×

Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Sincerity: How a moral ideal born five hundred years ago inspired religious wars, modern art, hipster chic, and the curious notion that we all have something to say (no matter how dull)
     

Sincerity: How a moral ideal born five hundred years ago inspired religious wars, modern art, hipster chic, and the curious notion that we all have something to say (no matter how dull)

by R. Jay Magill Jr.
 

See All Formats & Editions

“A serious and engaging cultural history painted on an admirably large canvas.”—Laura Kipnis, New York Times Book Review

What do John Calvin, Sarah Palin, Jean-Jacques Rosseau, and Bon Iver have in common? A preoccupation with sincerity. With deep historical perspective and a brilliant contemporary spin, R. Jay Magill Jr. tells the

Overview

“A serious and engaging cultural history painted on an admirably large canvas.”—Laura Kipnis, New York Times Book Review

What do John Calvin, Sarah Palin, Jean-Jacques Rosseau, and Bon Iver have in common? A preoccupation with sincerity. With deep historical perspective and a brilliant contemporary spin, R. Jay Magill Jr. tells the beguiling tale of sincerity’s theological past, its current emotional resonance, and the deep impact it has had on the Western soul. At a time when politicians are scrutinized less for the truth of what they say than for how much they really mean it, Sincerity provides a wide-ranging examination of a moral ideal that remains a strange magnetic north in our secular moral compass.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
…wrests a surprisingly dramatic story out of what otherwise seems like wrung-out idiom…Sincerity is a serious and engaging cultural history painted on an admirably large canvas, yet Magill is careful not to take himself too seriously, as evidenced in his snarky asides and chatty footnotes.
—Laura Kipnis
Publishers Weekly
Cultural critic Magill (Chic Ironic Bitterness) condenses 500 years of philosophy, religion, language, art, fashion, and politics into an energetic but dense analysis of the shifting meanings and uses of sincerity in Western Europe and the United States. His well-researched account (subtitled How a Moral Ideal Born Five Hundred Years Ago Inspired Religious Wars, Modern Art, Hipster Chic, and the Curious Notion That We All Have Something to Say (No Matter How Dull)) begins with the word’s disputed linguistic origins and ends with Sarah Palin, who is “certainly sincere in her belief that she is a maverick. She’s just not right about it.” Along the way, readers encounter the court of Henry VIII, Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, Montaigne’s library as he searches for “honesty with himself,” and Machiavelli’s claims that religion and politics “should not cross.” Magill dissects the ambitions of Puritans, the maxims of La Rochefoucauld, and the Discourse of Rousseau, all while quoting liberally from other figures as he zooms to the 20th century. Nietzsche’s claim that “‘sincerity finally turns against morality itself’” marks a shift. Enter Freud, then the Surrealists. Magill proves most lively as he brings the reader up to date; his Hipster Semiotic Appendix demonstrates his acuity and sense of humor. However, this burst of fun may be too little, too late, given the overwhelming nature of Magill’s exhaustive sourcing. (July)
Laura Kipnis - New York Times Book Review
“Sincerity is a serious and engaging cultural history painted on an admirably large canvas, yet Magill is careful not to take himself too seriously, as evidenced in his snarky asides and chatty footnotes. He wraps up on an eminently reasonable note: society needs both sincerity and insincerity. You can’t go too far in either direction: neither the frothy superficiality of court society nor the deadly purposefulness of the French Revolution. Who can argue with that?”
New York Times Book Review
Sincerity is a serious and engaging cultural history painted on an admirably large canvas, yet Magill is careful not to take himself too seriously, as evidenced in his snarky asides and chatty footnotes. He wraps up on an eminently reasonable note: society needs both sincerity and insincerity. You can’t go too far in either direction: neither the frothy superficiality of court society nor the deadly purposefulness of the French Revolution. Who can argue with that?— Laura Kipnis
Wall Street Journal
Fascinating. . . . Mr. Magill’s range is extraordinary, and his wit, erudition and powers of observation give credence to [his] judgments.— Daniel Akst
