What's it all about? Speaking personally...

John L. McCreery (jlm@TANUKI.TWICS.CO.JP)
Thu, 27 Jan 1994 07:48:37 JST

Had some nice words of encouragement from Tim Rouf concerning my post "What's
it all about?" Wrote the following reply and then decided that I'd like to
share it.

Thanks for the kind words. Please tell me more about yourself and what you
might be interested in talking about. As you may have gathered from previous
posts I am seriously interested in "epistemological" issues in a rather
old-fashioned "methodological" way. Trained in the days when Victor Turner
and Levi-Strauss were names to be conjured with (and Vic was one of my
teachers), I wound up writing a dissertation on "The Symbolism of Popular
Taoist Magic," then thrashed around a bit and didn't make the tenure cut
at Middlebury College (my first and so far only regular academic appointment).
Was probably a good thing. The luck of having a wife with an interest in
Japanese literature brought be to Japan, to Hakuhodo (Japan's 2nd largest
ad agency) and what has been a bit more than 10 years now in the belly of
the "postmodern" beast: When you've worked on campaigns for shampoos,
fabric softeners, Coca-Cola and BMWs, you can't get much closer to the heart
of mammon. A few years back I began in a very tentative, timid sort of way to
revive my academic interests. Started with a piece on offerings in Chinese
ritual that finally saw the light of day as "Why don't we see some real
money here?" in Vol. 18 of the Journal of Chinese Religions (I was still too
shy to aim very high.) This year I've had a piece accepted by the American
Ethnologist; called "Negotiating with Demons," it's basically a close reading
of the words used in a Taoist exorcism. Won't appear in print, alas, until
sometime in 1995. What I'm working on right now is a piece I'm calling
"Malinowski, Magic and Advertising" in which I take a serious look at M's
observation that advertising is "the richest form of verbal magic." Still
rough but what the outline looks like is (1) Malinowski's theory, while
frequently dumped on by later generations of anthropologists, is, in fact,
very similar to the way in which advertisers/marketers see what we're doing,
i.e., combining pragmatic, functional claims with emotions;(2) there's a lot
about the Trobrianders (and the Taoist healers I worked with in Taiwan that
sounds very familiar to someone who works in an advertisin agency; but (3) it
can't be denied that we work in cosmologogically different worlds; if their's
is dominated by the idea that "words that work" are passed down from the
ancestors, ours is dominated by "creativity," the idea that we find new
words and concepts inside our uniquely individual selves. I'm trying to work
what difference it makes.

Looking forward to hearing from you, John McCreery