The Reversal of Faust: Responding to easy provocation by Stanley Fish


To your thesis, Prof. Fish, my hypothesis:
The quintessential American, expressing satisfaction with the limits of one’s circumference, for he is in his heaven and all’s right with the world. No wonder America has such a misbegotten attitude towards the immigrants it would collapse without; it still venerates the intolerance of otherness. ‘Freedom’ is in alignment with all things American; the French gift—The Statue of Liberty—aptly stands at a distance from its shores.

You merely testify to the limitations of your worlding, Prof. Fish, to the inapplicability of your words and works beyond American shores, to the current conservative and conformist manifestation of the American heart. How may anyone read and apply your ideas to words and world in general if they remain rooted in an aversion to the unfamiliar, a necessary component of the global?
This pleading of strategic inability is not culturally innocent. You use your culturally prominent position to deliberately conflate travel and tourism and to provoke mutual ethnocentric back-slapping–“I like being comfortable in the world I have made and I do not like not being myself”—without emphasizing the expansion of the mind contingent upon armchair travel. Perhaps you do not expect the latter from the vast majority of your readers. Curiouser and curiouser. Anne was right, you are interested in none but yourself, and misinterpret the Apollonian injunction. This incites me to say that every one is monarch in one’s own castle, sir, so perhaps you find it more congenial to retreat to yours. Do not complain if the world wishes to pay you back in the same coin. Perhaps it is exactly that which drove you back to the familiar.

You say you dislike the rigors of travel and then the discomfort of encountering unfamiliar places and people who expect you to conform to their customs. Allow me to say that your definition of “culture” is primitive and insular.  You appear to think that other cultures or peoples are exactly as aggressively insular as yourself. Strange but apt! Herein lie the roots of American imperialism! Culture is the practice of what’s familiar to a people; it becomes imperialist when it demands similar practice from people unfamiliar with it. No one now, perhaps no one who is non-American, expects conformity to their culture from a foreigner. The stranger does not become part of oneself is they ape one’s motions; such demand for obedience befits certain domains of monotheism, whatever the anthropomorphic ideological deity may be—religious or economic. It is not strange that this should be found now in America, a country driven by the daimons of mass-produced individual satisfaction.

I wonder if you feel as little interest, energy or curiosity about the bearers of foreign cultures on your own soil. Have your ever truly encountered a stranger in your own land, Dr. Fish? Have you ever taught anyone who is not like you?