Authenticity: A Dialogue

Prisma-goethe gif animated light and dark spectrums by John Roland Penner, used to accompany an article on authenticity
Animation by John Roland Penner

In these increasingly digital yet tactility deficient times, where Post-Truth is the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year; advances in technology are raising questions about what a ‘real’ human is; and, laid-off workers turned out in droves to elect a man who claims he’ll serve their immediate employment concerns while deporting that nice family down the road and denying climate change among other questionable policy stances, discussions on authenticity are needed more than ever.

Interestingly, it is now 4 consecutive years where the notable words of the preceding 12 months have been associated with some degree of inauthenticity. Last year it was Face of Tears of Joy emoji, 2014 was Vape and 2013 Selfie. Each of these words (2016 included) crossed the Atlantic (and thus the entire English speaking world) in being selected as both the UK and US Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year. Ironically, a contender for the 2016 Word of the Year, Woke (which embodies the fight against a Post-Truth world) lost out, as has its originally intended meaning, now relegated to hash tags accompanying disposable, vacuous 160 character thought bubbles.

This post departs from a dialogue that Daniel Paul Marshall began, asking his readers to share their definition of authenticity. Daniel’s intention is to harness the sentiments of the dialogues, and oscillate “…between blocks of my personal research, perhaps tradition as regards society, specifics, probably Korea & how it has warped, then switch to a sort of dialogue written in the format of a play…” I have no doubt whatever form it takes, it will be an engaging read.

My foray into the dialogue on authenticity was an attempt at an all-encompassing, one-size fits all definition:

Something or someone with qualities that haven’t/aren’t tainted by an interaction / passing of years / observation / consumption / public perception.

Daniel being ever inquisitive (I quickly learnt) fired back many questions that forced me to re-think, elaborate, and test my definition against possible exceptions as well as demarcating the blurry line between Original and Authentic.

The initial dialogue was weeks ago and continued in a second post on Daniel’s blog where he focused the discussion around travel. His question then was “… what do you think is involved to make an ‘authentic’ travel experience?”

To which my initial (lengthy) response was:

Authentic travel experiences, in my opinion, are mainly influenced by the mindset of the traveler and the openness to immerse in local cultures in a respectful manner. Get that right, and it will be authentic, because you’ll get an insight into the present day culture of the place you are visiting. I know some people think authentic has to be going to a place that has no other tourists and the locals have not been exposed to outside influences, but you’d need to time travel if that is what you’re after (in my opinion). 2 authentic experiences I have had that stand out was bumping into locals in Grimyachinsk as my friend and I were going to brave a cold swim in Lake Baikal (and get 10 extra years of life or something…). These incredibly generous people suggested we come back to their place for lunch once we were done- we were totally immersed in the spirit of it all and didn’t think twice about saying yes and in doing so, learnt a little more about their piece of the world. The other one was travelling through Mongolia and being invited in for milk tea or a fermented brew whenever we chanced upon a ger in the sparsely populated steppes. The gers almost all had satellite dishes and a TV inside, but it was an authentic experience as it provided an insight into the customs and culture that were true at that point in time. Neither of these experiences could be purchased or booked- they were part of just ‘being’ in the place and in those moments.

But it didn’t end there. In the comments of a microfiction piece I posted last week, Daniel and I returned to familiar ground, and others bloggers joined the dialogue. What better way to strengthen our virtual connections and add a dose of real than to discuss our thoughts on authenticity? I hope it will inspire a chain reaction of thoughts on what it means to each of us; in turn allowing a connection with our true selves and either re-defining or confirming what we are willing to accept or ready to fight against in the world around us, halting the mass migration toward a mono-culture where a word such as ‘post-truth’ can warrant prolific use.

Please share your thoughts (here or on *Daniel’s blog) on what authenticity means to you, in a specific area or a broad meaning you feel holds water regardless of context.


*If you do comment on Daniel’s blog, bear in mind that he is offline for a couple of weeks but would no doubt love to read and respond to your comments on his return (a little payback for the Spanish Inquisition I underwent haha).

52 thoughts on “Authenticity: A Dialogue

      1. All I can think of – in the sense that if something is authentic it is possible to trust it without investigation. That doesn’t mean you don’t need confirmation or proof of its intrinsic quality, if you wish.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. If you buy an Omega from a reputable dealer you have that person’s history and credibility to suggest that it will be genuine. If you buy it from a dodgy man in a pub you should beware because it probably won’t work. My point is that if something or someone is authentic it is POSSIBLE to trust, not that the trust cannot be measured.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thanks for the example Derrick. So, is it safe to say then that authenticity is demonstrated by a history of a certain level of service/quality/behaviour and the credibility of multiple people being aware of and verifying that history?


