Is There a Text in This Book Tour?


Sarah Palin is a pop-culture figure as much as she is a politician, so she seems tailor-made for the sorts of analysis that were popular on campus in my undergrad years, when culture wars whirled around scholars who were deconstructing sitcoms or debating the political meaning of Madonna. The Material Girl's preeminent defender was Camille Paglia, and Paglia today describes Palin as "the biggest step forward in feminism since Madonna channeled the dominatrix persona of high-glam Marlene Dietrich and rammed pro-sex, pro-beauty feminism down the throats of the prissy, victim-mongering, philistine feminist establishment." So that's one professor who picked up the thread. But the pop-curious wing of the humanities is dominated by the left, and there's something about the Palinite right that reduces liberals to forgetting everything that has happened since 1970 and sputtering about Richard Hofstadter. As far as I'm aware, the only prominent prof to join Paglia in addressing Palin's popular appeal is another academic provocateur, Stanley Fish, who Paglia once described as a "totalitarian Tinkerbell." He just published a defense of Going Rogue:

My assessment of the book has nothing to do with the accuracy of its accounts. Some news agencies have fact-checkers poring over every sentence, which would be to the point if the book were a biography, a genre that is judged by the degree to which the factual claims being made can be verified down to the last assertion. "Going Rogue," however, is an autobiography, and while autobiographers certainly insist that they are telling the truth, the truth the genre promises is the truth about themselves—the kind of persons they are—and even when they are being mendacious or self-serving (and I don't mean to imply that Palin is either), they are, necessarily, fleshing out that truth. As I remarked in a previous column, autobiographers cannot lie because anything they say will truthfully serve their project, which, again, is not to portray the facts, but to portray themselves….

For many politicians, family life is sandwiched in between long hours in public service. Palin wants us to know that for her it is the reverse. Political success is an accident that says nothing about you. Success as a wife, mother and citizen says everything.

Do I believe any of this? It doesn't matter. What matters is that she does, and that her readers feel they are hearing an authentic voice. I find the voice undeniably authentic (yes, I know the book was written "with the help" of Lynn Vincent, but many books, including my most recent one, are put together by an editor).

It's an original take on the book as a piece of literature, and while I don't buy all of it I think it does have some thoughtful things to say about Palin's public persona. That said, I was hoping Fish would take his comments in a different direction. Last month I argued that much of the attention being paid to Palin should be redirected to her fans, since the Alaskan's views and goals, politically significant though they may be, aren't always identical to the views and goals of the people projecting their hopes onto her. In Fishian terms, I wondered how Going Rogue and its author's other statements were being experienced by different interpretive communities.

At any rate, Fish's article is an interesting one, and I recommend you all read it before retiring to our comment section to have the same conversation about Palin that you have every time we mention her here. (I guess that's our band of interpretive communities at work. Is there a text on this blog?)