Authenticity and Performitivity

In a previous post, I essayed on the idea of authenticity in response to a common hashtag, #liveauthentic. As people increasingly document their activities visually through social networks, the question of performance quickly becomes central - the idea being that performance replaces authentic experience. I want to be careful to distinguish my use of the the term performance from performative theory which, in my understanding, would imply that all activity is inauthentic. While I don't actually think proponents of this theory would agree, it seems to me that the project of theorizing say, gender performativity, is at odds with the notion of authentic gender. So why not extend this concept of performativity to describe all of life's activities? For example, I am drinking coffee as I write this, how do I distinguish between my authentic enjoyment of drinking this warm beverage and the enjoyment that might come from performing this activity in the manner in which I imagine a writer to be working? If performativity in relation to gender identity wasn't complicated enough, performativity applied to activities introduces another dimension of complexity.

While the application of theory of performativity to all activity seems to me a very viable one, one can of course conceive of an individual acting in a way that seems so divorced from any self-reflexive thought--the selfless caregiver etc... Can one perform without knowing or intending to do so? In the realm of gender performativity, this is not a question. Judith Butler and proponents would say that such a performance is almost always unconscious. So then what of the enthusiast who truly loves what she does, and not just the image or idea of what she does? Either the concept of authenticity survives or we could say of that person that she is an authentic performer. 

The benefit to abandoning the concept of authenticity is that we lose the mandate to "live authentic." There is some relief when an objective is deemed impossible. 

The reason I have centered on this issue of authenticity grows out of my annoyance with the term, as I described in a previous post. Unfortunately the conclusion I reached in that post was incorrect. The difference between the two experiences I described was not one of proclaimed authenticity and true authenticity, but rather, it seems to be a distinction between self-conscious performance and unconscious performance. 

In this way, the call to "live authentic" actually becomes a call to perform, but only if you can do so without being self conscious of this activity. Actors need not apply. 

Perhaps the idea of method acting would be helpful here. It is a form of acting that requires an internalization of the character. Method acting can almost seem mystical but at its core the technique involves repetition of performance, enacting an emotion or feelings of a character until the emotion seems to emanate from the actor himself. Actors may describe this as "losing themselves within a character." Whether or not this is actually true, the concept could perhaps be used to think about how one could reach a point of performing without self-reflection. 

Is the best we can do to be authentic is rehearse a performance until it becomes automatic, authentic to ourselves?

Self conscious performance would eventually lead to unconscious performance or what we might deem as authenticity. And maybe that's all right, as long as we understand the #liveauthentic crowd as one that showcases their aspirations of who they want to be or how they want society to be.  


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