24.1.11

How to Write a Sentence

Adam Haslett reviews new book by critic Stanley Fish
Stanley Fish, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One
Adam Haslett reviews Stanley Fish's How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One in the Financial Times, discussing how Fish's work might elucidate that of David Foster Wallace and W. G. Sebald:
This question of how forms of writing produce forms of thought is one that the literary critic and legal scholar Stanley Fish has been wrestling with most of his career. He first came to prominence in the late 1970s with his theory of “interpretative communities”. This held that all readings of literary texts are inescapably bound up with the cultural assumptions of readers, an uncontroversial proposition now but one that quickly earned him the sloppy epithet of “relativist”. In the late 1980s and early 1990s he turned the Duke University English department into the headquarters of the then burgeoning “theory” industry before, in 1999, surprising the academic world by moving to the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he set himself the task of trying to renovate undergraduate education in basic skills like writing. Though he doesn’t mention that experience in his new book, How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One, it’s not far off stage. The problem with Strunk & White, in Fish’s view, is that “they assume a level of knowledge and understanding only some of their readers will have attained,” that is, the Cornell kids whose secondary education did at least a halfway decent job of teaching them the basics. [Read more]