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The Strange Career of “Authenticity” in 20th-Century American Thought
November 11 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Senior Fellow (2019-2023)
The language of “authenticity” to describe the self and the moral life is all around us today. From psychology to music, mindfulness to movies, academic scholarship to internet fodder, the use of “authenticity” to conceptualize a self shorn of masks and fictions, or to envision an experience unmediated by external illusions, is a defining feature of our intellectual culture. And it’s also one of surprisingly recent vintage. This talk will examine how and why a medley of mid-20th century intellectuals gravitated toward “authenticity” as a concept to describe the self and the world, how they enlisted it to critique modern society, and why this curious re-invention of “authenticity” still has implications for American thought today.
Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen is the Merle Curti and Vilas-Borghesi Distinguished Achievement Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her research focuses on 19th- and 20th-century U.S. thought and culture in transatlantic perspective. She is the author of The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History (Oxford, 2019) and the award-winning American Nietzsche: A History of an Icon and His Ideas (Chicago, 2012), and is co-editor of Protest on the Page: Essays on Print and the Cultures of Dissent (Wisconsin, 2015), with James Danky and the late James Baughman, and The Worlds of American Intellectual History (Oxford, 2016) with Joel Isaac, James Kloppenberg, and the late Michael O’Brien. In addition to writing for a number of scholarly and disciplinary journals, she has written essays and reviews for New York Times, Washington Post, Time, Guardian, Chronicle of Higher Education, Daedalus, Raritan, Wilson Quarterly, Los Angeles Review of Books, Dissent, and Aeon, among others.