Interdisciplinary Reading Group on Authenticity

The clever folk talk in endless circles and congratulate themselves on being so untouched by passion.
But since when did the clever folk ever know anything?
Sometimes things are as simple as they seem.
It’s as much about instinct as it is about intellect
And if you feel it, it’s alive.
Kae Tempest, ‘These things I know’, Hold Your Own (2014)

A yearning for – or claim to provide – ‘authentic connection’ offers a nebulous but seemingly ubiquitous touchstone in diverse ways for contemporary artists, writers, readers and audiences. This reading group is the result of numerous encounters in our research with this diffuse concept, and of our need to define, interrogate and problematise claims to ‘authentic connection’ between texts and readers, bodies, and past and present. The construction of such idealised and selective affinities as ‘authentic’ is implicated in an often fraught discursive web that we would like to tease apart in collaborative discussion.

Having previously approached these concepts from a classics background, we more usually encounter the term in so-called ‘authentic’ replications of ancient dress, sound, voice etc. – an attempt to capture the synaesthetic experiences of the illusory property we term ‘classical antiquity’.  By its very nature this definition of the ‘authentic’ will always be a highly subjective one. What we are interested in examining here, however, is whether it is possible to identify a broader convergence of factors that contribute to the construction of an ‘authentic’ quality operating beyond disciplinary boundaries. We might consider where that authentic quality starts and if there is a pattern to the contexts and anxieties in which it finds itself enmeshed. Can it be associated with ‘liveness’, for instance, or extricated from poststructuralist debates about an understanding of objective ‘reality’? What if, as in some readings, the authentic can dwell in the ‘other’, the psychotic, the post-critical – how then are we to identify and engage with it? What are its implications under late-stage capitalism, where ‘authentic selves’ are packaged up and sold to us under multiple guises?  We might think we know the authentic when we see it, but what is it that we’re looking at?

For each week, we warmly encourage you to bring ideas and experiences from your own disciplines (any level of study welcome) so we can explore each theme from a holistic perspective. If you are interested in supplying a text to read for any particular week, or being one of our guest presenters, do get in touch.

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