PHIL 304
Authenticity: From Rousseau to Poststructuralism Spring 2010
Division II Writing Skills
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The eighteenth-century aesthetician Edward Young once asked: “Born originals, how comes it to pass we die copies?” In the same century, Jean-Jacques Rousseau answers this question about the origins of authenticity by charting the individual’s “fall” into society; that is, into artifice, hypocrisy, vanity, and conformism. This tutorial begins with Rousseau’s reflections on authentic individuality as they are developed in several of his works. We then trace the idea of authenticity (as an aesthetic and ethical category) in both literary and philosophical texts associated with romanticism, existentialism, Marxian critical theory, and the self-analysis of the psychoanalytic tradition. We conclude with recent challenges to the coherence, viability, and value of the ideal of authenticity as it applies not only to individuality, but also to group identities and “artifacts”. Themes and questions investigated include the following: (1) Must “authenticity” refer to some notion of an innate core or deep self? Are there other terms in which we can imagine “being ourselves”?; (2) Can one adopt authenticity as a project? ;(3) Does being authentic require that one defy social conventions in favor of the “natural” or “instinctual”? Is it compatible with adopting conventional roles or forms of selfhood, with belonging to a community, with being civilized or with an artful self-styling?; (4) What impact do the rise of bourgeois society, the machine age, consumerism, and mass media have on the possibilities for authenticity?; (5) Is the voice and style of authenticity necessarily simple, direct, and sincere? ; (6) Are particular versions of the ideal of authenticity either gender- or racially-inflected?
Students will work with partners. Each student will write and present orally an essay of 5-6 pages every other week on an assigned topic in the reading for that week. Students not presenting an essay will offer critiques of their partner’s essay.
The Class: Format: tutorial
Limit: 10
Grading: no pass/fail option, no fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: evaluation will be based on written work, oral presentation of essays, and critiques
Prerequisites: one course in Philosophy or permission of instructor
Distributions: Division II Writing Skills
Attributes: AMST Critical and Cultural Theory Electives

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