Emperor's new prose

Tracy Brown (tbrown@ACPUB.DUKE.EDU)
Sat, 2 Apr 1994 13:17:50 -0500

The issue of how arguments get constructed in Western academic thought is
also of relevance to the discussion of dense theoretical prose. What does
it mean to be "clear" and how did "we" arrive at such a definition? Why,
in other words, does "truth" get produced out of linear argumentation? I
think we need to question what seems most natural about Western epistemology.

I was reminded of the importance of this issue through my recent reading
of Gary Urton's *History of a Myth*. It seems to me that Urton structured
the argument in his book to make it appear as though his research proceeded in
chronological, linear fashion. That is, he researched how an Inca origin
myth was hystoricized by indigenous elite in 16th century Peru, and then
tried to explain the meaning of the myth based on present-day ethnographic
research done in Peru. Thus, the *structure* of his argument conveys the
theoretical conclusions of the book: that meaning and practice somehow
perseveres through time. But what if Urton's historical research came out
of his ethnographic research (which is what I think happened)? Would his
theoretical conclusions be as plausible if the argument proceeded from
present to past?

In terms of epistemology, I think Urton was constrained, as we all are, by
what has come to be defined as proper argumentation. I'd like to hear
other people's thoughts on the history of Western epistemology. Are there
any books I should read? I know I should tackle Foucault's Archaeology of

Tracy Brown