I think authenticity is the buzzword of the Millennial generation. I have mixed feelings about it.
I think that from a moral perspective, we all have an obligation to be authentic in the sense that we all should be forthcoming, truthful and sincere. But I think authenticity is often conflated and misconstrued with some notion of originality, or worse -- uniqueness.
Unique is the most overused and misunderstood word in the English language. Of the things that are described as unique, maybe .1 percent are. There was a journalism professor at my alma mater who used to say, “The only thing that’s unique is my love-making.”
Well, there’s that. And snowflakes. And fingerprints.
The rest is most likely inspired by, indebted to, or derived from something else.
Some of the most beautiful artforms I can think of, from the blues to epic poetry, are steeped in a rich tradition of what would be dubbed as inauthentic by modern standards. Listen to any of the renditions of Rolling’ and Tumblin’, from Robert Johnson on up to Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton, and you will be moved just the same. They’ve all stolen from one another. By this blatant theft, they’ve also created something larger than the artists and the songs themselves.
This is also true of epic poetry. The surviving works from ancient Greece serve as more of a document of a collective unconscious or zeitgeist than the work of one person. This idea that one blind poet named Homer came up with the Iliad and the Odyssey while wandering between Greek city states is a historically imperiled theory. It’s far more likely that Homer is an amalgamation of blues singers from ancient days, like Blind Willie McTell, Blind Willie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson.
Listen to this music and read the epic poetry, and you will feel a sense of sincerity and earnestness. Truth will hit you in the face like a shotgun blast. You will experience things as each of the artists, and the amalgamation of artists that came before them did. Though none would pass the modern authenticity muster.
Authenticity, in the modern sense, is overrated. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to the post-truth era we’re living in. Those of us who still value truth are so fed up with outright deception that we reject anything that has a whiff of inauthenticity.
But what are we missing as a result of that automatic rejection? What foundational experiences and simple pleasures are we spurning, simply because others have enjoyed them or thought of them first? Authenticity, in the modern sense, has outlived its usefulness. It’s time to stop chasing shadows and enjoy a pilsner, mow a lawn, or tear down a wall.
Maybe, as a good friend pointed out to me, the most authentic thing we can do, is to acknowledge what and who inspire and influence us. More of that to come in later posts.