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Sophia Pathways for College Credit – English Composition II SAMPLE TOUCHSTONE AND SCORING

Nyeri Robison

Sophia Pathways

Comp II

December 4, 2019

Who’s Hooked on Stanley Fish?: An Interpretation of Reader-Response Theory

In 1980, literary scholar Stanley Fish published his famous book Is There a Text in this Class?

Most widely-read from this text is the self-titled thirteenth chapter, which is seen as one of the primary

texts that sparked what is known as ‘reader-response theory.’ This theory, some might know, is the

belief that all readers can and do make their own meanings of texts, whether those be novels, stories,

poems, plays, films, or even text-messages shared between friends. Such reader-made meanings or

‘responses’ are often separated and completely different from the intent of the text’s author; instead,

they are mostly shaped by our communities – schools and classrooms, churches and religious groups,

businesses and neighborhoods, families and friends, to list just a few examples– which offer and teach

us different strategies to interpret texts and construct meanings. In other words, there are no fixed,

objective, pre-determined textual meanings; rather we invent meanings as we encounter texts wearing

the lenses of our own histories, personal experiences, sets of knowledge, and worldviews. This rather

postmodern philosophy, however, is one that I want to challenge in part, since I believe it can work

ironically to reinforce dominant power-structures and the status quo in our society.

To understand the possible critiques of Stanley Fish’s theories, however, one must first

understand what he argues. In “Is There a Text in This Class?” Fish works to calm the fears of other

Comment [SL1]: Hi Nyeri! I’m looking forward to reading your essay today!

Comment [SL2]: It’d be a good idea to introduce who Stanley Fish is and why this article was written in the first place.

Comment [SL3]: This is a good summary of the theory presented. It would be good to lead off with what the article touched on first, then go into more detail about the theory that is presented.

Comment [SL4]: Great thesis statement!

Sophia Pathways for College Credit – English Composition II SAMPLE TOUCHSTONE AND SCORING

literary scholars who think we need objective meanings in texts, standardized methods of interpreting

these meanings, and prescribed ways of teaching students those methods. They believe that these

strategies are required to prevent a fragmentation and eventual breakdown of meaning into an infinite,

disorienting cloud of unique and isolated subjective interpretations. For example, in the case of Hamlet,

what would happen if we strayed so far from Shakespeare’s intent for the play and interpreted it as

being about space aliens taking the forms of royalty in the Danish court? What if the reader (the

Subject) got too far from the text (the Object)? It is this fears that Fish tries to dismiss by proving the

whole problem is a matter of false perception. In his view, the Object and the Subject are not a binary

but rather intertwined.

Fish accomplishes this mostly by arguing that all meaning is situational and contextual and is,

in fact, created by individuals situated in specific times, places, and institutions with highly evolve,

implied systems of meaning-making. For instance, people in the United States see a car on the road and

assume that it should drive on the right side; in the United Kingdom, however, they assume the

opposite. Hence Fish tries to prove that “the opposition between objectivity and subjectivity is a false

one because neither exists in the pure form that would give the opposition its point... Rather, we have

readers whose consciousnesses are constituted by a set of conventional notions which when put into

operation constitute in turn a conventional, and conventionally seen, object” (332). Fish provides other

lengthy anecdotes of situations that have arisen within his interpretive communities, and he uses these

situations as evidence to contend that all meanings within text hinge upon and are created by context;

in other words, meaning does not exist in a vacuum. He notes that “to be in [a situation] is to 'see' with

the eyes of its interests, its goals, its understood practices, values, and norms, and so to be conferring

significance by seeing, not after it” (334) and that “to be in a situation is to see [words] as already

meaningful” (313). Therefore, the threat of the subjective fragmentation of meaning is not eliminated

Comment [SL5]: Yes! Good summary. I almost like your organization better than my initial comment!

Comment [SL6]: Great summation of the paragraph. I like how you make it into a more digestible example.

Comment [SL7]: I like how you further explain it this in more easily digestible terms.

