This article, Fake Authenticity, from HiLobrow, starts off discussing authenticity in the common way I dislike, as sort of a pro/contra of hipsterism, and moves to the much more rare method I do like, as a beneath-the-surface-of-postmodern-contradictions study of what “reality” is.
The article is long, a feature of its seamless transition from the common-place to the more critical. So just allow me to carve out one of the more tender bits:
Adorno noted that “Authentic Ones” like Heidegger were given to making gestures of autonomy without content, serving only to help advertising celebrate the empty meaningfulness of immediate experience. But this still doesn’t quite explain the commodification of dissent. There’s a missing piece, somewhere.
Taking Adorno’s cue, we can work our way upstream to Heidegger, the existentialist thinker who made the term authenticity popular in the first place, and whose many real achievements as a philosopher of authenticity are almost negated by his proto-schwag propensity for dressing like a Swabian peasant and living in a ski hut all year round. True, Heidegger betrayed authenticity’s ironist position by making a cult of rusticity, by demonizing cosmopolitan (Jewish) intellectuals, and by insisting that the philosopher’s true place is in the field with the farmer. (“One would like at least to know the farmer’s opinion about that,” muses Adorno.) It’s true, as Adorno notes, that Heidegger was in this sense an anti-intellectual intellectual, obsessed not with helping people become more suspicious of received truths and values, but instead with rediscovering their true “roots.” But again, although this does help explain much of today’s fake authenticity, it’s not enough. How is that authenticity developed into the “jargon of authenticity”? How did it become possible for radical ideas (encounter, commitment, and conviction, at one time — today even our jargon, whose most often-chanted mantra is a flaccid choice, is debased!) to be “squirted like grease into the same machinery it once wanted to assail,” as Adorno put it, while the oppression and atomization of those without power continues apace? How did the truly rebellious ideal of authenticity come to “accommodate itself to the world through a ritual of non-accommodation”?
It takes an intellectual to celebrate an anti-intellectual, at least in the case of Heidegger. Or at least in a way we can critique, being “one our own”, who has taken a misstep (and a pretty serious misstep, in Heidegger’s case). The Sarah Palin’s of the world, who “celebrate the empty meaningfulness of immediate experience”, are purely ignorant, but the Heidegger’s who line up to join them are perverting any notion of the “authentic” through a ritual, but meaningless criticism of high-Culture criticism. They are the enemies in our midsts, the traitors who are worse than enemies.
But perhaps this attempt to purify the ranks of critique puts an addendum to the statement by Adorno cited later in this same article, that “one of the most pernicious forms of ideology is ‘a vague and noncommittal suspicion of ideology.’” I might add, that one of the most pernicious forms of ideology is the purification of ideology conducted under the auspices of its identification. Aren’t many ideological witch hunts furthered by the deamonization of ideology in general that acts to reinforce ideology in general? A monotheistic persecution of other gods, under the banner of atheism? There are no gods, there is only Human Spirit? It is a promotion of an ur-Authentic by dissolving any competing authentics?
The best anti-ideology may be an ideology, and the best ideology may be an anti-ideology. But where did this ideology, popularized by a common suffix, come from to begin with? The cartoon is clearly hinting at a certain “ism”, which grew from an attempt to critique another more prevalent “ism”, (the winning “ism”, if there is such a thing). But the beginning of ideology is critique itself, which anyone entering the discussion must buy into, in order to identify what it is we think we’re talking about. If we are going to critically compare and contrast, then we need an object to study. And whether you like or dislike the object, it finds in its definition a certain limit, a sphere of authority, an arena of influence, and domain of authenticity.
So does this prove Heidegger right, and the well-known “critical theorists” wrong? Only if the end goal is to “win” the battle for authenticity. Which it clearly is not, because the real world attempts to maintain authenticity Heidegger/Palin have tripped over their own feet in exposing themselves for what they are. In the “absence” of ideology, in the free-market of authenticity without critique, with the abolition of orders of thought and the banishment of the critical super ego, we are left with all the sound and fury of the unconscious, free and clear to unleash its whims upon any target, as a state of anti-authentic, authentic existence. Criticism, and the theses and anti-theses of authenticity are not simply a censor, restraining the will of the volk. They are a channel, a weir for this libidinal investment. They are where the unrestrained forces of desire are loaded into the reactor, to keep the chain-reaction know as “unrestricted will” from melting us into puddles of radiative violence. Culture, as a massive sublimation, is the heat sink of humanity. We may not know what is authentic and what isn’t, but as long as claims of authenticity continue to be rejected and the coordinating rejections of authenticity is in turn rejected, the territory of the unconscious remains in dispute, and humanity will safely go about its business of making music and philosophy, rather than enacting its will upon itself.