The Ideology of the Aesthetic

Frank Kermode writes:

‘Something is happening to the way we think,’ said Clifford Geertz in 1980, and Stanley Fish is right to add that Geertz was partly responsible for the shift. But Fish, in a bold essay on rhetoric included in the Lentricchia-McLaughlin volume, qualifies Geertz’s remark: ‘something,’ he adds, ‘is always happening to the way we think.’ For he doesn’t quite agree with people who claim to have overthrown ‘the rival epistemology’, wiped out ‘foundationalism’, disposed once and for all of ‘essentialist’ thinking. Deploying new rhetorical, deconstructive and semiological tools, they believe they have taken apart all the assumptions by which we – imagining ourselves to be independent individuals in a world we knew roughly how to know – imagined we could deal justly or sensibly with the problems of literature, society and our own lives. They say we must now learn to think about these matters in entirely new ways.

(LRB 5 April 1990)

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