Posted by: irenesroth | September 26, 2010

The Authenticity Hoax


 The Authenticity Hoax:

How we Lost Finding Ourselves
Andrew PotterToronto:

McCelland and Stewart, 2010, 296 pp., $32.99.



        Potter’s book is a thought provoking and unique examination
       of authenticity. Most philosophers seem to be arguing in favour of
       authenticity. Potter seems to have another mission. He seems to be
       saying that the pursuit of authenticity is futile since it doesn’t
       really exist in the places that we’re looking for it as a culture. This
       is a controversial thesis for a philosopher to make, given the fact
       that philosophy is seeped in the moral traditions of the past.
       However, it seems that some of the perils of the modern traditions
       and the current malaise of the culture that we are constantly living
       in has an impact on our theories. We can no longer have the neat
       and tidy kinds of moral accounts that we had in the past.
       That being said, I did have to take a back seat and think long
       and hard about Potter’s main thesis. Part of me wants to say that
       this can’t be the case. That philosophers must strive to raise the
       yardstick from the common everyday in order to strive for
       something that is more meaningful and not as sempiternal.  But
       am I just looking for castles in the air that don’t really exist? I hope
       not. But I think there is more than meets the eye here. Perhaps
       Potter is saying something significant and yet cumbersome at the
       same time. Perhaps he is trying to wake us out of our comfort
       zone and make us think about what authenticity really amounts
       to?  I know he certainly did that to me as I was reading the book.
              As many of you know by now, I am a philosopher as well. But I
       tend to be less of a modernist and more seeped in the moral
       traditions of the eighteenth and nineteenth century. I think that at
       some point we went right off the rails as a culture. And this is
       what Taylor’s Malaise of Modernity discusses in great detail. Taylor
       did a great job in this regard in showing us the perils of modernity
       for any kind of authentic pursuits. And Taylor is right to say that
       authenticity is difficult to foster in our current times of affluence
       and insecurity. We tend to search for authenticity a bit more
       during those times, as Potter shows correctly. But are we
       searching for it in all the wrong places?
       I tend to think that we may be. For instance, time and time, we
       are abusing the term authentic when we say that certain types of
       cuisine are authentic, or when certain types of art are authentic.
       What does it mean to say that cuisine and art is authentic?
       Certainly, it doesn’t mean the same thing as when we say that an
       individual is authentic, does it? I sure hope not. Yet, moderns keep
       using the term authentic. But I don’t think they know what it
       means. Authentic cannot really mean the same for things as it does
       for objects can it?
       I don’t pretend to have all the answers to these all important
       questions. However, I am in the process of thinking long and hard
       about authenticity because I am writing a book about this topic
       myself. It will be a very different book from this one. I just hope
       that I could shed more clarity on the concept. That is my ultimate
       goal. As for Potter’s book, however, I think he did as good a job as
       he can discussing such a difficult topic. There are no easy answers.
       I liked Potter’s book a lot because of its controversial nature. I
       also liked it because it make me think long and hard about
       authenticity, and he inspired me to pursue my own work on
       authenticity. The book is written in a clear and insightful manner.
       The reader doesn’t need to have a familiarity with the
       philosophical traditions that he talks about.  However, the reader
       will be forced to think about the topics that Potter discusses with
       great intensity and honesty.
       Reviewed by Irene S. Roth
       For more of her book reviews, please visit her book review blog


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