Doug Bruns

Posts Tagged ‘Ibex’

Buzzwords of authenticity

In Life, Philosophy, The Examined Life on March 12, 2012 at 2:40 pm

There is an article in the current Yankee magazine about the tradition of the Maine guide. At its heart, the guide program here in Maine is the practice of handing down skills and knowledge, guide to guide. It is, by definition, a tradition, like an apprenticeship. The article speaks to the context of “ritual history” verses “artifact history.” Artifact history is stuff, the offal of civilization, the things one finds in antique stores and museums. Ritual history, however, is the action of a skill handed down, including the knowledge of time and place contained in the memory of the teacher, drawing on previous teachers. There seems such natural symmetry to history practiced, if that is the right word, in this manner.

Turning still to contemporary culture, I received a catalog from a company called Ibex. They specialize in outdoor clothing. The catalog is quite nice and filled with lovely photography and interesting copy. Not all the copy is specific to selling clothes, at least not directly. There are several short essays that articulate the life-style choices of the Ibex clothes wearer. They are good little pieces, and frankly inspiring. One title, in particular, caught my eye: “Do (Authentic) Things.” The piece describes a sixth generation Vermonter, Bob Harrington, who runs a 140 acre sap farm. He collects sap with a horse-drawn tank. Drawing an overlap between their clothing and Harrington’s story, the copy reads, “We understand taking a longer road, a road tied to an artisan product and a strong connection to the natural world. We get it.” Consumerism aside, I respond to the pitch with a good deal of appreciation.

The business of authenticity has held center to my attentions for some time. It is the classic challenge: how to ensure that your experience of experience is valid. I have to reject in principle Sartre and Heidegger who held that modern civilization is already lost, that authenticity had been crushed by modern cultural norms and the attendant technologies. However, despite my rejection of that claim, it does not escape me that we first turn to outdoor guides and sap farmers when thinking of a life drawn authentic. I enjoy the comforts of modern existence. I’m not a Luddite. But there seems something fishy about much of modern existence (perhaps what Roland Barthes meant by “the plastic attempts of modernity”); so devoid it often appears of ritual history, to use our new phrase.

I wish to eat at the table of authenticity where the test of time is a basic ingredient of the recipe. That meal is most satisfying when the skills of its making are handed down from previous generations. Whose meal would you rather, Grandma’s or Ronald McDonald’s?

Does not something in our DNA long to connect with the ritualized promise of our ancestors? I fancy that if I find the right combination with which to respond to that question, a satisfaction, rich and unique, will be my reward. How best does one understand the nature of authenticity and assimilate that knowledge into a life?