Thursday, 10 December 2015

Schopenhauer on authenticity

Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism
William Hogarth, engraving, 1762

"The man who publishes and edits an article written by an anonymous critic should be held as immediately responsible for it as if he had written it himself; just as one holds a manager responsible for bad work done by his workmen. In this way the fellow would be treated as he deserves to be—namely, without any ceremony.

"An anonymous writer is a literary fraud against whom one should immediately cry out, "Wretch, if you do not wish to admit what it is you say against other people, hold your slanderous tongue."

"An anonymous criticism carries no more weight than an anonymous letter, and should therefore be looked upon with equal mistrust. Or do we wish to accept the assumed name of a man, who in reality represents a société anonyme, as a guarantee for the veracity of his friends?

"The little honesty that exists among authors is discernible in the unconscionable way they misquote from the writings of others. I find whole passages in my works wrongly quoted, and it is only in my appendix, which is absolutely lucid, that an exception is made. The misquotation is frequently due to carelessness, the pen of such people has been used to write down such trivial and banal phrases that it goes on writing them out of force of habit. Sometimes the misquotation is due to impertinence on the part of some one who wants to improve upon my work; but a bad motive only too often prompts the misquotation—it is then horrid baseness and roguery, and, like a man who commits forgery, he loses the character for being an honest man for ever."

Arthur Schopenhauer, On authorship and style.

Schopenhauer does not use the word authenticity in this essay but when you purchase some collectible online it might come with a certificate of authenticity stating it to be as described in the advertising copy. I have yet to see such a document called a guarantee of veracity. I take such documentation with a grain of salt. One object in my collection has such a document, but the object is not what the vendor claimed it to be. I did not return it for a refund because I bought it with the knowledge of what it really was and had it been correctly identified I would not have been able to afford it. I remember reading, somewhere, that if you purchased a forgery from a British antique dealer as a genuine item, then you can legally claim a refund, regardless of whether it came with a certificate of authenticity. However, if you sold such an item to an antique dealer then they could not get you to refund their money as they claim to be expert in such matters. It struck me as a very sensible law because who would want to put their trust in ignorance? Perhaps it no longer exists and that is why we have such certificates of authenticity.

In Schopenhauer's time, authenticity was not the buzzword it is today. You have to be very careful about buzzwords: a company that prominently advertises its ethics, for example, is most often a company that has none.

Schopenhauer's ire, in this part of his essay is directed toward deliberate anonymity and I get a number of blog comments from "anonymous". If they seem to be honest, I let them by. People are more fearful today than they used to be but this fear of authorship is even used as  ploy to attack the person to whom it is directed. It hopes to solicit sympathy. We have lost many of our animal instincts. My dog, Tristan, is a coyote hybrid and retains more of his basic pack instinct than does a purely domestic breed. When on a leash, and encountering fear in a person his instinctual response is twofold: his hackles rise and he gives two short warning barks, Then, if the fearful behaviour continues, he bares his teeth and lunges toward that person. He knows that by being on a leash he cannot remove himself from the source of danger. But why would a fearful person be a source of danger? He has adopted a human as a member of his pack (actually family group is the case with coyotes, wolves hunt in packs). The instinct is to kill the source of danger because fleeing is not possible. In such an animal, fleeing is not fear, it is removing oneself from a source of danger. "Fight or flee" is not a measure of personality in the coyote, it is survival instinct and the choice is dependent on the situation at the time. Within a hunting pack (or family group) the instinct expressed is "If you are fearful you cannot be trusted and trust is essential to survival. After observing this in Tristan I came to the realization that every single person in my life who had given me any trouble, did so out of the fear of something. Schopenhauer, in that section of his essay, expresses more of that pack instinct than we commonly see today, but his pack consists of other authors.

Authenticity, even as a buzzword, does not have to be nefarious and I give a good example of real social authenticity in my post: Nara + 20: Stakeholders, communities, and authenticity. However I also give, in the same post, an example of how the same subject matter is used for nefarious motives.

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