New Republic
Intriguing. . . . Magill agilely traces his subject through the ages.— Rachel Shteir
Daniel Akst - Wall Street Journal
“Fascinating. . . . Mr. Magill’s range is extraordinary, and his wit, erudition and powers of observation give credence to [his] judgments.”
Rachel Shteir - New Republic
“Intriguing. . . . Magill agilely traces his subject through the ages.”
Library Journal
This sophisticated meditation on the history and significance of the concept of sincerity and its evolution across several centuries is not an easy read, but for those willing to follow the author's witty narrative, it is a rewarding one (particularly in a presidential election year, given the political use of sincerity in our culture). The book's subtitle reflects the scholarliness, humor, and humanity with which Magill (Chronic Ironic Bitterness) writes. An editor and writer at the American Academy in Berlin, he begins his book with a discussion of the 16th-century English Protestant reformer John Firth and ends with Sarah Palin ("sincere in her belief that she is a marverick," but "just not right about it"). Magill spans disciplines (history, art history, religious studies, politics) and centuries to address his subject. A "Hipster Semiotic Appendix" is a wonderfully wry add-on, and one can imagine that two recently deceased men who knew about sincerity and silliness, Christopher Hitchens and Maurice Sendak, would approve of the whole enterprise. VERDICT It is difficult to generalize about this book's potential audience but easy to predict that anti-intellectuals need not apply.—Ellen Gilbert, Princeton, NJ
Kirkus Reviews
An illumination of the shifting attitudes and ambivalence toward a value that society claims to hold in high esteem. The topic and treatment suggest an academic inquiry, but Magill (Chic Ironic Bitterness, 2007) engages readers with a style that is more conversational than scholastic. The author examines sincerity from a variety of perspectives--religious, philosophical, political, sociological, artistic--as Western culture has alternately feared sincerity, embraced it, or denied the very possibility of it. Perhaps the crux of Magill's argument comes with his assertion that sincerity and irony, rather than polar opposites, are complementary correctives, with the latter exposing the hypocrisies within professions of the former. The author covers a lot of ground, as he traces the early equation of sincerity with heresy as a challenge to the dogmatic authority of the Catholic Church, through the peculiar attitudes toward authenticity taken by Beats, hippies and hipsters. In the "Hipster Semiotic Appendix," Magill analyzes the significance of hipster totems, including the trucker hat: "It has become so tired that even to talk about how tiresome it is has itself become tiresome." The author hopscotches his way through Montaigne and Machiavelli, Emerson and Rousseau, Duchamp and Warhol, and he encapsulates Kerouac and Sartre within the space of a couple of paragraphs ("Sincerity for Sartre is an unachievable state. The fundamental nature of man is that he is insincere in all things"). Ultimately, Magill concludes that "society…likes to turn sincerity on and off when it wants." Sincerity proves to be a richer, more provocative topic than readers might initially suspect.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393084191
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
07/09/2012
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
272
File size:
797 KB

Meet the Author

R. Jay Magill, Jr. is an independent scholar living in Berlin, where he works for the American Academy as a writer and editor, as well as a host of a radio program on NPR Worldwide. He is the author of Chic Ironic Bitterness, published in 2007, and from 1999-2005 was an editor, staff writer, and then Executive Editor of the National Magazine Award winning DoubleTake Magazine. During that time, Magill was also a teaching fellow at Harvard University, for which he received the Derek Bok award. He has written for, among other publications, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Atlantic Monthly, Foreign Policy, American Prospect, Der Spiegel, and Print; and as an illustrator he has produced scores of political cartoons and caricatures for a variety of newspapers, periodicals (e.g. The Believer), posters, and books (e.g. The Ultimate Guide to the US Economy). Since 2005 he has been a staff illustrator at the political bimonthly The American Interest, in Washington, DC.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews