The Dilemma of Authenticity

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For the last few weeks I’ve been deeply immersed in Thomas De Zengotita’s Mediated: How the Media Shapes your World and the Way you Live in it, a book that I consider to be one of the best descriptions of the postmodern experience I have ever read. For those who haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

I recently came across this video of De Zengotita talking about the nature of authenticity and found myself especially intrigued by his observations on this subject. In this short interview, De Zengotita talks about how our understanding of authenticity must change (evolve) as we move from traditional to modern and postmodern societies. According to De Zengotita, in a modern and postmodern world, authenticity is no longer something that we can simply “be”, as it was in traditional societies, but rather something that we must consciously “do” and “earn.” He sees a new ethical imperative to our acts of authenticity that would have been unimaginable to our ancestors.

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  • Comment Link Rich Munn Friday, 21 January 2011 23:29 posted by Rich Munn

    Thanks for this Vanessa.

    When I hear words like authenticity and transparency the words "to what?" often pop up. Intuitively I feel what this man is describing is a kind of authenticity and transparency that is largely reflexive-cognitive, and of course this is one "Kosmic Address" of authenticity and transparency.

    The "Address" of authenticity and transparency that comes through someone like Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche feels very different to me, though I wouldn't like to claim I'm qualified to comment on exactly what that is.

    Here's an example

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Saturday, 22 January 2011 00:29 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Hey Rich,

    Yes, I would agree that the "address" of authenticity and transparency you are seeing in Trungpa is different in some important ways from De Zengotita.

    De Zengotita's insight is mainly focused on the modern and postmodern worldspace, which isn't the same as Trungpa. De Zengotita's work is also limited in its critique (doesn't take account of the transcendental realms), but I think his ideas are still very relevant for many of us in a postmodern world.

  • Comment Link R. Michael Fisher Saturday, 22 January 2011 02:10 posted by R. Michael Fisher

    As I read of you both reflecting on "address" as a site of "location" and/or a stage of development and accompanying worldview and perspective, there's definitely a resonance for me in the notion that any concept (or definition) like "authenticity" is dynamic and contngent with the developmental dynamics of holons of interpretations up and down the Spiral, so to speak. Yes, we and our concepts "evolve" as discourses, if you will.

    A large part of "integral" work, spinning off of postmodern work, is to do these kind of genealogies of meanings and realities that come and go throughout history. Modernists did these genealogies of ideas, postmodernists too, but they aren't all just moving toward relativizing concepts and the realities they stand for at any point in time. Postmodernists take a more complete deconstruction in genealogies of ideas and thus, in my view they more deeply unsettle and bring up fear, anxiety and dread that maybe we aren't as "knowing" as we think we are when we use terms like "authenticity" today. I have suggested in my own research likewise, with the concept of "fear" or "fearlessness." These are evolving concepts and require of us a postmodern sensibility to engage them and integrate them, with a humility that De Zengotita (or Derrida) have suggested. And, be prepared for that fear of re-writing these concepts into our lives and re-performing our lives into and through these re-configuring concepts. It all seems like a dialectical madness at times, I think. But I agree with De Zengotita, we don't have any options here in the postmodern era, unless we regress to a "false" and "fundamentalist" clinging to the old concept and ways of living it. Of course, an integralist would most likely argue this is all about evolving identities as well.

    The interesting thing about "authenticity" is that the existentialists (modernist and postmodern) have spent a good deal of time exploring the nature and role of authenticity, as have various spiritual traditions. It is a powerful conception, and yet, like "transparency" it is highly under scrutiny these days, in a late-postmodern analysis and times when the "mediated" (simulacrum) is so pervasive and generating of discourses that are authentically unauthentic, as an existentialist might say. The really interesting questions is how we integralists may have the dialogues with existentialists on this need to "shift" the very meaning of authenticity and transparency, as the location or address of inquiry shifts in the investigators. And as integralists, as we do this, we require an integral developmental sensitivity and skill as to how to "apply" these multiple meanings of conceptualizations and their concomitant practices--in terms of "teaching" and "intervening" in other systems, with other people, whom may not be coming from the same location of address in regard to these concepts.

    No one said integral analysis was simple. I appreciate Vanessa bringing this all to the fore as a start for asking the 'right' questions, as much as finding the 'right' answers. Now, we have an integral perspective that invites us to do this searching along a spectrum of stages or levels, and all the other complexities of the AQAL inquiry and beyond.

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Saturday, 22 January 2011 16:36 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Great points, Michael.

    I really appreciate the nuance you are bringing out and I especially like how you are pointing to the need to continue looking at postmodern practices even as we move towards more integral frameworks of organizing and knowing.

    I think work like De Zengotita's is especially important even for us integrals and spiritualists, because I think some of what gets framed under integral and spiritual discourses can be operating under similar dynamics of falsity that need to be deconstructed. We have to be really conscious of how much our integral and spiritual identities are also being "constructed" in certain ways that we may not be aware of, and I like how De Zengotita points to the need to strip us bare of our false identities by becoming increasingly conscious and honest about them. My sense is that these false identities become more subtle as we develop, and often harder to break through as they become more refined and complex.

    I really like the point you made about carving out geneaologies in regards to words like authenticity and transparency, which is something De Zengotita is pointing to in this short video, and which an integral lens could expand even further.

  • Comment Link Chloe Tuesday, 25 January 2011 18:24 posted by Chloe

    That last line in the video really strikes me: "being honest about the process of fabricating who you are becomes the challenge for a postmodern authenticity"

    I think I will ruminate over the entirety of this concept for a few days.

