Cross about Fabian comment

Fri, 1 Apr 1994 10:07:36 -0700

I disagree with Snyder's recent observation that the discussion about Fabian
has to do with the relationship between anthropology and theory. I believe that
the general issue is merely a technical one: the relationship between theory
and writing. I too have long been irritated by dense and abstract theory
writing. As Carrier writes, "complex and subtle ideas can be expressed and
argued in a clear way." Unfortunately, however, theoretical genius does not
correlate with writing virtuosity.

Being in the position of having to grade undergraduate essays and exams from
time to time, I am struck with the frequency in which the simplest of concepts
are rendered dense and difficult through the use of a murderous prose style.
Indeed, the fact that theoretical genius is often coupled to a difficult
writing style has undoubtedly led to the widespread emulation: a classic
example of covering shortcoming of style under a prepreponderance of perceived
form. Writing of this ilk has not escaped publication.

As Carrier noted, time is valuable to an anthropologist, and when it comes down
to deciding whether or not to invest the time necessary in abstracting a dense
text, it is certainly helpful to have some concrete examples that would give
some hope that the endeavor will ultimately be rewarding.

J. W. Forstadt BITNET: azjwf@asuacad
Department of Anthropology Internet:
Arizona State University