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is clear that the derailed self or humanity cannot possibly redefine itself, let alone choose the values of humanity. It is incorrect to assume that any sort of meaningful definition of what is human will rise up from the rubble of technologies. A definition is not conceived by genetic engineering, modern medicine and computer technologies , even less by some decree, though the resulting new conditions compel us to think about human nature in a new way. The new way, paradoxically , is following the track we have built culturally and historically. Integrating creatively a fact about our nature as it gets discovered is the necessary first step in extending the tract for a constructive future. What then is the unprecedented 'malleable' humanness? Neither gene splicing nor unprecedented mobility, neither geriatric longevity nor comfort and ease provided by technological gadgetry, have changed human mortality and creativity (perhaps the other side of mortality). To survive and remain human is to survive creatively. THE REAL THING: IMITATION AND AUTHENTICITY IN AMERICAN CULTURE, 1880-1940 by Miles Orvel. Univ. of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC, U.S.A., 1989.382 pp., illus. Paper, $14.95, Trade, $37.50. ISBN: 0-80784246 -X, ISBN: 0-8078-1837-2. Reviewed by David Pariser, Concordia University, 167 Dufferin Road, Hampstead , Quebec H3X 2Y2, Canada. To those of us who are avid drinkers ofa certain well-known beverage, the phrase 'the real thing' is linked by Pavlovian chains to the pause that refreshes. It turns out that the idea of 'the real thing' goes back a lot further in American culture than the invention of a drink heavily laced with a South American stimulant. Miles Orvel has written an engrossing book that deals with the dual concepts of authenticity and imitation as two central themes in American culture. He looks at the period of time spanning the late Victorian era and the early 1940s. He claims that the twin stars of authenticity and imitation have been the principle reference points by which American architects, designers, photographers and authors have charted their courses. As representative of all of the arts, Orvel has elected to look at three areas of creative activity: material culture (architecture , design, household furnishing), photography and literature. The three areas of artistic endeavour represent successively smaller and more elite audiences. Thus, as Orvel points out, he is able to trace the influence of the twin ideas at successively more rarified levels of artistic performance and reception. Orvel wants to demonstrate how the shift from imitation to authenticity made itself felt in realms as different as furniture design, photography and poetry. Orvel does not make an argument for an 'evolutionary' process. He does not hold a brief for the 'inevitability' or the superiority of authenticity or imitation. Neither of these aesthetic values is seen as an ultimate telos towards which American cultural history is striving. Orvel mentions throughout the book that in some cultural scenes and with some audiences, the artistic value of imitation and 'realism' has not been superceded by the concern for authenticity. As he says, "the 19th century culture of imitation continues into the 20th century (through the present, in fact) as a main current in pop culture" (p. xx). Orvel presents what he calls a synchronic view of an evolving aesthetic sensibility. In doing so, he touches simultaneously on each of the three fields of artistic endeavour that he has chosen to study. If Orvel does have a scheme for the history of the aesthetic zeitgeist, it is the following: the late nineteenth century Orvel identifies as a culture of imitation, the early twentieth century as one of authenticity , and the present period as a culture of facticity. But, this being said, it is evident on every page that Orvel does not believe that his descriptive scheme is true of the whole culture, for at any given time, as he points out, countervailing aesthetic positions also flourish. The most succinct way of giving a sense of what this book is about (and it is crammed with many diverse things) is to list the part and chapter titles: Part I: The Condition of Future Development has Chapter I, Whitman 's Transformed Eye. Part 2...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9282
Print ISSN
0024-094X
Pages
pp. 97-98
Launched on MUSE
2017-01-04
Open Access
No
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