On Genuinity

“Citizens of modernity, consumers of violence as spectacle, adepts
of proximity without risk, are schooled to be cynical about the
possibility of sincerity.” – Susan Sontag

Feeling inspired by Fenton Johnson’s critique of the Burning Man Festival in Tikkun magazine to consider sincerity and risk in our culture, not simply in relation to war imagery, as Sontag addressed in the above quote from Regarding the Pain of Others, but in the larger context of living a meaningful life.

Back in November, Christy Wampole’s article on irony in the New York Times raised a teapot-tempest of commentary about “hipster bashing” but in fact focused on one of the more ubiquitous symptoms of postmodernity, in which the hipster admittedly appears to be the prevailing antihero. For me, it raised the question: how do we live without irony when our means of communication increasingly make sincerity an outmoded language – a conquest in which we are complicit?

What we need isn’t a new language of sincerity so much as a new-found respect for the genuine, practiced in our everyday interactions and reflected in our art, the cultural mirror in which we look for ourselves and, if we’re successful, see each other.

Johnson defines desire as a longing to connect with one another, ultimately to commune with the infinite. He describes the longing itself as an infinite aspect of the human condition, therefore the best medium through which to approach an understanding of the infinitude beyond human experience. Instead of avoiding or trying to satisfy the longing, perhaps we need to sit right down in it – to exchange proximity for engagement, immersing ourselves in the want and the risk and the uncertainty in pursuit of genuine understanding.

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