Stanley Fish and the Dangers of Interdisciplinarity?

While I grade papers and exams, why don’t you go read this interesting exchange about Stanley Fish’s innumeracy?  Courtesy of Berkeley economist Brad DeLong (who just live-blogged with Tedra, correct?):

Fish is making his usual contrarian argument, this time bringing it to the topics of “spin” and “Karl Rove,” and asserting that Rove’s statements about an increase in disposable income are not “spin,” but simply a “difference in beliefs about what conditions must obtain if an economy is to be pronounced healthy.”

DeLong doesn’t need to spend a lot of time debunking Fish’s defense of Rove (when both omit the essential caveat  that this “increase” was not equally distributed; the “increase” went disproportionately to those in the top half of society, while those in the bottom half lost 3.6 % of their disposable income during this time).

I understand Fish as arguing pretty consistently about the difficulty of distinguishing between rhetorical and factual speech, and the role that this distinction plays in the historical discrediting of rhetoric.  Fair enough.  But his defense of Rove, which ignores what one commentator called “the oldest and simplest bit of statistical legerdemain ever devised” seems weirdly naive and wrong-headed.  It’s as if Fish cannot acknowledge any stakes for this argument, apart from the push and pull of the interlocutors in discussion.

But Fish, as the analyst of rhetoric, should know that Rove is omitting the crucial caveat not just to win an argument, but because he wants to persuade people, influence their actions, and impose his will upon the world.  So for all his multidisciplinary ambition to comment on events outside of literature, there is still a strange myopia about his discussion of Rove’s rhetoric.



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