How to Be Authentic by Skye C. Cleary

How To Be Authentic
Simone de Beauvoir and the Quest for Fulfillment
Author: Skye C. Cleary
Imprint Publisher: St. Martin’s Essentials
ISBN: 9781250271358
Pages: 352

**This book was kindly provided by the author herself for review.**

In a world mired with constant information, influences, and irrational discourse, Skye Cleary brings Simone de Beauvoir’s existential philosophy for a modern reader to contemplate a path in authenticity. This is clearly my favorite philosophy book of 2022. Taking Beauvoir’s The Second Sex (1949) among other works and distilling it for modern readers in a post-pandemic world where resting sociopolitical problems have become truly visible is a commendable literary act. But do not mistake the book for a self-help manual that dots airport stands. This is a gentle introduction to existential philosophy and particularly Beauvoir’s influence on feminist movements.

At the outset, we are introduced to Beauvoir’s “existence precedes essence” aphorism meaning that we exist first and then cultivate our essence throughout our lives. This is the basic tenet of becoming authentic; we create our essence. And since we are constantly creating our essence, authenticity is not a virtue set in stone. It is freedom with responsibility and a morally attuned inner quest while we coexist with other beings.

Part I of the book delves into the nature of human existence. The difference between “freedom” or movement towards an authentic existence and “facticity” or facts of our lives. As it turns out most of our lives are spent concentrating on our facticity. But progressing towards freedom is to transcend our facticity and choosing what Beauvoir calls “projects”. This is detailed in part III of the book. These projects are activities that reflect our choices in an authentic light as stated above. Part II of the book breaks down ways of thinking about authentic choices with regard to friendship, romantic love, marriage, motherhood, aging, and death. For example, even though Beauvoir and Sartre never married, their relationship evolved because they valued a merger of ideas and a oneness that defined their authentic relationship. This arrangement worked for our French philosophers but might not be the authentic code for everyone else. The trick is to discover our own authentic paths where we can express our freedom with the choices that lie before us in the socioeconomic background in which we reside. That is the ultimate journey to transcend our facticity towards freedom.

“Authenticity is a receding goal, like snow that liquidates as soon as it caresses our skin. And if you think you have achieved authenticity, it’s certain you have not. Authenticity is not like a certification you can hang on your wall. Authenticity is an adventure, not an endpoint in itself.
So why bother chasing such an elusive goal? Because not striving for authenticity is tantamount to metaphysical malnutrition.”

The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa by Bernini, Basilica of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

A particularly interesting section of this book describes Beauvoir’s study of Saint Teresa of Ávila as an authentic mystic. Bernini’s famous sculpture Ecstasy of Saint Teresa is a physical embodiment of her existential philosophy where she has transformed her personal sexual feelings into a deeply religious association with God. But how does this differ from religious fanaticism? Saint Teresa in her many writings urged her readers to think for themselves, to be open to self-knowledge, and beware of delusional rhetoric. Even Descartes was inspired by Saint Teresa at one point. This inspires us to look deeper into historical figures that are often brushed off because they have a monochromatic biography. Every human on this earth has been on a perpetual journey and some were on a constantly changing one. That makes all of us polychromatic beings who have more than the proverbial eye meets.

What I really like about the book is that it contains the author’s own experiences in her profession and personal life and how Beauvoir inspired her to be a better human being and work towards authenticity with the choices she had. As a woman, this was really motivating as Beauvoir has been for so many generations of women to overcome the sense of “Other” and make lead authentic fulfilling lives. Even though Beauvoir lived in a very different time than ours the problems of systemic oppression have been universal in society throughout history. Time and again with myriad examples from her own times and Beauvoir’s world the author compels a beautiful narrative of self-introspection. A sunny disposition or not, it doesn’t harm to reflect on some authentic choices for ourselves now and then.

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