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What’s Up With Stanley Fish?

The dumbest blog post you’ll ever read (and no, it’s not this one)

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Stanley Fish.(The Fishbowl/Flickr)

“It’s been an interesting week or two for Jews,” begins New York Times blogger Stanley Fish’s latest post, titled, “What’s Up With the Jews?” The anti-Semite Mel Gibson has a new film out; Lars Von Trier had his Hitler-sympathizing controversy at Cannes. “Then there is Dominique Strauss-Kahn,” Fish continues, “poised to become France’s first Jewish president,” and we all know what happened with him. More: “Designer John Galliano is facing trial in France and has been fired by Dior” because of anti-Semitic comments. And:

Of course there is the story that will live forever, even after its protagonist dies, the story of Bernie Madoff (a Strauss-Kahn lookalike, or is it the other way around?) who perpetrated the biggest scam in history (will he replace Meyer Lansky as the chief exhibit in the bad-guy Jewish Hall of Fame?) and ruined thousands of people, many of them fellow Jews.


At the same time, Fish notes, Jews are disproportionately wealthy. “So which is it?” Fish asks. “Jews are victims (expulsions, pogroms, the Holocaust), or Jews are victimizers (rapacious bankers, shyster lawyers, land-grabbers and ethnic cleansers)? Jews are devils and sub-human vermin (a Nazi trope), or Jews are God’s chosen people?” This, Fish concludes, makes the Israel question particularly complicated: “Those who offer the criticism can never quite be sure that their distaste for Israel’s actions with respect to the Palestinians is entirely innocent of the influence of centuries of vilification.”

I have some more questions for the distinguished English professor:

What’s Up With the Blacks? They run hip-hop, and they’ve got one of their own in the White House (will he replace Martin Luther King, Jr., as the chief exhibit in the good-guy Black Hall of Fame?), yet some people still want to lynch them. What’s up with that?

What’s Up With the Tibetans? They seem poor, and yet they’ve colonized the labor ranks of the Union Square Farmer’s Market stands. Paradox!

What’s Up With the French? They celebrate a libertine sexual culture and are praised by sophisticated people everywhere. But then one of the most prominent exemplars of this culture is accused of rape, and that, apparently, is uncool. Contradiction?

What’s Up With the Vampires? They are more popular than ever, what with True Blood and the Twilight series, yet they remain at their core a blood-sucking people who fundamentally thrive on killing God-fearing decent human beings (the Jews’ lookalike, or is it the other way around?). How odd!

What’s Up With Stanley Fish? The only work of scholarly importance he ever did, on John Milton, is quite different from the reader-response movement he served as a mascot for, which has been out-of-date for 20 years, and yet he is still received as some sort of cultural and political authority. What gives?

What’s Up With the New York Times? They are the world’s greatest newspaper, and yet they also pay Stanley Fish to write blog posts for which the description “inane” is far too high a compliment. Why?

What’s Up With the Jews? [NYT]
Related: Heilstorm [Tablet Magazine]

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One internet high-five for Marc, coming right up.

I agree with Marc. It was a terrible column.

Hannah says:

agreed — what was the argument? so long-winded and made absolutely no sense.

Mary Ann Oppenheimer says:

Right on. It was dumb, but so are many of his columns. You are right. The NYT should rethink why they even pay him.

M. Brukhes says:

Good work, Marc: please keep it up…!

fred lapides says:

Think being retired and hangin’ out is easy? Try it. You too will be a fish out of water.

Am I the only one who takes exception to the line: “They are the world’s greatest newspaper” referring to the New York Times? Please…get back to me when the Times can differentiate between their front page and editorial page.

Marc, reader-response is not necessarily out of date. Since literary theory constantly builds upon itself, Fish’s ideas gird later theories such as postcolonialism and poststructuralism, ideas which are still very much in fashion, and which rely on subjectivity. Fish will never occupy a place that, say, Roland Barthes does, but the Frenchman’s “Death of the Author” is somewhat similar to the former’s “interpretive communities” idea. So he had his time, and his ideas are certainly still taught in colleges.

ralph says:

simple answer. the nytimes is becoming anti-semitic just like european (dumb, racist) elites – a sure sign of their decline – which it admires. that’s why and that’s what happening. it doesn’t take a deep analysis. the more they decline in power, wealth, originality, creativity the more craven they will become. by the way, look for parallels within the extreme jewish left. chompsky is a prime example.

Alter says:

Most of the commenters miss Stanley’s clear message: criticize Israel and you risk being labeled an anti-semite. The other stuff about rich jews, crooked Jews etc was a smoke screen for the gullible goy.

Abbi says:

Guess I’m alone in liking the column. It wasn’t a definitive opinion column. It was a meditation on the frightening resurgence of antisemetic rhetoric in the public square. Sorry, as a Gen Xer, I have no recollection of this much outright antisemitic expression from so called “mainstream” figures and outlets (yes, there was always David Duke types around, but I’d hardly call him mainstream. )

And I see a lot of it reflected right back in the talkbacks of mainstream websites. The commenters on sound like they just came over from the Stormfront website. And nobody calls it out. It’s regarded as normal. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Glenn Greenwald’s extreme leftwing anti-Israel columns appear on the site.

