Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Genuine Copies: The Question of Authenticity

I am seeking contributors for an edited collection on the question of cultural authenticity. While the texts and artifacts will be incredibly diverse, the book will be bound together by a series of common questions, including the following: How does a cultural product acquire an aura of authenticity? Why does authenticity continue to matter in an age of endless reproductions, remixes, and copies? What is the relationship of authenticity to commodification? These questions were born out of a three-day ACLA Seminar in spring 2011 titled: “Emergent Authenticity: Fakes, Copies, and the Real Thing in a Global Culture.”
This book springs from a paradox. On the one hand, authenticity is derided as an out-moded concept. It is taken as an article of faith that what constitutes “authentic” Mexican food or an “authentic” urban neighborhood is a social construct. Claims to authenticity in ethnic literature or music are especially problematic, since authenticity in the realm of culture must, by its very nature, imply exclusivity. If one work of art, or type of cuisine, is deemed authentic, then others must be inauthentic or simply fake. The symbolic violence inherent in the idea of authenticity makes us weary of saying the word without scare quotes.
And yet. Authenticity is alive and well, even in this age of pirated artworks, downloadable mix-tapes, plagiarized novels, and postmodern irony. From the boom in the marketplace for the first-person, non-fiction memoirs, to the emergence of the "locavore" movement, to the staged sincerity of media figures like Glenn Beck, consumers of contemporary culture demand authenticity. When a writer has been exposed as a plagiarist, or an artwork as been exposed as a copy, there is a collective outcry of shame. We want, we demand, not just realistic, but actually real narratives, as David Shields recently noted in Reality Hunger: A Manifesto.
This collection will include shorter, provocative essays as well as longer scholarly articles. Contributors are urged to think creatively, interdisciplinarly and critically about the topic, while addressing the questions at hand. Contributors will be selected based on the relevance of the abstract to the topic of the volume. I hope to submit a draft of the entire volume to publishers by spring 2012. If you are interested in the topic, and can commit to that rough timeline, please send a CV and 400-500 abstract by September 5 to:
Russell Cobb