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The Importance of Being Civil by John A. Hall

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CHAPTER 6

Down with Authenticity

No cultural turn is so archetypically modern as the insistence that one behave in an authentic manner. The prophet and great exemplar of this view is Rousseau, whose Confessions sought approval precisely because the shocking revelations therein laid his soul bare. Of course, the book did not reveal the truth, at least obviously or in the round. One of the strangest elements in cultural life is the way in which art can prefigure later realities, and I have always found a resemblance between Rousseau and Alceste, the proponent of authenticity in Molière’s The Misanthrope. The point of the play is that this putatively authentic character is in fact the only one who is self-deceived. This is a useful introduction ...

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