The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1940 (Cultural Studies of the United States)

The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1940 (Cultural Studies of the United States)

Miles Orvell

Language: English

Pages: 408

ISBN: 080784246X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


This is a perceptive study of the relationship between technology and culture. Orvell discusses Whitman and his world, then considers material culture, photography, and literature. Among the cultural figures discussed are writers Henry James, John Dos Passos, and James Agee; photographers Alfred Stieglitz and Margaret Bourke-White; and architect-designers Gustav Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright. A witty essay on the significance of junk in the 1930s concludes the book.

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technological base, by the conventional meanings attached to objects and actions, and by the vocabulary of concepts and words that serves as the interpretative context for experience. Singular events and the peculiarities of personal psychology certainly influence artists, but so do the gradual and nearly invisible social forces that are tied to our modes of production and our material culture. Yet while the artist is thus a product of the complex set of forces shaping all individuals in a given

by incorporating the significance of technology to all aspects of American life and arts—a significance that is often underestimated. In examining the interconnections between imitation and authenticity, I am looking at something that is, if not exclusively American, at least characteristically so; and I am looking at its peculiarly American twist, for in no other culture is the notion of "the real thing" so open a window into understanding. ^x^/' (0^ THE CONDITION OF FUTURE DEVELOPMENT This

these practices of limited deception continued into the twentieth century, with catalogue pages advertising "Our Genuine Pisani Stradivarius Model Violin" (for $45), or cameras that looked exactly like Kodaks and were manufactured in a factory pictured on the page and blazoned "Rochester." Only the the very attentive customer might see that the camera was made in Rochester, Minnesota, and not in George Eastman's New York town.42 (It seems not inconceivable that Sears established his camera

plunging in a "tumbling ocean." "There was nothing picturesque about it all, nothing heroic. It was unlike any pictures he had seen of lifeboat rescues, unlike anything he had ever imagined. It was all sordid, miserable, and the sight of the half-clad women, dirty, sodden, unkempt, stirred him rather to disgust than to pity."48 The discrepancy between conventional representation and reality is absolute; art has in no way prepared him for experience. Unable to escape the early influences of the

village in the Southeast, Dafen in Guangdong Province, where 8,000 artists produce original replicas of Western masterpieces for the mass market. (In China, copyright protection lasts for fifty years only.) What does it mean to produce "original" art in a country that has absorbed so completely the aesthetic traditions of the West? Gabriel Nada, "China: Hidden Village of Dafen produces 60% of World's Oil Paintings," http://

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