12 September 2013

i started this week with intention(s)—i won’t call them good; i want only to say that i set out with intention, with purpose and plans and the mind to see them through, only to be impeded by falling ill with a common cold and the body aches, chills, and fatigue that came with it. sometimes life simply interrupts our plans and we have to accept it with grace, perhaps even interpreting the interruption as a sign that we need to slow down, take pause, or otherwise make a change in our lives; other times these interruptions become excuses that we attempt to use as reasons to justify our failures, faults, or nonperformances.

as i failed to meet some of my goals and deadlines this week, spending a lot of time resting in bed, i thought more deeply about what it means to live with intention—to live everyday with purpose and meaning, according to one’s own beliefs, values, and convictions, whatever they may be. i will refrain from saying living authentically, because i am not sure that i know what that really means or that i even believe in “authenticity” or an “authentic” mode of being, which has become something of a catchphrase in the blogging and other communities where it is embedded in discussions of transparency, uniqueness, and speaking from you heart and in your own voice in a way that is unique and unforced rather than unoriginal and contrived—a notion that i find highly problematic.

there is a discourse in my field of study (contemporary art history) around the impossibility of “presence” and authenticity in the visual arts that inhibits me from taking notions of “authenticity” or “authentic” meaning and expression seriously. i am not talking about the authenticity of a work of art in the sense of identifying its maker and provenance, but of the discourses of authenticity that develop around particular art movements and forms, of the notion of authenticity as a value possessed by a work of art as a result of the “authentic” expression of it its maker. while modernist art discourse is well known for having claimed this so-called authentic expression for modernist painting and sculpture, i am thinking more specifically of interrogations of claims for the authenticity and “presence” of live art, that a live art performance is somehow more truthful or “authentic” than its documentation. just like there is no “original” body outside of discourse, so too there is no “original” live art event that can somehow be retrieved or known, that we can refer to in order to confirm the true meaning of a performance work (i have to credit my supervisor, Amelia Jones, here, whose scholarship and thinking on contemporary art, performance, the body, and identity never fails to influence on my own thinking on these subjects).

my investedness in this kind of scholarship means that i necessarily separate living a life of intention from one of authenticity, however superficial such a separation may seem. simply put, i am suspect of notions of being “true to oneself,” of being “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character” despite external influences and pressures, as if such a definition is self-evident or even possible given the cultural influences and media with which any notion or sense of self is necessarily entangled. the contemporary discourse of authenticity suggests that there is an authentic, true, unmediated, original self that we can somehow magically access without any external influence and share with the world, say through the pure, uncontrived and unfiltered form of social media. right. see why i’m skeptical? despite my skepticism, however, i do believe that we can choose to live with intention, to mindfully choose how we live each day—or at least, attempt to choose how we live each day and according to what values.

most of the time, i think i really do with with intention, purpose, and thoughtfulness, but then i have one of those days that seems to magnify my shortcomings and failures and seeming inabilities to “do” certain things, idly allowing time to pass or things to happen without taking full control—one of those days that makes me feel like i need to try to be a better human, where i take notice of all the good and beautiful things that i don’t deserve.

i am not sure where i am going with all of this, and i certainly do not have all the answers. but what i can do is try to be the best person i can be, with constant, conscious effort, and in ways both big and small. i can be honest with both myself and with others; i can be transparent about how i live and do things without making some grand claim for authenticity, the very notion of which necessarily and falsely implies a dichotomy between authentic and inauthentic living.

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