I kind of have a break in my afternoon after having spent most of the day reading students’ essays, one set on the changes they are now experiencing in their lives (English 2000), and another set on the relationship between vulnerability and writing for my Life Writing classes. I’m also trying to get over a cold with the aid of thermalflu or something like that, which has made me a bit woozy, so who knows what I might write.
I was thinking with some surprise on the different interpretations of “Authenticity” that a close friend and I have. I realize that as I think ahead of my words that I’m going to privilege my meaning, no matter how much I try to acknowledge meaning from a world quite different from mine. My friend and I come from significantly different social classes, although there are points where our social class origins cross in odd ways. I know I’m going to privilege my working-class social class origin, which shaped my understanding of “authentic” at the expense of her upper-middle-class origins and consequent different understanding of “authentic.” Until she wrote her post, I had privileged authenticity, perhaps as a consequence of my working-class origins (and there is a lot of research that links being out front with both working-class and upper-class realities). But she said that in her trajectory, she had learned to link authenticity to unschooled local color–authentic artists, with a bit of a sneer.
I could take this discussion into a social class discussion of the difference between seeming and being. I could probably even link it to college education, the way in which we get students to seem at the expense of being–that is, unless they are by virtue of their social class born into the culture of seeming. I might even tie this to rhetoric, the art of distancing yourself from your message by reshaping your message to fit the social situation.
I think I’ll just leave the discussion here. Our different interpretation of this seemingly innocent word could lead to trouble. Misreading other words–and there are obviously many possibilities–could do the same. Our only hope in this uncertain linguistic universe is to be alert, to watch for the signs of wrinkles in the linguistic fabric, remembering that our words are at best vague approximations of what we mean.