Graphic designer specialising in identity, digital and editorial design. Working and living in London.

4th October 2017

The desire to find authenticity within another culture is an irrational one.

Defining authenticity (200-250)

We are often sold the idea of authentic experiences of other cultures by travel blogs and through adverts. In the article ‘6 Tips For a Truly Authentic Japanese Travel Experience’ – not a title that rolls off the tongue exactly – the author suggests travellers stay at a Ryokan to experience what it would have been like for a traveller in Japan hundreds of years ago. But this same traveller wouldn’t have been live-streaming their experience on Instagram, nor would they have arrived at the Ryokan in an air-conditioned Takushī. So is that what it means to have an ‘authentic’ experience of another culture; to recreate what it might have been like for someone else in the past? And would abandoning our mobile phones and convenient taxis give us a more authentic experience? Perhaps not.

Authenticity has a few agreed upon definitions. The word is most often used to describe something “of undisputed origin or authorship” and by that very definition, every experience is authentic. Every time somebody sets foot in a Ryokan, they are experiencing that place first-hand and originally; nobody has ever stood on those ancient wooden floors in the same way as you, they’ve never smelt the burning incense with your nose; seen the stillness of the water garden with your eyes, or heard the distant chirp of a Japanese Robin with your ears. Even if somebody visited a single day after you, their experience could be miles apart from yours, simply because they bring with them their subjectivity and their projections onto the world.

This leaves the standard definition of authenticity as lacking a deeper sense of meaning and pragmatic application to other cultures. If every experience of another culture is inherently authentic and original, then there is almost no need to state it. It’s as self-evident as saying ‘I am alive.’

Authentic to the experiencer. What is being experienced, the subject, is not inhererently authentic, authenticity cannot be inferred onto a subject, it can only be experienced.

This leads me to introduce another group of definitions that I think can be much more relevant and of practical use if we want to experience true authenticity.

Authenticity as a philosophical concept (400-500)

What does it mean to be an authentic experiencer?

Authenticity is a philosophical concept that denotes the genuine, original, true state of human existence.

Offers from specific philosophers - How that applies to epxeriencing a different culture

Conclusion (200-250)

Western / modern way of life can strip us of our authentic selves or stop us, hinder us from an authentic way of living because we are constantly distracted from being ourselves. By seeking ‘authentic’ travel experiences we look to express ourselves and see the true nature of ourselves and believe we need a foreign land to achieve this. Leaving a western / modern place and

Modern living is so full of distraction and opportunities to divert attention away from what we desire to be that we seek out ‘authentic’ experiences in foreign lands that we believe to be more pure and authentic cultures. But perhaps the people in these cultures that we idolise are in fact living more authentic versions of themselves, and this is what we desire. In our attempts to increase our quality of life through material wealth, we’ve lost a sense of who we truly are in modern countries. And we think that by having the most ‘authentic’ travel experience we are somehow in touch with something greater than ourselves. But really we are just experiencing what the existentialists considered ‘authentic’ versions of ourselves. Free from egoic notions of materialism, power and success. Experiencing the present moment whole heartedly without distraction

We look to other cultures to gain a sense of ‘the authentic self’ and we assume that peoples in other cultures are living true to themselves because they are less enaged with modern technology.

Coming soon...