The Third Quality of Authenticity

It seems clear that the whole preservation and restoration movement is much more than a means of promoting tourism or a sentimentalizing over an obscure part of the past – though it is also both of those things. We are learning to see it as a new (or recently rediscovered) interpretation of history. It sees history not as a continuity but as a dramatic discontinuity, a kind of cosmic drama. First there is that golden age, the time of harmonious beginnings. Then ensues a period when the old days are forgotten and the golden age falls into neglect. Finally, comes a time when we rediscover and seek to restore the world around us to something like its former beauty.But there has to be that interval of neglect, there has to be discontinuity; it is religiously and artistically essential. That is what I mean when I refer to the necessity for ruins: ruins provide the incentive for restoration, and for a return to origins. -J.B. Jackson The Necessity of Ruin

PROMPT: What are the seekers of authenticity actually seeking?

To address the desires of authenticity seekers without first addressing the definition of authenticity itself would be a step misplaced.

“Authentic: not false or copied; genuine; real.”

This definition of authenticity applied to varied fields of study yields surprising findings. In the field of Art, authenticity is the “perception of art as faithful to the artist's self, rather than conforming to external values such as historical tradition, or commercial worth.” From the standpoint of psychology the definition of authenticity stands as an “attempt to live one's life according to the needs of one's inner being, rather than the demands of society or one's early conditioning.”

More generally, authenticity refers to the degree to which one is true to their own personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures. Perhaps this definition of authenticity hits nearest to intention of what “authenticity seekers” are actually seeking in authentic historic communities. To begin, it is crucial to note in any subjective analysis that “we can only see spaces as authentic from outside them.” (Zukin).

"Slums so feared by the righteous middle classes continue to appeal to artists and intellectuals because of their reservoir of danger and decay as well as their tolerance of or unwillingness to police cultural diversity." -Sharon Zukin

The analysis of a community as “authentic” or “inauthentic” comes from a solid grounding in a variety of academic and social perceptions. One may perceive authenticity as truthful only to its historic cultural grounding—that is, the degree to which a community maintains to its original cultural traits and customs. Alternatively, a community may be perceived as authentic based solely on the state of its physical condition—that is, the degree to which built and infrastructural artifacts are still extant over time. This analysis not only mandates the physical presence of built infrastructure (buildings are still physically standing as opposed to being demolished) but also concludes that buildings must be in use respective to their original function (buildings originally constructed and occupied as residential spaces may still serve that same purpose in the modern day, and industrial/commercial properties in kind true in social purpose to their original built intention).

But there is a third quality; a quality that goes beyond the traditions of a community or the physical presence of buildings and infrastructure the community has preserved. I call this third quality “grit,” corresponding to the social and material evidence of the passage of time and diversity of population and use that transcend the original demographics that once existed and functions that buildings once served. As illustrated by Zukin, “new residents do not always share the same social status or ethnic background, but they do share… a desire to seek out aesthetic evidence of cultural diversity, and an occupational motivation to use the city streets for artistic inspiration” (Zukin).

This quote harkens to our original definition of authenticity as “true to personality, spirit, or character, despite external pressures.” If a community can likewise maintain its personality, spirit, or character, (in spite of physical, social, or economic externalities) it builds that quality of grit. That quality of genuine purpose which seekers of authenticity so adamantly pursue.


A song of spring

The sun rises earlier this time of year then it did in Winter. It sparks life in everything it once melted. The birds are the first to rise, chirruping their praises in hopes the sun will bring them another day full of worms and discarded lunch crumbs. Next buses churn out across one-way roads, and early-risers meet the crack of down early enough to call out to each other words of encouragement as they walk caddy-corner streets apart, striving (as always) to be early to work. But not too early of course!

rooftop view
(Photo cred Dan W.)
This is when I wake up. Or go to sleep, depending on the load of work I'm facing. Most often, I sleep and miss sunrise, which is most unfortunate as sunrise is really the first deep breath of life in any full-blooded day.  But I digress. In any given day I may bemoan my oversleeping, yet rise and strike forth on my trusty bike to climb the hill to campus. Greeting from my bicycle seat the thirteen or so homeless men and women I pass each day, I think it a blessing to pass through such a grounded field of local "veterans" with whom I can share my morning ride- if only briefly- through the simple exchange of waving at one another. The roads are packed with cars and a biker in my part of town find himself oftentimes the lone wolf. If by chance there are other bikers upon the streets we have fun winking, waving, and cat-calling one another to make up for any entertainment that storefronts and windows empty of people would otherwise provide. All this comes before the hill.

