Finding Authenticity in an Ersatz Reality

A friend recently sent me an article about our culture’s obsession with authenticity. My first thought was that the Western world doesn’t actually strike me as that authentic: we live pretty leisurely lives and we tend to justify what we like without figuring out what is actually real or pure in a world where what we think about something matters more than the thing itself.

Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, 1962. Dis...

As I kept reading, I found a key idea buried about halfway down the article: that “we can no longer perceive what we claim to value.” Authenticity could be staring us in the face, but if we recognize it at all we are left with only a vague idea that we’re missing something we desperately wanted and needed. We understand, unconsciously, in some dark part of our souls, that we can’t be certain of our own individual or collective authenticity of being or purpose.

It’s not a question of art. It’s a question of who we are.

In other words, this new wave of criticism and desperate searching for authenticity reflected in art and entertainment culture is symptomatic of and merely a modern manifestation of the gap between what we know and the fact of our existing, a gap which necessitates an infinite gulf of knowledge and meaning we kind of know we can never swim through.

I think art and life are the same things, really, just that art is a single moment stolen out of life and time. I also think that life imitates art far more than art imitates life. Not in the sense of a conventional chicken and egg dilemma, of which comes first, but in the sense that life is never understood by multiple people to be exactly the same thing. It’s beautiful to some, stupid to others, gratifying to many, and how you live it is often a matter of taste and privilege.

In reference to this article, life and art are intertwined throughout the pages of human history. Moving through the realism and purity of renaissance art, through the impressionism of the 1700s and 1800s, into the surrealism and now “modern art” which is more often than not a conglomeration of abstract shapes and lines, art reflects the tide of human belief as a whole.

Abstract and modern art is consistent with the postmodern and existential schools of thought currently dominating the Western world. They say we know only what we know, empirically, or what we can prove by watching the process from beginning to end and then repeating it exactly.

Something that looks like nothing is just as authentic and valuable today as something that depicts reality exactly…as long as it was supposed to look like nothing, and in its nothingness makes us think of something. Because atheism, humanism, existentialism, etc., any acceptance of a sort of infinite nothing beyond what may have temporal value, leaves us without any sort of ultimate standard by which to judge authenticity: in our selves, our lives, our art, or our coffee shops. Without a standard by which to judge authenticity, how can we possibly discover a true identity? How can we know who we are? That’s why we criticize what we deem inauthentic, what we fear might be cheap mockery. The idea that life might imitate this inauthentic art is far too terrifying to behold.

We are hungry for authenticity. It is at heart a hunger for meaning, for there to be something beyond the sum total of human struggle and triumph.

Check out the original article here:

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The Night Walk

There are a few things you learn during a walk in the nighttime. You learn that living among the clouds isn’t a fairytale, and you’re not a princess, and there isn’t a castle. It’s actually just fog. And it swirls around and curls your hair with the humid disappointment of just-missed desire.

Orange, usually, as the steam thwarts streetlights with thick vapor determined to undo identity. Even a known name as basic as color is too much, too nice, too today…it belongs to the sun world where shadow people sleep and bide awhile, waiting, for the fog that removes both why you walked and where you are going.

It might be different if you didn’t walk alone. But you’ll never know, because if you had a companion you wouldn’t be seeking the night walk in the first place. You wouldn’t be trying to find the point, the corner, the exact number of steps at which your missed ship becomes just another droplet in the hanging vapor, where the ship that never came in blends into the millions of molecules sent to earth for the night as punishment. Solitary confinement for clouds.

You learn to keep company with the misbehaved cumulonimbus forced to listen to gravity in the same way that you’ll never free your feet from the ground. You may fly for awhile, in a plane, or in a man’s arms, if you’re lucky, but eventually you’ll realize you won’t find the way to stay afloat. At least not now, and especially not on the night walk.

When you return, which you will have to do, you may face any number of things.  Sorrow, or someone saying sorry. And all of a sudden your resolution will be gone. You will feel the moment of resistance tantalize you for a heartbeat, maybe two, before it passes you by, on the way to rejoin its stronger-willed brothers in the march toward dawn.

An apology is like a paycheck. A dividend, a refund for wrongs, even if the crime wasn’t financial and the damage is actually a deep, deep crevice in the rock face where your spirit hides when it stops trying to climb. Sorry tumbles down the side of a cliff.

Maybe it’s the human condition, maybe it’s money. But you are conditioned to accept cash or check and you will. Even if it’s trading love for a line of bad credit, apologetic.

A walk in the nighttime doesn’t bring you what you want or what you needed. And yet some small part of your pain gets stolen by the fog.

It dissipates, just like rain.

Spoken Word Salvation

His name is Propaganda.

His mission is simple: Take the message of Jesus Christ to the streets.

A far cry from the “frozen chosen” stereotype of the Protestant church, Propaganda (real name Jason Petty) spits spiritual rhymes worthy of the spoken word elite. In Petty’s mixtapes, theology and musical theory combine to produce songs at once jammable and profound.

White-collar denizens of the conservative religious hierarchy may well balk at this unconventional method of proclaiming the gospel. Truth be told, however, Petty’s music is reaching an audience too long excluded from the love of God.

Who did Jesus himself hang out with?

Page after page of the Bible reveals Him spending time with sinners, with tax collectors, beggars and prostitutes. With the very people who, in today’s society, would be least likely to listen to the mediocre white-bread soft rock clogging Christian radio’s airwaves.

Petty’s raps put the language of Jesus Christ into the language of the people who need Him most.

Culture clash? Yes. Does it work?

You bet.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: 

TALK to the people in your community and your church

VOLUNTEER at a local shelter or soup kitchen

LISTEN to Propaganda’s music and follow his blog at http://www.myspace.com/propaganda