Being Your Self(IE): On Authenticity

ENGLISH 90S.04

In our world of Facebook statuses, insta-celebrities, and the near limitless ability to share everything online with complete strangers, authenticity and “realness” may have more value than ever. Frequently, we hear critiques of others that center upon someone’s fakeness, or “not really knowing herself,” or, conversely, praise that someone has “found” herself, or is“so real.” Collectively, it seems that we have a nearly compulsive anxiety over how to read and determine if others are being genuine--or if authenticity in relationships and in oneself is even possible! This anxiety can take many forms--concerns over ac ng, self-representation,masks, hypocrisy and virtue, confession. In our era, authenticity seems to have taken on the character of the highest virtue, and if authenticity is the highest virtue, then hypocrisy may be the greatest sin. But in novels, plays, autobiographies, movies, or really any form of creative self-representation (even, or maybe especially Instagram accounts) how can one authentically portray oneself?

Though this question has recently taken on more urgency with the rise of social media, it is not a new one. In this class, we will approach the problem of self- representation and authenticity through a wide range of texts, spanning from the fourth century to modern day. We will read and discuss the anxieties over true self-portrayal found in the masterful autobiography of the fourth century African saint, Augustine, explorations of fame and self-representation in Chaucer, near crippling obsession with ac ng and sel ood in Hamlet, and modern theoretical accounts of authenticity. Clueless, the nine es teen lm classic, paired with its inspiration, Jane Austen’s Emma, will aid us in following these themes as well as lead us toward the 21st century and the emergence of social media. We may even turn a cri cal eye towards our own self-representations!

Texts may include selections from Augustine, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Montaigne, Jane Austen, Clueless, and Charles Taylor. Assignments will include regular responses to the reading, one shorter paper, and a nal paper. No exams.