The hill.

That glorious, precipitous hill. A mass of land carved from the very bowels of the earth itself.  Daunting. Towering. Unforgiving. It is the single greatest threat to an easy morning ride. A man on his bike has but three options by which he may surmount it-- 
One: stare down the hill. With unwavering gaze, pierce the very rock upon which it rest. Unblinking, a rider pursuing this option must have the most rigorous of demeanors and the most steadfast of constitutions.
Two: avert all visual contact. The hill stretches upward and upward for but one mile, though its distance grows all the longer peering up the hill to see the next curve- the next fruitless switchback yielding switchback and switchback beyond. Adhering to the Japanese saying "after climbing a mountain... there is yet more mountain" those pursuing option 2 avert their gaze and pedal madly, in defiance of the massive climb ahead, if only to focus on the simple act of thrusting deeply their hip, thigh, calf, and ankle into each bereaved stroke of their metal mount.
Three: breathe it in and savor every moment. As the hill rises, views improve and one's pulse and perception are proportionally quickened. Like a thoughtful reader pouring through tender, tedious text to find the moments of joy tucked amongst a myriad of myopicisms, this is my preferred method of ascension.

looking up

Eventually the hill ends and the biker who once thought himself a lone wolf is surrounded by a milieu of pedestrians, mostly collegiate, each of which is striving (often blindly) to reach their destination.  Few wear smiles. More often they wear headphones. Though their urbanity is unquestionable somehow the thirteen homeless people at the hill's base seem friendlier than these academics striving to block out any 'unpleasantries' of their surroundings.

The day rushes by in a flurry of pens, papers, smiles, sketches, and snacks.  Classes drag and zip according to course content.  Lounging alternates with sprinting, and in any downtime hugs and theoretical musings take precedence over thoughts of the evening's chores and other trifling matters.  But classes end and the building empties. Sidewalks overflow with the jetsam of a swollen day. Many find their friends best company for the journey home. Many more find their headphones. I however find a sturdy bike my fairest companion, and depart with the release of a song or whistle matching pace to the thrust of legs driving axle'd rubber tyres into road.  The journey home is filled with thoughts of the day past. Did I miss anything? Were my concepts strong? Did I represent Christ in my words as well as actions? Have my best days yet to come? What of my friends? Where will we end up? Will I ever find fulfillment? Will I ever find that one special pers--THE HILL!

Another big cleanup day for UC PAN on Race Street. Unrelated.

And just like that, our dear mother earth drops off in a rush of trees, clouds, asphalt and parked cars. Sitting low, streamlined against the rushing wind, our dear rider grips his handle bars and drops into his most aerodynamic stance. Screaming for joy and batting tears from his eyes, he whizzes past men, women, and scurrying creatures alike. But alas, the journey lasts far too short! That same hill which took aeons to surmount at dawn now flies by in seconds.  With bleary watering eyes our fearless rider zips through a yellow light-- maybe a little too orange for his fancy. The same homeless folk he saw this morning return his heartfelt waves and greetings of a day well-spent.  As his final destination nears he concludes that despite the trials rising to the hilltop, it was worth the challenge for the thrill of the ride home. And home he finds. In all its tattered, battered glory.  With neighbor Tom and roommate Steve there to warmly greet, the day has never seemed more peasant.  It is days like this, in their joyous cycle of rising and falling, that so tenderly embrace the peaks and pits of life itself.

And that's all I have to say about that!