In celebration of Stanley Fish. If you’re like me and you’ve read thinly in conservative hermeneutics and biblical criticism, the name Stanley Fish is more or less bad news—what with postmodernism, deconstruction and all. But Fish makes two appearances in this week’s MMP, and both are positive.
First, here’s his NYT review of the Coen brothers’ most recent film, True Grit. (HT: G.E. Veith). I’ve not read the book nor seen the John Wayne original, much less the new rendition, but Fish’s review makes me want to. Here is the most interesting bit:
The words the book and films share are these: “You must pay for everything in this world one way and another. There is nothing free with the exception of God’s grace.” These two sentences suggest a world in which everything comes around, if not sooner then later. The accounting is strict; nothing is free, except the grace of God. But free can bear two readings — distributed freely, just come and pick it up; or distributed in a way that exhibits no discernible pattern. In one reading grace is given to anyone and everyone; in the other it is given only to those whom God chooses for reasons that remain mysterious.
This sounds to Veith like Calvinism, which I think shows his misunderstanding of the doctrine. First, according to Calvinism, God’s election is not arbitrary, capricious or random, with “no discernible pattern.” Additionally, Calvinism doesn’t require one of the two readings to the exclusion of the other; it holds both the free invitation of grace (“whosoever will may come”) and the effective particularity of grace (“no man can come unless my Father draws him”) in tension. In other words, it’s not either-or; it’s both.
In the final paragraph, Fish offers this delicious comment:
The new “True Grit” is that rare thing — a truly religious movie. In the John Wayne version religiosity is just an occasional flourish not to be taken seriously. In this movie it is everything, not despite but because of its refusal to resolve or soften the dilemmas the narrative delivers up.
“Truly religious movie” FTW!
Second, Fish has written a book that looks incredibly helpful, How to Write a Sentence. It’s content is obvious—Fish loves sentences and he wants fellow language lovers to learn how to write with precision and creativity in word choice.
Watson. You may or may not have heard of this: an IBM supercomputer “Watson” will take play top Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in February. As the linked article points out, Watson actually winning would be a much greater feat than when Deep Blue beat chess champion Garry Kasperov in 1987. Here’s why:
Watson needs to be able to understand the questions asked (or, rather, answers given), something aided by the 200 million some-odd pages of content that have been entered into its system. And it also has to be able to weigh which categories to choose and how much to wager in the final round.
It obviously has a lot to do with knowledge and creativity like Deep Blue, but Watson also has to be able to understand language and perhaps even humor. How effective is it? Apparently, Watson can scan the 200 million pages of content and give the correct answer in less than 3 seconds. So, yeah.
Top shelf thinking! Huzzah!