Authenticity and Modernity

How can we account for the contradictory and elusive nature of authenticity?

In Sincerity and Authenticity (1972) liberal critic Lionel Trilling distinguished between two particular ways of being in the modern world. Being ‘sincere’ (from Latin sincerus, of things, ‘whole, clean, pure, uninjured, unmixed’), ‘true to oneself’ by not ‘dissembling’, becomes an ideal during the early emergence of bourgeois individualism. Its new significance coincides with the increase in social mobility, mobility which also offered more chances for pretending to be what one wasn’t. Shakespeare’s plays often deal with this issue. However, being true to oneself by not pretending to be other than one’s social role dictates subsequently often comes to be seen as merely a kind of conformism that precisely lacks ‘authenticity’. This demands doing things on one’s own authority, which can be seen in terms of being ‘author of oneself’. Diderot’s Rameau’s Nephew (1761), a dialogue with an eccentric man who is able to play ch

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