Source code can be self-explanatory, but only after you've attained a certain base level of fluency with the language. Just as the axioms have to be defined in Racket before Arc can work, they have to be defined in your head before it can make any sense. So I applaud your effort.
Well put. My thoughts exactly. The suggestion wasn't necessarily to learn Arc by spending a couple days reading the source. I mean, that's what I did, but I was already familiar with Common Lisp. Just that once you reach a certain point (as Preston seems to have), it's not so daunting to say "hey, I wonder what filechars does?" and go read
(def filechars (name)
(w/infile s name (allchars s)))