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On the Search for "Authenticity"


One thing I learned in my first semester as a PhD student is to define my terms. The other thing I learned is that the limitations of any term defined is pretty much up to me. I can include a section in my paper which defines terms based on "legitimate" sources whose definitions are safe and widely accepted, OR...I can define terms in any way I liked, as long as it makes sense within the context of my argument. While using sources that are hard to refute is safer, I found it was way more fun to define terms myself.


Two terms that haunted me this semester were "authentic" and "real." Mostly because an attempt to define them using a legitimate source leads to the need to define more terms. For example, what does "authenticity" mean? The English Oxford Dictionary offers multiple definitions, almost all of which require addition terms to be defined, such as "true," "fact," "real life," of "verisimilitude." (see optional OED definitions at end of post).


If I were to take the first definition of authenticity listed, I would have to continue to define these additional words in order for the definition to make sense, right? And what if I do just that? Does it really lead to a universal understanding of authenticity? Can we ever truly understand what it means to be authentic?

I have spent a large portion of my life on the search for authentic interactions. I used to think that "deep" conversations about the universe and the time-space continuum embodied the "authenticity" I desired. I remember many a high school night nestled in the orange lap of our local Dennys contemplating the meaning of life in a soul-wrenching attempt to understand my place in the universe. My friends and I rubbed up against bits and pieces of quantum physics as described by various metaphysical authors and believe we were merely a step away from "truth." Questioning reality thrilled us. Although we didn't completely understand it, we knew something 'normals' didn't even have the capacity to contemplate. And that made us special.


As I grew older, however, it became painfully clear that 90% of the conversations I would experience moving forward were not going to be magical at all. Discussing the meaning of life is great when you're surrounded by teen philosophers desperate to contemplate reality, but it does not help facilitate a casual conversation with someone who has no interest in such things. So what do 'normal' people talk about? Sports? Television shows and movies? Recipes? Their stuff (houses, cars, jobs, etc)? B-O-R-I-N-G!


Or is it?


What if pondering the meaning of life is simply the reproduction of an attempt to be authentic and not authenticity itself at all? What if an authentic interaction is nothing more than truly listening to the person talking without thinking a thousand non-related thoughts in the process? After all, who am I to judge what is an important topic of conversation? How much richer would my life be if I simply let the other person guide the moment and surrendered to whatever topic of conversation arose in the process with the expectation of being delighted in some way in the process? I've noticed lately that people like to be passionate about things, and it almost doesn't matter what that thing is really. So we learn to speak football or movies or music or... fill in the blank. What truly motivates a person? What is "small talk" and how do we valuate it? Is a simple, surface-level conversation less meaningful than an overwhelmingly deep discussion about the state of the world? Which one is more authentic?


But most importantly, will these thoughts lead me closer to my vampires?



Oxford English Dictionary definition of authenticity, n.:

1. The fact or quality of being true or in accordance with fact; veracity; correctness. Also (overlapping with sense 3c) accurate reflection of real life, verisimilitude.

2. The fact or quality of being authoritative or duly authorized; authority. Now rare.

3. (see bullet points below)

  • With reference to a document, artefact, artwork, etc.: the fact or quality of being authentic (authentic adj. 7a); genuineness.

  • The quality of truthful correspondence between inner feelings and their outward expression; unaffectedness, sincerity.

  • The quality or fact of accurately reflecting a model or exemplar, or of being traditionally produced or presented.

  • orig. Philosophy. A mode of existence arising from self-awareness, critical reflection on one's goals and values, and responsibility for one's own actions; the condition of being true to oneself.

4. The fact or quality of being real; actuality, reality.

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