  • Comment Link Vanessa Fisher Thursday, 27 January 2011 22:52 posted by Vanessa Fisher

    Hey Chloe, yes, great piece to ruminate on. I find it quite a profound statement myself when I really sit with it myself.

    It always amazes me the depth to which I find myself in the process of self-fabrication, whether through fabricating the minor intricacies of my own self-image or even my spiritual identity. It is a major issue for those of us who are highly evolved cognitive, social and spiritual beings and it takes a lot of self-honesty and humility to really penetate... I'm glad you will be sitting with that one too! :)

  • Comment Link Jennifer Grove Monday, 14 March 2011 00:24 posted by Jennifer Grove


    I've been sitting with this for a day or so too. Wonderful.

    Methinks that the big differences between the two kinds of "Authentic" are also found in a convo I listed to (and hated) between Marc Gafni and Andrew Cohen about "Authentic Self and Unique Self". One kind of Authentic is for our self-sence. The other kind of Authentic is only reserved for the "I". They don't get along well for some people.

    Clearly the self-sense evolves from one level of cognition and development to another. The "I" does not. In KW/Gafni's understanding there is no reason the two cannot co-exist, but for AC, there is a giant confusion about this. He seems to want the "I" to interrupt the self-sense and simply stop it from being what it is. He calls that "evolution". I can understand the reasons for both and agree with them both in their own context, but since they don't seem to *want* to agree, I don't think I'm allowed to force agreement upon them.

    As far as Authenticity in the self-sense goes, De Zengotita is definitely pointing to the difference between non-self-reflective and self-reflective. There may be more subtle distinctions in there too, but those seem to be the two main markers.

    your question about "to what" is interesting. What I'm seeing is that the two types of Authenticity exist separate from their targets. They are qualities of the self, which is not to be confused with that which the self thinks about or believes. The question, however, does become relevant again *after* that distinction is made because De Z's G'Father is clearly experiencing them as fused, whereas De Z himself is pointing at them as being distinct. This seems to be one of the markers of the earlier form of "Authenticity" which De Z's G'Father embodies.

    I think you're right on target that Pomo exposed the gap between these two and fear/anxiety erupted from that fissure.

    One of the problems I see arising in the two Stages (Teal and Turquoise) in 2nd Tier is that Teal is disallowing similar exposures (because they disallow developmental hierarchies) and Turquoise brings them back online because they enhance developmental hierarchies. This is a very big problem.

    What Derrida did was not destroy meaning, but move it out of the way so we could see what happened when there was a gap. His worshipers may have taken it too far, but it is clear when you see/hear him speak that he was not into destruction. That's why he called it "deconstruction". I love this video where he is being very gentle with an interviewer who is trying to be respectful even tho he is clearly in distress. (4 parter, 37 1/2 min.)

    This gives us the chance for a self-reflective authenticity which we would not have had otherwise. And, as you predicted, the subject is the deal. The Object and Subject are fused before this break, and only here the Subject is pulled away and looked *at* instead of *merely* looked out from. Now it is both. Until the fear is replaced by the emergence of more freedom and more awareness, it only looks like more Amber rules of disallowing.

    I am very much interested in finding a systematic way to teach this self-reflective awareness. I am thru trying to find a way to "convince" those who are still in the lower level of Authenticity that this is worth learning. They won't be convinced. They truly believe that this is only disallowing of truth and hierarchy. We have to find another way.

    I'm not sure where Michael is coming in on this, but what I'm suggesting is that this statement:

    "...pointing to the need to continue looking at postmodern practices even as we move towards more integral frameworks of organizing and knowing."

    may reflect a naivete. Pointing to the need to continue looking at pomo practices mainly reinforces the modern reaction against it. There are people with "Teal" cognition and "Orange" something else which will not allow that to happen. They are rabid and stop at nothing to make sure that anything remotely pomo is exiled from Integral thot forever. I've been convinced (thru toil and disillusionment) that pomo won't be allowed back in in any kind of awakened way until "Turquoise". This seems to be the way the Spiral moves. So, I don't expect to get much traction until we start "moving *away* from integral frameworks of knowing and organizing."

    Maybe what Integral has to offer us *is* the "stripping away of false identities". And perhaps what Turquoise/Holistic has to offer is giving them back to us in an awakened state so that we can apply them when useful and set them aside when not. Because what the "I" form of Authentic - or State Disciplines - are teaching us is that they are *all* false *and* *all* real. The meaning of those words are now also "subject" to deconstruction so that our Subject becomes an even freer agent and not just a victim of the self-sense recurring nightmare/dream.


    Ironically, the "self-authorship" idea is right-on, esp. in light of the "I" type of Authentic. The honesty about fabricating who we are is related. But he uses the word "integrity" here which might be a problem.

    Carol Gilligan mentioned that the typically "male" meaning of that word "self-consistency" is not the same as the typically "female" meaning of that word, which is more like commitment. I'm not pushing out one or the other, only putting light on a possible confusion. Recently someone I met online used the word "genuine" to describe people who would be his friends, and it was clear that he had a similar meaning attached to this. Without understanding and seeing this difference, there could be disaster aplenty.

    Self-consistency could be construed to mean "sameness" or only that which comes forth from impulse and is not reflected upon - because self-reflection is the same as self-doubt and second guessing for many people. I see this with men more often, tho that may be a distorted view.

    This bit needs to get pulled apart too.

    I love this video/talk and will link to it and show my friends on Fb.

    Thank you so much!

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