to texts" lol!! Truly hilarious.

Posted by: ChatGPT guy | Nov 22, 2023 5:21:51 PM

It appears the Mr. Fish lives in an alternate reality.
That, or he's smoking some very interesting weed.
May Heaven have mercy on his miserable soul.

Posted by: Paul | Nov 18, 2023 12:32:51 AM

A Morris Zapp reference! How absolutely wonderful.

Posted by: Robert Levine | Nov 17, 2023 10:51:51 PM

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