Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Stanley Fish Goes to Starbucks

In his piece in Slate yesterday, Ron Rosenbaum called attention to Stanley Fish's latest senile ramblings in the Times (here's the link, but you need to be a TimeSelect member). Rosenbaum does a pretty good job of eviscerating it, but I just felt the need to add a few thoughts of my own.

If this had simply been another case of an elderly, sheltered intellectual rambling, Grampa Simpson-style, about the confusions of the modern world, it would have made for good comedy. However, what takes it from comedy to ire-inducing insult are the last few paragraphs, in which Fish complains about having to pour his own cream and sugar: "And worst of all, what you're paying for is the privilege of doing the work that should be done by those who take your money."

This would be offensive enough if it were coming from any run-of-the-mill septuagenarian with a six-figure salary. But it has special resonance coming from Fish, who famously chaired the Duke English department during its heady rise to the forefront of Theory. Duke perfected gameplan of the Theory department: hiring highly-paid "star" professors, letting them do whatever the hell they want, and shifting the burden of dirty jobs like actually teaching to low-paid TAs. In other words, having the bourgeoisie espouse Marxism while exploiting the proletariat.

So, to summarize: Fish, public face for a group of academics who refuse to do the jobs they get paid to do, is complaining about Starbucks baristas making him stir his own sugar. Of course, if Fish ever bothered to teach an undergraduate class at whatever university is employing him this week, he would most likely recognize those baristas as his students, and realize that they are working at one of the most demanding service industry jobs available (you have to memorize a recipe book roughly the size of Paradise Lost-remember that book Stanley?-and be almost sickeningly chipper and energetic 8 hours a day) in order to keep from being buried in student loans for the rest of their adult lives. And where does that student loan money go? To Stanley Fish, who, instead of doing his job and teaching, is busy complaining about them in the pages of the New York Times.

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