The concept of authenticity contains that of the author, in the sense of originator. Something is authentic when it touches the act of original creation, a point conventionally located in the past. Landscapes or traditions are seen as authentic if they have remained largely unchanged since their emergence. A work of art, let’s say a painting by Rembrandt, is considered authentic if it can be proved to have been directly and physically worked by the artist and thereafter left unchanged. This essentialist definition of authenticity reflects two things. First, a culture that organizes questions of meaning via physical objects, and for which the historical placing of these objects is therefore of particular importance. Second, the difficulty of preserving physical objects, given the entropy of time, the effects of war and destruction, and their continual deterioration and re-utilization in changing historical contexts. Surviving all these things and remaining authentic is rare, and therefore significant.
Under digital conditions, however, authenticity comes about completely differently. Central to the process is no longer the preservation of a genuineness derived from a material connection to the past, but rather the performative creation of new authenticity in the present. This change is evident both in the negotiation of meaning and the patterns of subjectivation.
The collective negotiation of meaning brings about culture. It comprises the sum of all the processes with which smaller or larger groups obtain a stable or fragile consensus about what for them is right and wrong, important and unimportant, beautiful and ugly, desirable and despicable, in short, how their members concretely want to live given the range of possibilities. Culture, as Egon Fridell observed, is the “wealth of problems,” the space beyond pure necessity. The negotiation of these problems is always in flow, at different speeds in different places, and never free from contradiction. Every apparent consensus creates winners and losers, and is questioned either implicitly or explicitly by the latter. This process can take place peacefully or violently.
The preconditions for this work today are no longer primarily characterized by the difficulty of preserving particularly significant material objects from historical erosion. What has come to the fore is the challenge of constructing meaningful coherences out of a chaotic, highly dynamic overabundance of signs. The problem arises here of the chaotic overflow destabilizing the meaning of the signs and their referential character. In contrast to a...
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