Who Are You? Identity and Authenticity and Makeovers and Giussani


“The supreme obstacle to our journey as men and women is the “neglect” of the “I.” The first point, then, of any human journey is the opposite of this neglect; concern for our own “I,” for our own person. It is an interest that might seem obvious but it is not obvious at all: a glance at our daily behavior is enough to show us that it is qualified by immense, wide gaps in our consciousness and loss of memory. Our first interest, then, is our subject. Our first interest is that the human subject be constituted and that I may understand what it is and be aware of it. Behind the increasingly fragile mask of the word “I” there is great confusion today. Only the shell of the word has a certain consistency. But as soon as it is pronounced, the whole course of that sound, “I,” is entirely and only packed with forgetfulness of all that is most alive and worthy in us. The conception of the “I” and our sense of it are tragically confused in our civilization.”

Luigi Giussani, 1992

Think about this in relation to the self-help section of the bookstore. Half the books are about projecting a certain image, and the other half are about discovering your own Authentic Self. Neither category of books tends to look for clues to how to behave or to who one is in the external world, in reality: i.e. it’s rare to have a self-help book that asks you to consider what your duties are, what your place is, as a daughter or a citizen or a friend or a creature before it asks you to start formulating your goals and dreams.

We’ve lost the concept of station in life– which doesn’t have to be a rigid below-stairs Downton Abbey thing, but can be a framework for understanding the context of our goals, endeavors, projects. In other words, we have to re-link the existential subjectivist modern understanding of the person with the role-based, virtue-based premodern understanding. Both have strengths. But it’s really a dead end to keep going back and forth between projects where we imagine who we want to be and then buy Dale Carnegie books or exercise books or get-rich books to shape ourselves into this person, and then that starts to feel hollow and inauthentic and so we get other books– Julia Cameron, etc– that ask us to look inside ourselves and discover our True Self outside the context of the external, tangible world of other people and their claims on us.

The choice we make cannot be between Extreme Home Makeover and Eat Pray Love.

Also n.b. I haven’t read Giussani.  But my friend Kristen just posted this quote & we’re going to Encounter this weekend so maybe I should.

One response to “Who Are You? Identity and Authenticity and Makeovers and Giussani

  1. I was asked of the “I” behind my eyes.
    I said “I don’t know, but I’ll certainly try.”
    It was needed, they said, to become aware.
    So I turned around quick, but there was nobody there.

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