Re: Cross about Fabian comment

Willard Brooks (willard@SFSUVAX1.SFSU.EDU)
Fri, 1 Apr 1994 09:34:11 -0800

My undergraduate training was in Physics and Philosophy{and, as such, I
am very much acclimatized to abstract thought. Arguments which attack a
work for being obstruse do nothing to demonstrate a lack of veracity of
argument. When I have climbed to the top of a difficult argument I feel a
certain pride and sense of accomplishment, even more so when the argument
has important insights for life and work contained within it. I
usually assume that when people attack a work for its difficulty that
they did not understand it (a kind of ad hominum argument). To say, for
example that Kant's Critique of Pure Reason is not useful because it is
too difficult to read is about equivelent to saying that the Japanese or
the Russian languages are not useful because they are difficult to learn.

Another 'argument' that I have often heard is that difficult works, esp
when these works advertise themselves as Marxist/subversive (like some
of Taussig's work), are written so far above the heads of the people they
might hope to help that they could not possibly help because of their
difficulty. However, it may also be the case that special modes of
writing are sometimes reflective to the ethnographic terrain they
hope to describe (as with Taussig's attempt in "Shamanism,
Colonialism and the Wildman" to develop special modes of representation
"to write against terror"). Another point may be that Anthropology needs
to begin to think of ways of dividing its works between intra-disciplinary
and extra-diciplinary. I think that much of the so-called postmodern writing
in anthropology has been healthy (or could have been) for the
anthropological community but serves to confuse and perhaps alienate
outsiders or newcomers to the discipline. Like Physics and other
disciplines I think it would be a good idea to begin to develop ways of
circumsribing our writing for practioners and for "outsiders." I think it
was Einstein who said that one test of the worth of a theory and also of
the scientist who produced it is the ability to explain it in simple
language for all to understand. But that does not mean that
Mathematics should not be used as the lingua franca for physicists.