Authenticity is the abiding perversion of our times. It is indulged as a vice, worshipped as a fetish, embraced as a virtue. Like a deity it is pervasive, rapacious, and demanding: authenticity is the underwriter of history and culture, the guarantor of social legitimacy and personal integrity; it is the theorist of truth. Everything it touches turns to gold - or is at least burnished with a scrape of lustre - and in that sense it is the mark of genius, the Midas touch, the apotheosis of capitalism.

As a vehicle of thought and critical idiom, authenticity carries to the very heart of culture the aesthetics of Romantic authorship - the conceits of genius, creativity, and especially that of originality . . . in doing so it carries falsehood and fraudulence there as well. This is a straightforward ideological contradiction . . . that maintains the primacy of the authentic and so authenticity shimmers rather than falls. Hence the streets are packed with counterfeit goods; the galleries are replete with forged paintings and the archives threaded with fraudulent documents; copyright law is entranced by the worldwide web; a sheep is cloned (and neatly turns out to be a fake); resting actors find work posing as citizens on television chat shows, documentaries are revealed to be staged fictions or, perhaps worse, comedy shows; a troupe of imposters don clerical vestments and charitably cock their ears to confession; Faux Art is cooed over by faux women; prize-winning authors shrug off accusations of plagiarism; theme parks replace museums and the cinema rewrites history; credit card fraud is booming; and on the internet and elsewhere, everywhere, identities are blurred, swapped, falsified, multiplied, invented, dissolved.

The thirst for authenticity is nowise slaked by this superfluity of copies. Jeans and software now carry the same security measures as paper money - from signatures to holograms - false signs; artists make cults of themselves and register as trademarks; television turns to protracted fly-on-the-wall documentary soap operas; the issue-memoir becomes the degree-zero of literature, judged primarily not by quality of writing but by the truth of the writer's testimony; politicians cock-a-doodle-do their personal provenance to confirm policy and win votes.

In art criticism, the authentic becomes the synonym for taste . . .

from The Forger's Shadow : How Forgery Changed the Course of Literature, by Nick Groom (Picador, 2002), p 292-3


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