The New Yorker magazine seems to be fascinated these days by the politics of authenticity.Â Three times in the last month, the magazine has published long inquiries into counterfeiting and impersonation:
All three pieces share a fascination with what might be called “chattel fraud,” the public representation of a thing as something other than what it truly “is.”Â The recorded performances of “Joyce Hatto” (the persona) are not the performances of Joyce Hatto, the person.Â Oil is not oil.Â Wine of a specified provenance and ownership is not, in fact, that wine.
There remains the implicit question, not directly addressed:Â Why should this matter, if the quality of the product (the sound, the taste) matches our expectation and our cost?Â So long as we like the music and enjoy the wine, who cares? Â But of course we do care; the provenance of things matters enormously both culturally and economically.
Equally interesting is that two of the three — the work on Hatto, and the work on wine — are equally fascinated by the performative character of the work of the accused fraudster.Â For example:Â “The alchemy that transformed Joyce Hatto into â€œJoyce Hattoâ€ was, in its twisted way, a tour de force, a dazzling work of art, literally the performance of a lifetime.”
How far should we take the “romantic author” conceit?Â And how far should it take us?Â I like that sentence for its literary form; I’m not at all sure, however, that the author is correct.