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The Authenticity Hoax: Why the “Real” Things We Seek Don’t Make Us Happy Paperback – May 3, 2011
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From Publishers Weekly
According to Potter (coauthor of Nation of Rebels), the cost of modernity's dismantling of traditional frameworks of truth and meaning has forced meaning and authenticity to become individual searches that are private and consumercentric. Potter's lively cultural analysis combines an astute analysis of foundational antimodernist thought (in particular Rousseau) with savvy surveys of mass culture to flag the pitfalls and ironies of the modern obsession with authenticity in its every incarnation (authentically punk, spiritual, environmentally conscious) from our jeans to our celebrities. Potter champions a mitigation of modernity's negative, alienating effects rather than a rejection of modernity, and his characterizations of antimodernists can be dismissive to the point of oversimplifying a large and varied spectrum of dissent from the status quo. But in redeeming modernity from primitivists, apocalyptic doom-mongers, and more subtle critics, the author offers a shrewd and lively discussion peppered with pop culture references and a stimulating reappraisal of the romantic strain in modern life. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
We live, Potter argues, in a world dominated by the prepackaged and the artificial, the fraudulent and the fake. Growing out of this increasingly bleak cultural landscape is a movement centered on the notion of authenticity: the honest, the natural, the real. That’s all fine and good, Potter says, except for one thing: we don’t have a clue what we mean by authenticity, and even if we did, we wouldn’t know how to find it. That is, the quest for authenticity is a hoax—there is no such thing. Authenticity is an exclusionist notion, defined, by what it isn’t, not by what it is, and, for the most part, so-called authentic lifestyles are just as artificial and contrived as the rest of modern culture. It’s a fascinating approach to a fascinating subject, and Potter bolsters his argument with examples drawn from pop culture, history, and other sources. Written in a lively style that invites the reader to argue with the author, the book, at the very least, will turn the reader’s eye inward, and make us take a good, long look at the way we present ourselves to the world. --David Pitt --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
The problem with Potter's argument is that he lumps all critics of modernity under the same label: "declinists." These are in Potter's mind crackpots. But fringe extremists should not be lumped with political leaders, such as Al Gore and others, under the declinist banner so that Potter can propel his conservative polemic.
I find this gross over simplification and faulty comparison both illogical and insidious propaganda lacking the intellectual rigor for serious debate. And I find it ironic that this kind of intellectual dishonesty (from a writer who knows better) is behind a book that purports to be interested in uncovering a "hoax."
My other criticism is that Potter has not clearly defined "authenticity." He uses the word in so many ways that it almost becomes meaningless; worse, a lot of the chapters have no logical connection to the other as the "authenticity" as a reaction to modernity has no relation to the "authenticity" between art and creativity as discussed in Chapter 3.
As a primer for the birth of modernity, this book is worth getting. But as a polemic that lumps all critics of modernity as charlatans and crackpots, this book fails. A far superior book on the subject of the quest of false authenticity (not even mentioned in Potter's polemic) is David Brooks' satirical Bobos in Paradise.
This is one of the few book's I've recommended in spite of its heavy flaws. This just goes to show that a book that fails as a whole may be worthy because of its parts many of which are convincing as ideas on their own. Probably this book would work better as a collection of separate essays.
The Good: There's a huge amount of stuff in here linking a wide range of philosophers to particular societal behavioral patterns that have played out over the years. I suspect that this book would be more valuable for people than most 100-level philosophy college courses. Really, I loved how much large portions of this book shifted my perspectives so that I could think about things in different ways.
The Ugly: Potter seems to run the entire book without tapping either existentialism or absurdism, which is a bit of a problem as they're directly concerned with answering to what is real about humanity, starting with the basic premise that Existence Precedes Essence (a.k.a. You are as you do, not as you think) and, as Sartre wrote "Hell is other people" not because they don't get the real you, but because maybe they do. Also, Erich Fromm might have been mentioned in passing for his work in Escape From Freedom, but not nearly enough to appropriately reflect his body of work on this topic.
What I found so engaging and fascinating in the book is the journey we take and enjoyed the review of existing texts and works and how they relate to every day issues we face. It also helped me take a better look at many of the dilemmas we face in modern life by taking a step back and seeing them in the perspective of hundreds of years of thinking.
The thoroughness of the text at looking at this subject from any angle also made this a very strong text to read. Highly recommended.
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