      4. this is an interesting point for measuring: whether or not you can trust the said “authentic’ thing, intrinsically. we clearly accept that a museum contains a treasure of authentic items belonging to the past, but when Putin discovers 5th Century Greek poetry close to shore, while snorkeling, we doubt the credibility on the grounds of our knowing something of the deceptive character of Putin. this is the polarity example, i wonder how it would stand up to more blurred lines.
        glad you’ve got people into this, all of this is gold.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I personally hate the word “authentic”–I think it has no meaning at all. It implies that experience has a hierarchy, some experiences are “better” than others. Any experience is authentic; you’re experiencing it after all. And you can’t help putting on layers of meaning that come from both inside and out. Some people are more curious, open, and truthful in/about their lives, and maybe their experiences will reflect that, but maybe not. We can all be deceived. (K)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Kerfe. So, you hate the word when used regarding experiences, but how about other contexts? Is every object, piece of art, custom etc. ‘authentic’? I guess the word may be redundant if you consider that classifying things as being ‘authentic’ or otherwise is a human construct (as is the fact we are discussing the meaning of the word)…e.g. I could make an authentic dish as per the authenticity within my grasp: my cooking ability, ingredients on hand, recipe book I use, yet it may still be considered inauthentic if not made from the tomatoes that grew in the little village in Spain where the dish was first created, using a clay pot that had been handed down through 6 generations. When you say ‘We can all be deceived’ are you suggesting then that if we were not all deceived, then ‘authenticity’ could have a meaning?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Good questions. Of course “authentic” has many shades of meaning in the dictionary. What I object to is, yes, saying something is better or more authentic if it adheres to someone’s idea of what is original or uninfluenced by outside sources. Like cooking…is it more “authentic” to use local to you, or to import something from the place where the recipe originated? But wait, that recipe didn’t just pop out of thin air, it’s part of a long line of cooking that incorporates many things, including culture, outside influences, and local ingredients, or even what the cook happens to have in the house at the time. Anyone who cooks knows that you don’t make anything exactly the same way twice. Anything human includes borrowed elements; any contact changes what was there before. That’s how we went from living in caves to living in apartment buildings with hot and cold water and central heating. You may not like those changes, but living in a cave is no more authentic than living a life that uses things people have come up with to make it more comfortable.
        If you mean “authentic” in that it was produced by a certain artist or culture at a certain time, that has some meaning, although it seems an object’s “authenticity” is always subject to revision. Were those sketchbooks really done by Van Gogh? They don’t look genuine to me, but I’m not a scholar. On the other hand, why is a work of art considered beautiful when done by a certain artist at a certain time, but it loses its value if someone decides that it was made by someone else? Is it beautiful or not? Why and how does the attribution change that?
        I guess what I object to is the ranking of different ways of living in and experiencing the world as being better if they aren’t “contaminated” by outside influences. As Dali famously said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” We learn and grow through taking what’s there and changing it. Not through idealizing a way of being in the world that is unchanging. Because it never is unchanging or unchanged. Even in its supposedly “authentic” state.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Glad to have got you thinking! All the discussion here and with Daniel have made me think too! I think that idealising a way of being is a trap we fall into, not only as a society but as individuals whenever we resist a change in our own lives. In the discussions with Doug and Kathy, I have arrived at the authenticity of something as not having a fixed, rigid definition but, as you have said- being subject to revision and change. So perhaps authenticity has a temporal dimension and that is why it can be so hard to pin point. The question of why people think art by one person has merit but the same image by an unknown artist is not held in such high regard is a totally different question- I think that has to do with the need people have of being ‘right’ in their tastes- there are always those who take the lead in dictating what is beautiful, stylish etc an others follow, too scared to veer away from what is accepted…I guess that can apply in lots of areas of life.

