Monday, June 08, 2009

Literary analysis and Stanley Fish

The Log seems to be headed toward a series on quantifying presidential pronominal patterns. This post is just a footnote to the latest …

It started with Fact-checking George Will, where Mark Liberman shows pretty clearly that Will is making up crap about Obama, namely that the Prez likes the first person singular pronoun, pretty clearly intended as a swipe at Our Nation's Leader. Now Stanley Fish has gone down the same path and been nailed by Liberman for the same claim. But Fish isn't taking a quick swipe at Obama in "Yes I can", he's developing (as Liberman suggests) a literary/cultural studies analysis of Obama as "uppity" and "arrogant".* Fish makes a set of references to rhetoric and writes in a style familiar from literary and cultural critics, i.e. contemporary humanities scholars. And Fish is willing to draw bold conclusions based on his analysis:
No doubt this pattern of pronouns reflects a reality.
The first problem is that the supposed empirical foundation for the analysis is flawed or missing. This, as a commenter on the Log hints, may not bother Fish, given his relationship to 'facts'. But can somebody explain what it does tell us about a speaker's attitude, intention, etc., if they use lots of first-person singular pronouns?

By the way, what's Fish, of all people, doing telling us about reality?

* Those are what strike me as Liberman's very apt terms, but you can read Fish for yourself. He talks about Obama's "self-promotion", "naked I", and compares him to "Michael Corleone, who begins the film as a young idealistic patriot, ends it by striking the pose of a Roman emperor as subordinates kiss his ring".

Image from here.

3 comments:

Joe said...

Well, if it takes three to make a series, it's happened:

http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=1489

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