Matthew Richard's Reviews > Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary & Legal Studies

Doing What Comes Naturally by Stanley Fish
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Feb 14, 2011

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bookshelves: culture-and-worldview

In the book Doing What Comes Naturally Stanley Fish introduces a plethora of contemporary issues that have controversy in regards to the realm of interpretation. In laymen’s terms the question that is posed is: does the grounds and basis for interpretation rest upon reasonableness or are the foundational tenets of interpretation simply subjective results of an individualistic point of reference? In other words, Fish states that the issue at hand is the ‘shift by which meaning is disengaged from language and relocated in the (interpreted) intentions of the speakers: there are no longer any constraints on interpretation that are not themselves interpretive. Since intentions themselves can be known only interpretively, the meanings that follow upon the specification of intention will always be vulnerable to the challenge of an alternative specification.” Yet again he captures the shift in saying, “Meanings that seem perspicuous and literal are rendered so by forceful interpretive acts and not by the properties of language.” He goes on to state that words are, “dislodged from one special setting, where their meaning was obvious, and placed in another where their meaning is also obvious but different. ” This all results in a world as, “aptly described by Bishop Hoadly’s observation that ‘whoever hath authority to interpret any written or spoken laws it is he who is the lawgiver to all intents and purposes and not the person who first wrote or spake them.”

In the open introduction Fish then introduces the thought of an outside norm. This outside norm can be thought of as a constraint that is placed upon the rules of law, principles and even interpretation that hold the ‘self’ in check. This outside norm really constitutes the difference between an interpretive caricature of a refined/orderly society versus a society that is driven by the disorderly anarchism of the subjective individualistic will.

The remainder of the book focuses on issues such as: interpretive hazards, the need of having words anchored in a source, the source of interpretive authority, the use of irony and the interpretive ramification of rhetoric.

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