This is the as-packed-as-possible crowd that turned out to see literary theorist (turned Law School dude) Stanley Fish do his fantastic rhetoric dance Thursday at Pitt. Fish is there, in the short sleeved blue oxford, talking to the woman in white; if you gave him a visor he'd look like the guy who counts the take in a noir film. (My class in film noir was adjourned early so interested students, and our professor, could attend). From what I remember of my literary theory -- which, admittedly, isn't much -- Stanley Fish was the only lit theorist who made me laugh out loud.
He engaged the quiet, awed and/or confused crowd in an exercise in logic and rhetoric about argument itself that was beguiling. It begins:
1) Has my conviction that X is true been reached in the course of a particular education (mine) and career trajectory, complete with mentors, influences, substantive commitments,religious, ethnic and political attachments, etc? - YES
2) Is the history by which I arrived at my conviction its author? - NO.
And goes on for 7 more pages, which I will not retype, since I've already quoted without permission from Señor Fish* despite the warning on the handout not to do so. Anyway, during his talk, two things were clear: he's so deft with his rhetoric that to disagree with him, or even to take issue, makes one feel entirely irrational; and he could have wound up at the exact opposite of his actual conclusion and been equally convincing. Supremely gifted.
Also funny. He illustrated one of his terms, "giving accounts," by saying "During the old Hollywood studio system, Tom Cruise would have either been shut up or killed." Hee. He said Tom Cruise.
My favorite question was "In the game of argument, whose rules are you following? Artistotle's? Kant's?" because it proved that I am really in grad school. So what if I can't define what Kant and Aristotle's rules of argument might be -- someone in that room could, and took them very seriously. Not Stanley Fish so much, who's answer was something like "no rules." Which made me happy to be in grad school, too.
*Señor Fish serves topnotch fish tacos in Los Angeles.