The acclaimed literary theorist and law professor addresses the concept of argument.
Fish (Cardozo Law School; Think Again: Contrarian Reflections on Life, Culture, Politics, Religion, Law, and Education, 2015, etc.) covers a lot of argumentative territory—political debates, marital spats, courtroom cases, academic analyses—and he is uniquely qualified to provide illumination on all. Fish shows how the arguments omnipresent in each of these arenas may differ—for example, “if you find yourself in an intractable political argument, you may extricate yourself and go home, but it will be the intractable domestic argument that you go home to; it’s always waiting for you.” The metadimension is where the illumination transcends such distinctions and the book’s essence lies: “I am making an argument about argument and its relationship to the human condition,” writes the author. “Basically, argument is the medium we swim in, whether we want to or not.” The points he presents are philosophical, metaphysical, even ontological, because arguments about argument involve inquiry into the nature of truth, the possibility of authority, and the cultural disdain toward words such as “rhetoric” and “spin” that the author considers crucial to these inevitable arguments. The book is not so much about winning arguments as it is about better arguments, ones that elevate the discourse toward a mutual discovery of truth (whatever that is) rather than scoring points toward partisan goals. If we ever were to agree on truth, arguments might cease, or at least decrease, but Fish asserts that this will never happen. “The wish to escape argument is really the wish to escape language,” he writes, “which is really the wish to escape politics and is finally the wish to escape mortality—and it won’t matter a whit.”
Not the how-to book that its title suggests but Fish presents a compelling argument about the necessity of argument.