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Archive for August, 2010

I’ve heard the word “authentic” thrown around as a goal since creative writing classes in college.  And one of the disturbing things about that class was discovering that dialogue well-nigh transcribed from actual events was not viewed as “authentic”.  So I have some sympathy for people who think that literary authenticity calls for some artifice, and can be amused by the comic strip Cat and Girl, where people who appeal to “the authentic” have to put coins in a jar, as if they were cursing in a household getting ready to have children.

It used to matter that luxury goods had all their hallmarks, so you could tell that x amount had really been spent to acquire an article of taste.  But for all the lawsuits of the genuine owners of copyright and producers of those snakeskin shoes or leather purses, or phallus-compensating wristwatches…….there are plenty of people eager to display the fakes and boast about the money they’re saving.  On the one hand, how exclusive is something that’s mass produced anyway? On the other hand, of course, we now have people trying to fake bespoke items, since that’s seen as the next new dragon to chase.

Authentic. The Real Deal. Exclusive. One of a kind. [I will point out that a great portion of the items proudly listed as OOAK should probably not have ever been even that widely available.  See Regretsy.com for details]. Original. Insightful. “What oft was thought, but ne’er so well expressed,” as Pope wrote.

Then we have this creature, who spliced together a “novel” of some sort, claiming it to be her own reflections on life:

The notion that there might be a new model young person, who freely borrows from the vortex of information to mash up a new creative work, fueled a brief brouhaha earlier this year with Helene Hegemann, a German teenager whose best-selling novel about Berlin club life turned out to include passages lifted from others.

Instead of offering an abject apology, Ms. Hegemann insisted, “There’s no such thing as originality anyway, just authenticity.”   — Trip Gabriel, New York Times: “Lines on Plagiarism Blur for Students in the Digital Age”

Okay, then you’re an authentic thief and a twit.  Happy now?  It seems to me that art culture — where people in the community are trained to read the influences in the works of art presented to them — is ahead of the game.  So is the culture of jazz: again, people are supposed to know the source texts and be able to appreciate the interplay of themes and variations.  When I learned the sounds of American song from the 20th century and learned a bit about patterns of variation, I could finally listen to jazz and not think of it as theme abuse. [I still, however, cannot stand listening to much Billie Holiday].

But what seems to be working for some visual and aural genres isn’t apparently working in textual domains.  Sometimes we attribute it to laziness, or sloppy thinking… I also think its a kind of dress-up — borrowing the pelts of powerful creatures out in the wild, hoping to camouflage themselves as adepts.  My response is often “Put that word down; you don’t know where it comes from!”  The more labor intensive version is to insist all references used are submitted with highlighting, as if part of a regulatory dossier.  It takes forever to get through the stuff, but it’s not a solution that can be scaled up easily.

Having said all that — I really ought to be illustrating this post with a picture of “real” peaches, the kind that make me believe there’s a reason for growing the things and then eating them.  We were up north at the end of last week, and managed to stop at a family orchard where a big basket of “seconds” was only $4.00, and contained at least 14 giant, incredibly ripe and juicy peaches.  We were dubious about the “seconds” billing — not the fruit wasn’t good, but that it looked too good to be in the bargain section.  “Seconds?  Really?”

The woman behind the counter loading baskets laughed. “Yes.  They’re really good though — those are the ones we eat!”  We could easily see why.  Let the outsiders desire perfection in appearance if they’re so willing to pay for that.

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