10 February, 2002

( 2:06 PM )
Well, Tom Matrullo (weblogs.com link lost) has advanced the conversation about voice, etc., with a generous examination of the touchstone concepts “voice,” “presence,” and “authenticity.” My first response involves pushing a little bit on a point he makes toward the end of his post:

Not to get too Zenny about it, but the bit of us that comes in after something has struck a portion of the receiving public as authentic – the part that attempts to parse, seize, analyze, appreciate and “understand” the felicitous authenticity of this or that piece of expression, (for there is a link, I think, between what we like to call authentic and felicity) – is itself inauthentic. The very gesture betrays our wish to possess that which can be replicated, re-produced, by technique. Desire for the authentic, for replication – regardless of why one wishes the happy outcome of reproduction – has the misfortune of always being fresh out of luck.

Here my postmodern union card obliges me to wonder whether even Tom’s specification of the “inauthentic” arrives on the scene belatedly. That is, once it occurs to a public to perceive something, as “authentic,” they/we’ve already produced the effect of an inauthenticity even without someone rushing to capture that-which-made-it-authentic. The category itself is the problem; one can’t have authentic without inauthentic, and even the “authentic” itself hs a hard time staying “authentic” once it has “authenticity” to live up to; it becomes a parody of itself (perhaps a case in point might be “Saturday Night Live”).

Likewise in the next paragraph,

That which attempts to possess, copy, multiply, limn or mime it is stillborn. The authentic arrives unbidden, without fair warning, unconceived. Once it is in the world, the world might bestow an abundance of attention, or none. But does it have an interest in what the world says?


There’s the rub! Once “authenticity” becomes a positive characterization toward which one might aspire, it perpetually recedes from the grasp of the seeker-after-authenticity. One can’t attain authenticity by trying to get there. Indeed, the desire may itself be the insuperable obstacle. (Not just Zen, but many ways touch on this; I think I remember being impressed with Gurdjieff’s insistence on this point.)
Perhaps corporate clients’ desire to cultivate an “authentic” web voice constitutes an element in the problem they’re trying to correct (working out the problem outside themselves, on the web site, as surrogate for their impoverished selves). Or maybe not.
Remember Louis Armstrong’s correct analysis of this phenomenon, when he was asked to define jazz: “if you’ve got to ask, you’re never going to know.” But he might alternatively simply have raised cornet to lips and played the “St. Louis Blues.”
Now, David W. directs our attention a different direction, complicating life by pointing out the problem of assuming a bifurcated anthropology of “inner” and “outer” selves. Such an assumption dominates colloquial talk and thought about people, but as he points out, it’s got to be more complicated than that. What if, instead of letting our idioms about “inner” and “outer” dictate what we think about people, we trained ourselves to talk about “obvious” and “obscure,” or “manifest” and latent” characteristics of a person? Would that make a difference, or would the powerful custom of assuming a binary personality of outer and inner personae simply adopt new terminology to suit long-established habits?
Then David also connects this with “why I’m so interested in the ways in which our Web selves are literary.” Now, when David talks that way, or when he says

Even the immediate conversations – chat, IM – occur through keyboards, allowing us to compose ourselves as we compose our words.
We are writing ourselves into existence on the Web. Together.


I get all weak-kneed and ardently enthusiastic, ’cause I’m a literary guy. (I’m going to use David’s point here the next time I cajole a bunch of students into writing more carefully; if “we’re writing ourselves into existence,” who wants to have a sloppy existence just ’cause you can’t be bothered to write carefully?)
But doesn’t our self-composition include visual presentation elements such as page design (and video and eventually perhaps auditory elements)? Isn’t Jenny Whoever “composing” herself into existence with her webcam, too? I don’t want to knock words or literariness–if they turn out to be the keys to the future, I’m better off than if I’m relying on looks. But I don’t want us to lock on to literary composition to the exclusion of the various other ways we consitute our prosthetic Web selves.

That’s enough, now.


Has anyone else thought it very odd that with all the perturbation about the “Today’s New International Version” (with more precise treatment of gender issues, as brought to my attention by Telford Work and the NY Times), that I haven;t seen any mention of the New Revised Standard Version, which came out more than ten years ago and did a more far-reaching job of tackling translation and gender. Now, it may be that the TNIV translators did a better job, and it may be that part of the fuss about the TNIV arises because the NIV has been the standard translation for English-speaking conservatives who wanted a contemporary translation from reliable manuscripts, but without the perceived leftward tilt of the RSV and NRSV. Still, if the press coverage concerns gender-sensitive translations, you might think that someone would at least allude to an existing exemplar that has become part of daily (or just weekly) life for hundred of thousands of US Christians.

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