And with DSK and Bernie Madoff “the Jews and money”trope is being revived as well. It’s ugly and uncomfortable to confront but I’m glad Fish brought it up. Read the talkbacks to the article. Many express the “what, Jews are victims? Get over yourselves.”

That’s what I’m talking about. Why is it inane and confusing to point out a resurgence of hate speech. I think Fish was right for doing it.

Shalom Freedman says:

At long last I can strongly second a column of Marc Tracy. I was outraged at reading Stanley Fish’s column. He shows no understanding whatsoever of Jewish history and culture. He builds his column around a single stereotype . He quotes as if they were respectable sources the worst Anti- Semitic Nazi propaganda on the Net. He plays the sensationalist card. I thought it was a totally disgraceful piece of work.

Hap Freiberg says:

Hate speech and Jew hatred (to give “anti-Semitism” its real name & meaning) have been part of Jewish life ever since they were sanctioned and condoned by the Church. Left wing garbage from the likes of Chomsky and Greenwald is as equally repugnant as right wing garbage.

Fish brought nothing new to the conversation. He just merely stirred the poop to make it smell even worse.

Dave says:

Really, Marc? The fact that the Times pays Stanley Fish is what bothers you? I agree that this was a bad column, but I think he is a generally intelligent and fair writer (and a good person). What should really bother you is that the Times keeps Richard Cohen on the payroll. The guy is incredibly dishonest in his writing, and morally and ethically disturbed. Worse, as people listen to his morally bankrupt b.s., he’s actually dangerous. If his last name wasn’t Cohen he would have no career, and certainly not a column in the Times.

Carl says:

Not surprising that it appeared in the NYT. From a writing standpoint the Times is among the best. From a content standpoint, it doesn’t even make an effort at appearing impartial anymore. It is Obama’s mouthpiece and a fountain of Israel bashing.

This Tablet article is simply misleading.

The rest of Fish’s article goes onto discuss the idea of Jews being super-saturated with various stereotypes.

He lists some then says that anti-semites will see them in whatever Israel does and that Jews — sensitive to them – will see them in criticism of Israel that is not anti-semitic.

The conclusion is that it is a confusing situation and that it’s not easy or even possible to understand what is going on.

Ira M. Salwen says:

Kudos to Stanley Fish for provoking Marc Tracy’s hilarious post. With the news out of DC and the Middle East (and the media’s coverage of it) so unrelentingly depressing, I needed a good laugh. Thanks, Marc!

Bob Rennick says:

Chill out, folks. Stanley is an extrovert. And any psychologist will tell you that extroverts don’t know what they think until they try out ideas by saying them out loud. Stanley was confused about a lot of the things that many people are confused about, and took the chance of vocalizing them to see what they sound like when we’re not too afraid to discuss them honestly and not fearfully. No surprise that it came out as a hodgepodge – that’s the reality of the situation. Now let’s get busy and take Stanley’s implicit challenge to take the next step in trying to make sense of it all.

Marc Tracy is right on. The really obvious point that the good professor missed, of course, is that while it doesn’t matter what any moronic celebrity says, the fact that so many of the unhinged ones now express themselves anti-semitically is a sign of the times.

A. Wyatt Mann says:


A little bit of an overreaction, I would say. So what if the guy wrote an article that you didn’t like? I’m not into the lambasting of people for fun.

Maybe Tablet could focus on deleting the 14/88 comment, previous to mine. The numbers symbolize white power. Now, this is something a little more worthy of getting worked up about.

I also liked the column and don’t understand why people thought it was inane. Jews obviously receive a very, very outsized place in the collective consciousness with both negative and positive imagery.

Leon Blum was the first Jewish president of France, DSK would have been the second. Fish is fact free.

Dan Mishkin says:

Count me as among those who don’t get what Marc Tracy is talking about. Fish’s blog post isn’t brilliant (hey, it’s a blog post) but it’s hardly inane. It doesn’t seem to me that he’s confused over the facts that there are many different types of Jews, good, bad and otherwise. Rather, he’s mainly talking about the idea of “the Jew” as it exists in the culture, which offers two contradictory stereotypes side by side; and about the fact that — yes, paradoxically — anti-Semites seem to hold both as true, despite the contradiction between the aggressive manipulator and the sissy.

The NY Times is best used as Fish wrap.

Fish is the Andy Rooney of the academy.

Paul says:

Brilliant, Marc…thank you!

Thanks a bunch for sharing this with all of us you really know what you’re talking about! Bookmarked. Please also visit my website =). We could have a link exchange arrangement between us!


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What’s Up With Stanley Fish?

The dumbest blog post you’ll ever read (and no, it’s not this one)

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