Our conversation in class on Monday night got me thinking about things like authenticity and how we construct our reality within the world. In particular I’m speaking to those civilizations that might have at one time called themselves “The West” (or in some cases may still call themselves “the West”). After that conversation and our brief stint into Open-Access in our first class (which I will touch on more in the following weeks, I’m certain), I have a feeling that our topics will have me running to Gramsci far more than I thought I would this semester. In focusing on any of these conceptions I think that it is somewhat wise to keep a semi-relativistic perspective on hand (when at all possible). There are numerous questions that are unanswered such as is it worth it to mitigate something’s authenticity via mass production or reproduction if it allows more people access to at least a simulacrum of the original – I’m sure Walter Benjamin would have had plenty to say.
To this I would reply by referring the reader to an article by Ross Bowden titled, “What is Wrong with Art Forgery?: An Anthropological Perspective,” published in The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 57, No. 3 (Summer, 1999): pgs 333-343 (available on JSTOR). Although our discussion did not consider forgery or its impact on authenticity, we approached authenticity as though we were essentialists acting as though it was some inherent truth possessed by the artifact in question. I would assert that we should be conscientious of the common-sensical nature of assertions such as these in the Gramscian sense (which is to say a truth that is readily accepted because it is never questioned rather than because it has some universal quality that imbibes it with “truth”). As Bowden points out in his article, the Kwoma People of New Guinea have a radically different conceptual approach to their “artworks” and structures (I use artworks in quotations only because that is how “the West” would qualify them, not how the Kwoma qualify them). Originality as it is perceived of in “the West” is completely foreign to them. Authenticity does not come from originality, but from a sort of use-value. In this way something new can be constructed to replace something old, and it inherits all of the “authenticity” of the original, while the “original” is consigned to the fire or the forest floor, devoid of meaning, a mere husk of what it once was.
That said, if we are prepared to recognize that our conceptions of notions like authenticity and originality are socially constructed, then how does our conversation about these things change? What questions become relevant? Even if we acknowledge the constructed nature of our interactions with the world, does that mean that they need to be altered? Should one construct be swapped out for another? In any event, I suppose these musings are more directly related to the fact that we seem to hone in on things that have been socially accepted without taking the time to recognize that just because they are conceptualized one way in a certain social consciousness does not mean that they hold true for another (more on that during the conversation on Open-Access).