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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Sincerity and Authenticity by Lionel Trilling

Lionel Trilling, professor and critic.

Book Review
Sincerity and Authenticity (The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures)
by Lionel Trilling
Published 1972
Harvard University Press

  This slim volume is a must read for anyone interested in literary criticism or aesthetics.  A half century after publication, the prose is still fresh and Trilling's arguments are still lucid.  In discussing the two terms of the title in a literary and philosophical context, he ranges across a half millennia of thought in several different national traditions (English, French, German.)

  Trilling argues that the concern with sincerity emerged as a priority in the 17th and 18th century alongside the development of Protestantism, as "plain spokenness" became a secular value, and Artists and thinkers turned against the flowery descriptives of court culture. The word sincere was first used in the 16th century, but in a physical sense, as a kind of synonym for "pure" or "unspoiled."  The motivation behind supporting sincere behavior stemmed from believing that individuals were responsible for living moral lives.

 A concern with authenticity developed later, as Artists and thinkers struggled with the influence of money on art.   In the original discussion, authenticity was compromised by the influence of money, pure and simple.  The emergence of authenticity as an aesthetic value is also tied to the rise of romanticism in the 18th century.  As a concept, authenticity is more challenging for the individual than sincerity.

 Sincerity simply requires one be honest and forthright in ones relations with others, don't lie, don't scheme, don't be duplicitous.  On the other hand, authenticity requires a kind of inner sincerity, and is less evident to an outside viewer. 

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