Desperately Seeking Authenticity

Call for Papers

Desperately Seeking Authenticity

European Doctoral Seminar in Culture, Criticism, and Creativity
London, March 5 - 7, 2009


Registration by February 16 2009 to Kirsten Zeuthen ( Please include a short abstract of the paper to be presented.


‘It is beginning to be clear that the dominant cultural force of the century ahead won't just be global and virtual, but a powerful interweaving of opposites - globalization and localization, virtual and real'.

(David Boyle, Authenticity: Brands, Fakes, Spin and the Lust for Real Life, 2003)

Authenticity as a term should have died out long ago, possibly with Walter Benjamin's ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' (1936), but certainly with postmodernism and digitalisation, gene technology, plastic surgery and virtual reality.  What was felt with some regret by Benjamin three quarters of a century ago has been lamented a thousandfold over the past couple of decades. As thinkers like Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard told us over and over and over again during the closing years of the twentieth century, instead of simply reproducing the real through reproduction, ‘the real' was now fabricated from scratch. The real had become a creation rather than a reproduction, no longer dependent on the imitation of an original, but capable of producing absolutely closed and self-referential systems.

 Nevertheless, despite postmodernity and poststructuralism, digitalisation and globalisation, Dolly the Sheep and Deep Blue, Las Vegas and Dubai; despite all the evidence that the real, the natural and the original were no longer valid - or even very interesting terms - the quest for authenticity continues unabated to this day. It may in fact be stronger than ever, for in a world obsessed by the documentary film and the biography, by organic food and real travel, by the indigenous and the local, by subcultures and the politically correct kind of coffee brand, the authentic is undoubtedly alive and well. 

 The seminar aims to question the notion of authenticity in an interdisciplinary setting, partly to examine it as an abstract concept, partly to share our specific examples of the search for the authentic in its seemingly infinite guises. During our three days together, it will be our aim to create a common forum in which we can discuss notions of authenticity across the disciplines, and also to ask if there are such things as authentic disciplines. So as well as looking at the forms the search for the authentic takes in different disciplinary and creative contexts, we will ask if it is meaningful to think in terms of remaining ‘true' to our discipline while continuing to acknowledge the ‘authenticity' of other disciplines.

 From James Macpherson's Ossian (1760) over Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines (1987), from The Blair Witch Project (1999) to Cloverfield (2008), from Facebook over Youtube, from tourist travel in the Canary Islands to adventure tours in the Antarctic, from Naomi Klein's No Logo (2000) to William Gibson's Pattern Recognition (2003), Charles Saatchi over Damien Hirst, from the Berggren brothers (Jakriborg) to Peter Eisenman, the mockumentary to the most realist of documentaries, Seasick Steve over Sandi Thom to Tay Zonday, the concept of authenticity is a surprisingly resilient and many headed hydra that seems to grow two new heads each time one head is cut off.

Questions of interest:

Is authenticity a valid and useful concept?

How do we authenticate the authentic?

Is authenticity what it always was, or does it have different implications and drives in a post-postmodern world?

Is authenticity reactionary? Does it enforce essentialism that should (and may) rightfully be undermined by hybridity and deterritorialization?

And why, if the former is the case, do people hold on to the notion of authenticity?