One of the abiding dramas that we moderns are fated to endure is the nagging sense that something more real, more authentic is happening elsewhere, that we do not really inhabit our own skin and have sovereign experiences. Why is this? Former magazine editor and essayist Richard Todd explore this vague, uneasy phenomenon in a series of beautifully written, amusing and often profound chapters in his book, The Thing Itself: On the Search for Authenticity (Riverhead Books, 2008). I've been reading it lately and finding much nourishment.
Todd writes: "This book began with a simple feeling, the sense that my life and much of the life around me was not ‘real.’” What does it mean to be “real,” and why do we care about it so much? The twenty-one essays are sparkling, humane meditations on “authenticity” and the false and simulated. Why do we prize an object that has a documented historical provenance over an identical facsimile? Why are the the hyper-real, personal lives of celebrities so compelling to so many people even though the details are so palpably artificial? Why is irony often as revealing and truthful as professions of unvarnished “sincerity”?