        Liked by 2 people

      3. Those sound like good conclusions. In any conversation, words can mean different things to different people, which is why we so often don’t get what another person is saying. I know I myself have a lot of trouble verbalizing my thoughts, and it often comes out a garbled mess. Well, also, I tend to like ambiguity in words. Still, not to give up! We need each other…

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      4. Yes, ambiguity is okay with me. I was just thinking about how we learn words and their meanings, seeing the rate at which my son is picking up words (he’s now 2.5 years old)- it is generally through context of conversation and the use of words around us and then of course through reading- rarely from referring to a dictionary, so no wonder we have different ways of defining the meaning here…I know that part of the misuderstandings between my parents and I as I was growing up (and to some extent still) are due to the misunderstandings of English- with their grasp of the language differing hugely from mine. Yes, as much as we drive each other up the wall, we do need one another…

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      5. this back & forth is golden, i would not for a second say memadtwo has any difficulty articulating themselves. & the questioner really got so much good out of memadtwo, all this is golden & seems to support what my findings on authenticity: that it isn’t a one dimensional, definable state that if enough boxes are ticked you have it, it is utterly malleable, as malleable as man as he progresses from one era to the next. thanks for your input, this will help me a great deal.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Yes, Kerfe is not lacking in expressing her ideas well. Yes, I’ve come to those same conclusions- malleable is such a great word. You’re welcome- looking forward to reading what you write on the infinitely expanding definition.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. You said the person second guessing wasn’t authentic…so wondering why you think on the one hand every experience is authentic yet a person having an experience and second guessing its authenticity isnt also authentic. Or are you applying ‘everything’ to just experiences and not people, i.e. do you believe people can be either authentic or inauthentic?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. the authenticity of ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ is quite different than when speaking of the authenticity of a cuisine or travel destination. The former deals with an internal frame of mind, or rather, holistically speaking, of the psyche; and, as such, it cannot be pointed to, or qualified for comparison. Attempting to gauge the authenticity reveals the inherent flaw of language, of our ability to describe the world, give closure. Authenticity as a quality of an artist, of a human being, is maybe best thought of as adverb, describing not itself, but describing an action performed, speaking of the doer of the action as attempting to achieve, as struggling to achieve a state of authenticity. Yet being wholly authentic is a non-achievable ideal upon which we measure ourselves against. It is this sense, it is as we would discuss having a passion for life, or being passionate, or having gratitude, or being grateful. We will always come up short, but did we struggle as best as we could to fully express our self, our whole psyche.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I suppose I should add that authenticity looked at from from this perspective is value neutral…it does not speak to the qualities of character and personality being expressed. The Donald Trump caught on tape speaking to Billy Bush in the bus was being authentic. But this points to the challenge of ‘being authentic.’ Among other things, I have to acknowledge I have spent my life in a patriarchal culture which is interwoven with misogynist attitudes and norms. As much as I would like to believe that I am not a sexist, as much as I might struggle to eliminate sexism from my personal consciousness, if I am being authentic I have to acknowledge that i have been tainted, blemished by this (sub)cultural strain, to express this not-so-flattering facet (and only then can i hope to improve) among other not-so-flattering facets.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I think too often the word is ascribed positive connotations which may be why some people have an aversion to it. I agree with your general point on the fact that the word does not need to be morals based, but I disagree with you Trump example. With my newly arrived at definition on authenticity in response to your earlier comment, if authenticity is to do with the process and the process requires reflection and growth and change (something that a person with narcissistic tendencies is unlikely to be capable of)- perhaps then Trump wasn’t being authentic in his ‘locker room talk’, but rather ‘in character’, with that character being rigid and unchanging. I read something the other day where some person was quoted saying that Trump is highly susceptible to suggestions and his thoughts are based on the influence of the last person he spoke to…surely if a person is a blank canvas like that, without an anchor of values that influence thoughts and behaviour, then they aren’t capable of authenticity?

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Thanks Doug. I agree that authenticity of ‘being’ differs to the other contexts in which it applies. I also arrived at altering my definition of the word in the ‘being’ context to allow for the nuances of particular circumstances – for me authentic ‘being’ is living with values, thoughts and actions that are aligned but you’ve hit the nail on the head about the struggle- I fall short sometimes if a situation or a person intimidates me or if I don’t have the energy to battle a point out. Then there is the question of whether authentic ‘being’ means an identical persona in every situation and I certainly can’t claim that because the energy of others, history between us, my mood that day or in that moment means I am not necessarily the same in every instance…but that struggle is there whether I achieve ‘authenticity’ or not and it plays out in my conscience and thoughts about what I could have done differently or reflections on what makes me react the way I do to certain people and events…so maybe being authentic is to do with tuning into your soul and thinking about things with an openness to growth and change, rather than being about a constant (and never changing) façade.

      p.s. how is the move going?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. going over all the comments, i think there are two distinct approaches toward discussing authenticity: using the speech act as an example, one can take a particular act of speech and judge it to be reflective of the person’s soul / psyche, or one can examine the speaker’s intent to be aligned or to struggle to become aligned with soul / psyche (when accompanied by an intent to be a better person, to ‘improve’ to one’s self). My example using Trump is an example of the former; whereas you are addressing the latter. Both are, I believe, appropriate ways to discuss the presence (or lack) of authenticity. I would wholeheartedly agree Trump, as a narcissist, lacks the capacity of what we would deem honest self-reflection. I suppose one could debate whether authenticity can exist at all within a solipsistic framework.

