Generous Readings

John Mcreery (jlm@TWICS.COM)
Thu, 3 Mar 1994 14:02:09 JST

I have been doing some thinking about John O'Brien's comments on the
state of academia. As someone who has worked in academia and
retains academic interests but has worked for more than a decade now
in the advertising business, I offer the following observations. The
phrase for what I learned to do in academia was "critical thinking," a
useful, but essentially negative skill. I spent far more time in school
(including graduate school) learning what was wrong with this or that
theory, author, claim--you name it-- than finding out what might be
interesting or useful.

In the world of business I have learned the importance of "getting the
job done," and that "getting the job done" means selling. Selling may
include a critical appraisal of the competition; but the focus is
necessarily on the benefits of whatever you hope to sell. In school I read
with an eye for weakness; now I read with an eye for strength. Instead
of asking "What's wrong with this?" I ask instead "What catches my
interest? What's usable here?"

Reflecting on this experience, it has occured to me that I would like to
put together a book devoted to what I would call "generous readings."
Contributors would write appraisals of bodies of work they find
admirable and try to explain why. Critical thinking would certainly
have its place, but the emphasis would be positive, on whatever it is the
reviewer finds interesting, helpful, or truly impressive in the work they
choose to write about. Would anyone care to contribute?

Who knows? At a time when anthropologists face a growing to sell the
value of what we do to publics outside the club, it could be very useful

"Making Symbols is My Business"--John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)