On Being Authentic, Paperback Book

On Being Authentic Paperback

Part of the Thinking in Action series

2 out of 5 (1 rating)


'To thine own self be true.' From Polonius's words in Hamlet right up to Oprah, we are constantly urged to look within.

Why is being authentic the ultimate aim in life for so many people, and why does it mean looking inside rather than out?

Is it about finding the 'real' me, or something greater than me, even God? And should we welcome what we find? Thought-provoking and with an astonishing range of references, On Being Authentic is a gripping journey into the self that begins with Socrates and Augustine.

Charles Guignon asks why being authentic ceased to mean being part of some bigger, cosmic picture and with Rousseau, Wordsworth and the Romantic movement, took the strong inward turn alive in today's self-help culture.

He also plumbs the darker depths of authenticity, with the help of Freud, Joseph Conrad and Alice Miller and reflects on the future of being authentic in a postmodern, global age.

He argues ultimately that if we are to rescue the ideal of being authentic, we have to see ourselves as fundamentally social creatures, embedded in relationships and communities, and that being authentic is not about what is owed to me but how I depend on others.


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I'm not opposed to an intelligent argument against the concept of authenticity, but Guignon stacks the deck so blatantly that he ends up undermining himself. Right off the bat he defines authenticity in a simplistic and misleading way (and uses Dr. Phil as his straw man, instead of grappling with, say, Kierkegaard). I forged ahead because I was interested in the many references Guignon brings together, but gave up by the middle of the book where he claims that in the 19th century "All that really matters in art is that the creative genius authentically expresses him or herself [...] the artist is under no compulsion to communicate anything to anyone--indeed, the concern with communicating now begins to look like a sign that the work is not authentic." This was the last ridiculous misrepresentation in his spurious argument that I could stomach and I finally put the book down for good.

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