Another puzzling piece from the nearly always puzzling Stanley Fish. He takes the usual line that “everyone advocates a point of view,” so everyone is a partisan, but then fails to understand the difference between principle and strategy. He writes:
>But the report gets off to a bad start when its authors allow the charge by conservative critics that left-wing instructors indoctrinate rather than teach to dictate their strategy. By taking it as their task to respond to what they consider a partisan attack, they set themselves up to perform as partisans in return, and that is exactly what they end up doing.
He then goes on to criticize the strategy of the American Association of University Professors. They set themselves up as “partisans” in the minds of those who can’t read very well. A few paragraphs later, Fish writes:
>My point is made for me by the subcommittee when it proposes a hypothetical as a counterexample to the stricture laid down by the Students for Academic Freedom: “Might not a teacher of nineteenth-century American literature, taking up ‘Moby Dick,’ a subject having nothing to do with the presidency, ask the class to consider whether any parallel between President George W. Bush and Captain Ahab could be pursued for insight into Melville’s novel?”
>But with what motive would the teacher initiate such a discussion? If you look at commentaries on “Moby Dick,” you will find Ahab characterized as inflexible, monomaniacal, demonic, rigid, obsessed and dictatorial. What you don’t find are words like generous, kind, caring, cosmopolitan, tolerant, far-seeing and wise. Thus the invitation to consider parallels between Ahab and Bush is really an invitation to introduce into the classroom (and by the back door) the negative views of George Bush held by many academics.
>If the intention were, as claimed, to produce insight into Melville’s character, there are plenty of candidates in literature for possible parallels – Milton’s Satan, Marlowe’s Faust, Byron’s Cain, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Shakespeare’s Iago, Jack London’s Wolf Larsen, to name a few. Nor would it have been any better if an instructor had invited students to find parallels between George Bush and Aeneas, or Henry the Fifth, or Atticus Finch, for then the effect would have been to politicize teaching from the other (pro-Bush) direction.
>By offering this example, the report’s authors validate the very accusation they are trying to fend off, the accusation that the academy’s leftward tilt spills over into the classroom. No longer writing for the American Association of University Professors, the subcommittee is instead writing for the American Association of University Professors Who Hate George Bush (admittedly a large group). Why do its members not see that? Because once again they reason from an abstract theoretical formulation to a conclusion about what instructors can properly do.
Bush is the President. The president is kind of a like a captain of a ship, insofar as he is a leader of people. Leaders of people can lead well or badly. Is Bush like the one who leads badly, or not.
The more obviously silly point of Fish’s argument is that he seems to think literature can only refer to other literature. So, if it’s parallels you’re looking for, don’t look at real people. Literature has nothing to say about that. Besides, easily offended Bush lovers might be offended.