Re: Cross about Fabian comment

James G. Carrier (jgc5p@UVA.PCMAIL.VIRGINIA.EDU)
Fri, 1 Apr 1994 14:51:31 EST

On Apr 1, 11:41am, Corinna A Snyder wrote:
> Subject: Cross about Fabian comment
> I think that this discussion about Fabian is implicitly about a much
> larger dilemma in anthropology today, our relationship to theory.

Perhaps. However, I am also concerned with writing style and clarity of
argument, whether abstract or not. Abstract, theoretical arguments can be
presented in a form that is clear, but there is little pressure in academics
to do so.

> ... Abstraction is constant, necessary,
> foundational in the basic semiotics through which meaning is
> constitututed. Concrete examples are helpful analogies, but analogies
> nontheless, not necessarily _clearer_ depictions of the same process.

Certainly, but at the same time they are useful aids to the read to help make
sense (albeit only initial and tentative sense) of the abstractions. The
abstractions themselves will take on more detailed meaning as the reader uses
them in different ways in different contexts.

> Lastly, [Hegel's] ... complexity points to the hard work it takes to talk
> about abstract processes in a revealing way, abstract processes that
> structure what become understood to be "concrete" realities.

In principle, yes. However, in practice I have the fear that this easily
slides into a warrant for obscurity -- for the failure to revise and revise
again to make the exposition as clear as possible; for the failure to
recognize that the exposition as well as the reading entails hard work. Or,
to paraphrase what one anthropologist told me without any hint of sarcasm, if
it is clear it can't be very profound. (But then, to undercut my own
argument, the speaker was an anthropologist who is clearer than most.)


James G. Carrier

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