Rilke on authenticity


“To be solitary the way one was solitary as a child, when the grownups went around involved with things that seemed important and big because they themselves looked so busy and because one comprehended nothing of their doings.

And when one day one perceives that their occupations are paltry, their professions petrified and no longer linked with living, why not then continue to look like a child upon it all as upon something unfamiliar, from out of the depth of one’s own world, out of the expanse of one’s own solitude, which is itself work and status and vocation? Why want to exchange a child’s wise incomprehension for defensiveness and disdain, since incomprehension is after all being alone, while defensiveness and disdain are a sharing in that from which one wants by these means to keep apart.”

From Letters to a Young Poet

I hope my own incomprehension — of how and why success is pursued and meted out in this world — is actually wise! Sometimes it feels very foolish.

Questions that this Rilke quote (and the section of On Being Authentic by Charles Guignon that I read it in) raises –  does being authentic always require iconoclasm? How much iconoclasm? To what extent can we be different from society before we need to disengage from it?


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