        To further clarify: When discussing a person who was participating in a inkblot Rorschach test, one could discuss whether his or her answers to each inkblot were indicative of how the person was actually feeling, etc. or one could discuss whether the person was intending to be as honest or dishonest with the test giver, and even whether the person was even capable of being intentionally honest.

        As someone whose beliefs rest heavily in the post-structuralist view (not to mention Buddhist-inspired philosophy), I would argue there is no constant “I”, no concrete entity upon which the “I” refers back to, rather the psyche / soul is an ever emergent feature, locked into an interdependent arising with all other “things”. So “the energy of others, history between us, my mood that day or in that moment” are the particulars of each moment’s ‘equation’ (so many variables as to be (nearly) impossible to detail)…and as soon as a moment has passed, it begins to fade as if a dream, and we soon realize that we probably can’t remember every detail, and even those details we do remember we cannot be sure we remember them correctly. To paraphrase Camus, there is always a part of me that will remain a mystery to me. Always in a state of becoming (and caught up in the flow of language, which is a whole other ball of wax).

        But as Camus might say, just because truly knowing the self is an impossibility, does not mean that we give up trying. We resist. We revolt against our limitations as we do against the forces of oppression from the outside. In this way, looking at authenticity as a matter of intent, we can say possibly whether an individual interacting within a romantic relationship, performing a modern dance piece, or participating in a departmental committee at work is being authentic.

        [And the move is almost done. Be in the new place on Friday. Yea!]

        Liked by 2 people

      2. What an incredibly rich and thoughtful comment. Thank you! And yay for the move! I guess we’ll see the neighbourhood in your mundane Monday musings photos. A proper reply to come at the end of my day…

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Right, so with comments thus far, I have come to understand authenticity to be connected to trust, intent and the variables that make up ‘I’ in the a particular moment. It is a word that really is open to very personal interpretations and I think the definition is hugely influenced by the person doing the defining. Are you suggesting it is possible for a person to be authentic in demonstrating their soul/psyche make up but inauthentic in not having the existential struggle of the intent to align their soul/psyche with their words/thoughts/deeds?


    3. i feel as though you are nudging in the language = being / being = language direction, is that right? if so, it always seemed to me that owing to the act of speech being what makes us who, or what we are, being is an ongoing process & therefore what we design is no different.
      you have made me think that, perhaps, authenticity is an ongoing process, a dialogue between eras, rather than a set of values to be piece together again to reproduced, but rather something entirely other, something that as you say is neutral, but also something we can be involved in. would you say that ‘the full expression of ourselves as best we can’ is what we should be driving at?
      all i think then is what is the measurement of value? i can only arrive at taste, a sense for beauty wholly personal.
      i think you may just have given closure to this authenticity business, at least in my own thinking.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So I went back and read Daniel’s initial post and then some about traveling, I think. It was yesterday and you know sometimes I don’t hold things in my brain for long. I wanted to come back and say this:

    Typically when I think of the word “authenticity” I immediately go to people. Are people being themselves? Are they authentic? This is what I answered on the first post.

    Now that I understand he was asking about several different types of authenticity, such as food, travel, etc., I’d have to say that the word can be applied, but it’s not always appropriate. Similar to what you mentioned Mek, food can have an authenticity in the sense that it originated from somewhere where they do things in a specific way. Once you alter the food, it’s not authentic to THAT place anymore. It could begin to develop an authenticity with the new ingredient by the new chef, and in that sense, it’ll begin a new path of authenticity.

    In terms of travel, I think authenticity is synonymous with the word “real,” which is what I think of with people. One of the reasons I didn’t enjoy my cruise to Jamaica and the Cayman Islands is because it didn’t seem authentic. I like to talk to the locals and observe their lifestlye. I don’t want to be dropped of at a port for a couple of hours and buy trinkets; that doesn’t seem real.

