The Thing Itself
by Richard Todd '62
The Thing Itself began, as I think books often do, in perplexity. Why did I think so much about things, the objects in my life? After all, as a believer in orthodox American intellectual doctrine, I knew enough to deplore the materialism that plagues our culture. And as a dutiful student of post-modern thought, I knew, too, that “reality” itself was a suspect concept. But why then was I so preoccupied with the many aspects of American life that seemed “unreal,” by the incongruities in our landscape, by the voices of the media, and, most important, by my own suspect emotions?
As I thought about such subjects, an inevitable word kept coming to mind. The word was “authenticity.” This book is a rumination on authenticity, as the term applies to objects, to art, to places, to our public life, and, crucially, to our own ideas of selfhood. If I now think of the term as naming not a condition but a desire, that desire nevertheless seems to me to haunt contemporary life.
Below, some questions that I hope will get a conversation going. I know all too well that authenticity is a devilish topic, and yet I find that I learn something from everyone who is willing to take it on in conversation. I look forward especially to the ideas of this distinguished readership.
--Richard Todd ‘62
1) Have you ever made a conscious attempt to lead a less materialistic life? What happened? Have you achieved a personal code about the role that things play in your life?
2) What do you want out of the places you visit and the place where you live?
3) When a political leader is called authentic, what is meant? And is authenticity a quality you seek in such figures?
4) Are there people in your personal experience who seem more authentic than others? How do you describe the quality in them that you admire?
5) What does the phrase “living in the moment” mean for you? And is it a condition you have achieved?
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