Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Stanley Fish is an idiot; or, an appallingly bad review of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue by a supposed literary expert

Stanley Fish's review of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue at the Times is... how shall I put it?... a combination of vomit and diarrhea.

Seriously, it's one of the worst "literary" pieces I've ever read, all the more awful, and all the more shameful, coming from a supposed literary expert like Fish and being published at a supposedly serious outlet like the Times.

The main problem is that Fish doesn't care about Palin's, or the book's, honesty:

My assessment of the book has nothing to do with the accuracy of its accounts... The questions to ask then are (1) Does Palin succeed in conveying to her readers the kind of person she is? and (2) Does she do it in a satisfying and artful way? In short, is the book a good autobiographical read? I would answer "yes" to both.

Now, it is supposed to be a work of non-fiction, correct? So shouldn't truth matter? Not to Fish, who seems to think that truthiness trumps truth. Stephen Colbert at least is a man of irony. Fish is deadly serious. And so the book may be a pile of shit, a self-mythologizing effort on the part of a woman who seems to be a profuse liar, but who cares? It's a "satisfying and artful" read. Look, I appreciate artistic/literary licence, but this isn't a work of literature, it's a work of propaganda about a significant public/political figure, one that her supporters are taking as gospel. There are certainly good autobiographical reads that take liberties with the truth, I know, but how is Palin "conveying to her readers the kind of person she is" by spinning herself without regard for the truth? How are her readers supposed to see through the layers of bullshit?

Fish's review gets worse. Just try to take this in:

Do I believe any of this? It doesn't matter. What matters is that she does, and that her readers feel they are hearing an authentic voice. I find the voice undeniably authentic (yes, I know the book was written "with the help" of Lynn Vincent, but many books, including my most recent one, are put together by an editor). It is the voice of small-town America, with its folk wisdom, regional pride, common sense, distrust of rhetoric (itself a rhetorical trope), love of country and instinctive (not doctrinal) piety. It says, here are some of the great things that have happened to me, but they are not what makes my life great and American. ("An American life is an extraordinary life.") It says, don't you agree with me that family, freedom and the beauties of nature are what sustain us? And it also says, vote for me next time. For it is the voice of a politician, of the little girl who thought she could fly, tried it, scraped her knees, dusted herself off and "kept walking."

And this:

In the end, perseverance, the ability to absorb defeat without falling into defeatism, is the key to Palin's character.

Really? Sarah Palin is all about perseverance? How did Fish even come up with this nonsense? You can find this sort of hagiography at The Weekly Standard, but even there it usually isn't so laughable.

The message is clear. America can't be stopped. I can't be stopped. I've stumbled and fallen, but I always get up and run again. Her political opponents, especially those who dismissed Ronald Reagan before he was elected, should take note. Wherever you are, you better watch out. Sarah Palin is coming to town.

Yes, that's right, Palin is like Reagan. She is America. Like I said, vomit and diarrhea.

Fish claims that he is not a Palin supporter, and, indeed, he is hardly a man of the right -- he's been accused by his critics in the academic world of being a relativist and extreme subjectivist. My sense of him has always been that he defies easy labelling. And, to be fair, what he likes about Going Rogue is more the style than the substance. Still, this is an appallingly bad review, one that excuses dishonesty and misses the very point of the book, which is to build up the Palin myth, celebrity, and cult of worship, and to do so by telling lies and airing grievances and ratcheting up the culture war rhetoric, with the utterly self-absorbed Palin (because, of course, it's all about Sarah) on the side of "real" America.

It's hard to believe that Fish means any of this. But he seems to, and whatever shred of credibility he has left should be obliterated.

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  • Fish is deadly serious. And so the book may be a pile of shit, a self-mythologizing effort on the part of a woman who seems to be a profuse liar, but who cares?

    By Anonymous Term Papers, at 12:22 AM  

  • Not too many people would actually think about this the way you just did. I'm really impressed that there's so much about this subject that's been uncovered and you did it so well, with so much class.

    By Anonymous Custom Essay, at 5:03 AM  

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