Sophia Pathways for College Credit – English Composition II SAMPLE TOUCHSTONE AND SCORING

by arguing the merits of subjective, individual readings but by blasting apart the false Subject/Object


Every interpretive community, then, must necessarily makes meaning of its own accord through

the situations and systems in which they find themselves. The implications of Fish's work transfer

outside purely literary circles, however. One can see his argument – that meaning cannot be defined

within a vacuum – as pointing criticism toward the contemporary trend in educational standardized

testing which necessitates students to make the “correct” or “objective” inference in question-scenarios

that are mainly detached from a predefined context, situation, or culture. It also has ideological

implications in calling for the deconstruction of other binaries – perhaps of gender, race, sexual

orientation, etc. – and leading all individuals to live more examined lives within our political and social


Of course, I believe in the beauty of open interpretations. After all, how else would we ever

break free from meanings that are handed down through generations and find new possible ways of

being, believing, and behaving? Nevertheless, this is where I want to raise some critiques of Fish’s

theories. Ironically enough, I think this subjective freedom can also shoots itself in the foot. First of all,

to form one’s own individual interpretation can be liberating; it can also be dangerous, solipsistic, and

nihilist. This is where Fish points us toward communities of interpretation, noting that meaning-making

is always at least a partially-collective act. Communities and cultures are comprised of many, and it is

the many that one encounters other perspectives, not just one’s own. Second, some interpretive

communities have more authority, prestige, or power than others, and we must also examine how social

institutions in areas of education, medicine, religion, and government might use their interpretations to

sustain the status quo. Resistant and oppositional readings of the messages we receive from on high

should also be heard. After all, aren’t these part of the values embedded in the mission of true

Comment [SL8]: Great use of the article to back up your explanation!

Comment [SL9]: Good! You’re explaining your take on it and why!

Comment [SL10]: Shoot*

Comment [SL11]: Good point. I can see why you think this way.

Sophia Pathways for College Credit – English Composition II SAMPLE TOUCHSTONE AND SCORING

democracies? Therefore, I believe that we should let Fish off the hook when it comes to giving the

people—and readers-- the power, but we must be mindful that he comes from a position of privilege

when he so blatantly ignores how certain people will still always try to control what and how we read.


Fish, Stanley. 1980. “Is There a Text in the Class?” from Is There a Text in this Class? Cambridge, MA:

Harvard University Press.

Comment [SL12]: I love your concluding sentence. You’ve explained yourself in a way that is both entertaining and thoughtful.

Sophia Pathways for College Credit – English Composition II SAMPLE TOUCHSTONE AND SCORING

Reflection Questions:

1. What ideas originally came to mind when you first read through the article? Did your

initial response to the article change after reading it for a second time?

At first, I just read for content. I wanted to get a feel for the article and what the author was

trying to say. Then, I read it a second time to really think about how I interpret the

information, and what my thoughts on that information were. It’s easy to read a scholarly

article like this and just settle with the idea that what the author is saying is true. It is better

to do some critical thinking while doing so, instead of turning on auto-pilot.

2. How does paying attention to the way you respond to a source help you formulate

your stance on a topic?

It really helped me understand the way that I think. I also got a chance to ask myself why I

think the way I do about the topic I’m reading about. It helps me grow as a writer, and it

helps me create a comprehensive list of reasons why I’ve taken that particular stance on the


Sophia Pathways for College Credit – English Composition II SAMPLE TOUCHSTONE AND SCORING

Source Response Essay Rubric and Feedback

Rubric Category

Feedback Score (acceptable, needs improvement etc.)

Source Summary

You do a really nice job summarizing the article and giving examples to help the reader understand what it’s about. You could maybe spend a little less energy on the summary, but it was very thorough work.


Source Response

There are some great ideas here! You have added your stance to the article and what the author is trying to get through to the learner. You also explain why you think and react to the article the way you do, citing examples from the text. I would have liked to see more in terms of your response, and less in terms of the summary.


Organization While I initially thought your organization could use a bit more work in terms of the summary and the response, the way you have framed your argument works within your essay.


Style Your word choices are consistently effective. You do a good job of avoiding redundancy and imprecise language.


Conventions You adhere well to all of the APA formatting requirements and your use of English conventions is consistent throughout the touchstone. There are minimal word errors. Well done.


Reflection You answer all of the questions thoroughly, providing insights, observations, and examples in your responses. You consistently exceed the length guidelines for your responses.


Overall Score and Feedback: 44/50

Very nice job! Your summary of this article is very thorough. Although there could have been more to your response to the article, you’ve done a good job phrasing your response in a way that is easily digestible.