Reading and Making Meaning in Literature and Tarot

In the summer of 1971, the professor and scholar Stanley Fish pranked a class of graduate students. He was actually teaching two classes of grad students back to back–a class on theoretical linguistics from 9:30 to 11am, and a class on 17th century religious poetry from 11-12:30. For the first class, he had written their homework on the chalkboard, a list of linguists whose work he wanted them to read. The list looks like this:





Ohman (?)

After the first class cleared out and before the second entered, he drew a frame around these names and wrote “p. 43” above it. Once his students of 17th century religious poetry settled in, he pointed to this list, told them it was a religious poem, and asked them to analyze it.

And oh, they did! The students were able to find significance in the shape of the poem (although whether it is a cross or an altar one can’t be sure) as well as the names. They saw the poem as a religious riddle. “Jacobs”=”Jacob’s ladder,” “Thorne”=”crown of thorns,” “Ohman”=”omen” or “Oh man,” etc., etc. I won’t go into detail about everything Fish reports that the students saw in this “poem,” but suffice it to say that they found a lot of significance.

So what was Fish’s point in giving his students a fake poem to analyze?Continue reading “Reading and Making Meaning in Literature and Tarot”