Following his ludicrous hack job on Daniel Dennett’s brilliant and sincerely argued new book, Leon Wieseltier has turned his sights on another well-respected and innovative thinker far beyond his apparently meager comprehension: Stanley Fish. Once again, he believes that rudely sneering at someone is a suitable substitute for discussion and argument. So why do I bother to give him space here? Because his vicious attacks may possibly influence some of those not intimately familiar with the subtle topics that Fish has brought up. And because I want to strongly urge those at 3QD who study English professionally (Asad? Jonathan? Anyone?) and are therefore more qualified to speak of Fish, to explain what is really at issue here, as no doubt they will do it better than I.
Here’s what Wieseltier writes in The New Republic:
Forgive my tardiness, but last month The New York Times published an article that compared liberals unfavorably to fundamentalist mobs. The piece appeared on the paper’s fun op-ed page, on the occasion of the “cartoon riots” that were provoked by the publication in a conservative Danish newspaper of scornful images of the Prophet–no, that’s not accurate. The riots were provoked by Muslim politicians and diplomats for whom the Western blasphemy was an Allah-sent opportunity to divert the attention of various Muslim societies from what ails them. What would modern Arab satrapies do without medieval Muslim masses? A bloodletting, then, followed by brandy and cigars; and the robed zealots in the streets are glad to do the work of the suited cynics in the private planes. Scores of people died in the cartoon riots. It was not the cartoons that killed them; it was their conviction that violence is a variety of cultural criticism. The intensity of their feeling about their faith was all that they (and in their view, anybody else) needed to know in the world.
And there in the Times was Stanley Fish, extolling them precisely for this. How contrarian. Fish is the author of a book called The Trouble With Principle–now there’s a danger!–and has made a handsome career as a cheap button-pusher; he is one of those intellectuals who prefers any kind of radicalism to any kind of liberalism.