‘Every now and then a critic or a reader writes to say that some character of mine declares things that are too modern, and in every one of these instances, and only in these instances, I was actually quoting fourteenth-century texts.’
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.
This Spring 2011 issue of FORUM aims to explore the notion of authenticity as it is deployed in a series of fictional, or fictionalising, works. Whether the concept is treated as an ideal, an impossibility, or an overarching apparatus, the articles chosen for inclusion share a concern with the role of ‘authenticity’ as an ambition or illusion which is consciously sought or employed within the creative process.
When Shakespeare’s Polonius declares: ‘This above all: to thine ownself be true’, he omits the complexity of the search for an authentic Self, simplifying it in distinct terms of ‘the night’ and ‘the day’ (Hamlet I.3.78-79). The image of the Self as a developing individual and psychological construct, however, is not so simple to define. Rather, it is a constructed image that gains legitimacy and recognition from a history of reinforced perspectives.
In a BBC Radio 4 programme broadcast on 26 April 2011 (Tales from the Digital Archive),1 archaeologist Christine Finn explored some of the ways in which the digital revolution has changed writers’ working methods, and the consequential impact that these have had on librarians, curators and conservators. Wendy Cope recently donated an archive of 40,000 emails to the British Library, providing scholars with invaluable material for research on drafts of her poems as they developed.
When, from one group to another, the plastic form [of the mask] is preserved, the semantic function is inverted. On the other hand, when the semantic function is retained, it is the plastic form that is inverted. -- Claude Levi-Strauss, The Way of the Masks
[The] emotions I perform through the mask (the false persona) that I adopt can in a strange way be more authentic and truthful than what I assume that I feel in myself. -- Slavoj Žižek, How to Read Lacan
The interview is a peculiar form. Ranging from good cop bad cop interrogations to Prime Minister’s Question Time to Plato’s dialogues to the chat show, the interview is multipurpose and pervades modern culture. The literary interview (a term which is used variously to refer to the interviewee, the content or the style of presentation) is so popular that one critic has complained that poets don’t write essays anymore, they give interviews (Bawer 424). Search “interview” in Project Muse or JSTOR and the hits number in the hundreds of thousands.
In one of the early scenes in the silent movie Borderline (1930), we see the barmaid (played by Charlotte Arthur), a supporting character and the one most closely associated with sensual pleasures, dance joyously and narcissistically to the tunes of the pianist. Striking is the way the barmaid's dance is presented: the images are insistently fragmentary. The camera does not linger on the body of the barmaid, refusing to offer it to the voyeuristic gaze of the viewer.