Preface to FORUM Issue 12: Authenticity

Tim Milnes


Like many ideas forged in the Enlightenment, ‘authenticity’ has lost much of its lustre. The product of an eighteenth-century culture fascinated with the past, with notions of origins, essences, and depths, it was endowed by twentieth-century existentialism with a numinous quality that many theorists saw as ripe for deconstruction. Indeed, the traditional rhetoric of authenticity is emphatically un-postmodern in its auratic essentialism and its concern, in the absence of rational foundations, to locate some kind of centre for what is genuine and real. Such metaphysical earnestness is apt to cause embarrassment today, which is perhaps why commentators not bent on dismantling the notion of the authentic have approached it with circumspection. Among these, Lionel Trilling, whose 1971 study Sincerity and Authenticity remains essential reading, worries that ‘authenticity,’ like ‘irony’ and ‘love,’ is ‘one of those words [...] which are best not talked about if they are to retain any force of meaning [...]’ (120). More recently, Geoffrey Hartman has conceded that ‘“Spirit” and “authenticity” are word concepts that cannot be saved from their own pathos. Perhaps we should not even try to sober them up’ (1). The temperate critic, it would seem, is well advised to handle authenticity with care.

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ISSN 1749-9771

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