    And so please be patient with me and this analogy. I see authenticity with travel and people somewhat the same. Did I see Jamaica? Yes. Was it an authentic visit where I can understand the culture? No. With people I see it the same. Many times we have these discreet identities that we show in one situation or another (no judgment because I’ve done it too)…I’ve come to believe that’s not completely real. Are people seeing me when I’m at work? Yes. Is it always 100% me at work? No, because in some cases, they’ve only seen a part of me.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I like that ‘new path to authenticity’ I’m definitely getting a sense of the fluidity of authenticity with these discussions. It is possible to say though, that your cruise was an authentic cruise experience, rather than calling it inauthentic because it didn’t give you what a cruise actually isn’t promising to deliver. So if I was to draw that analogy to a human one- the authentic self that one encounters can be limited by the context of expectations- my boss isn’t going to see the part of me that sits an writes about authenticity or whatever else on this blog, so there is a big part of my life he is not privy to, but that doesn’t mean I am being inauthentic in my relationship with him. Is it possible to see those discreet identitities as actually being part of the one identity which is rich and complex and is more like a spectrum that is subject to changes with mood, weather (seriously), stress levels, social situation etc? I think we are on the same page with the extent of the person different people see…I was saying (maybe in the crayon chameleon post ) that different people see different parts of me, not because of ‘discrete identities’ but like you say in the closing ‘…because in some cases, they’ve only seen a part of me’. Love to know your thoughts on what Kerfe, Doug and Derrick have said too.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks e! Seeing that you blog as authenticitee, I’m really glad you enjoyed it. I’ve really liked hearing everyones take and having my mind opened up to different ways of seeing things. What does authenticity mean to you?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In my world…through my lenses, it encapsulates being transparent while trying to exercise as much personal P.R. damage control as possible. Finding the balance between crying aloud, sparing not and shrinking behind unkempt hedges of insecurity. The balance between fiercely empowering others while reinforcing my invisible introvert force shield; hindering their efforts to do the same for me.


        Liked by 1 person

      2. So transperancee (like what i did there? 😊) with boundaries? I’d like to hear more about how empowering others comes into it for you, or is it that you mean being authentic in your tendency/ability/desire to empower others?

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Lol…I ADORE what you did there.
        Yep. Transparent with boundaries.
        I love empowering others.
        It’s a forever passion of mine.
        I’ve discovered however that empowered people come very close….

        “Introverts unite! (Separately)”
        -unknown but wish I thought of that

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve always enjoyed thinking through the meaning of “authenticity.” New to the world of blogging, this post excites me that my blogging adventure will be a fun one. While I could go on and on discussing this with you, I want to try to stay concise for now and make two comments (though, will certainly dive deeper if you’d like):

    1. As far as the touristic search for authenticity is concerned (that I believe, in short, has been revived by the increasingly “irrational” rationalized environment in which we live), I think there are various forms of authenticity — ranging from object-related to activity-related — and various levels on which you could seek out its realities — either peripherally or spiritually. The concept is more of a spectrum and the tourists seeking it out could be hierarchical. If you like this line of thinking, some really awesome authors include George Ritzer, Dean McCannell, and Donald Redfoot among others. They’re super interesting sociologists/ anthropologists who discuss the topic quite thoroughly.

    2. My personal belief is that the concept of authenticity is deeply rooted in nostalgia — a longing to return to a since dis-placed place, to re-position your personal and collective identities within the place(s) you can no longer re-enter (except for, perhaps, in memory).

    This is a fun conversation, so thanks for starting it. I hope to write on it, too, at some point and would certainly welcome your thoughts!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi CMacleod (Claudia? Charles? Conxita?)

      Thanks for adding to the conversation, and welcome to blogging- I tried to check out your site but the link takes me to a page that says the site has been deleted.

      Yes, I see your point about the spectrum and hierarchy in tourism, and this can also be applied in a whole host of other human experiences- engagement in community, concern about the environment, awareness of the world around us etc. I will check out the authors one of these days- thanks!

      It has been a while since I read the other comments on this post, but I think you may be the first to raise the connection with nostalgia- great point! For example, that nostalgia can be seen in the heritage listing of old buildings with greater importance placed on the heritage than the functionality for the present day inhabitants.

      Let me know what your blog address is and also when you write on it. It is really fun engaging with so many other people you’d normally never come across- it is what makes the blogging experience so enjoyable.

      Also, check out Daniel Paul Marshall’s posts on the topic if you have the time. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Chad! I followed the link and checked out your blog (and subscribed) but forgot to come back and reply! Your name still points to the old link so you might want to fix that up somewhere in WP admin. Happy blogging! 🙂


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