The Real Thing: Imitation and Authenticity in American Culture, 1880-1940

Overview

"In this classic study of the relationship between technology and culture, Miles Orvell demonstrates that the roots of contemporary popular culture reach back to the Victorian era, when mechanical replications of familiar objects reigned supreme and realism dominated artistic representation. Reacting against this genteel culture of imitation, a number of artists and intellectuals at the turn of the century were inspired by the machine to create more authentic works of art that were themselves "real things." The resulting tension between a culture ...

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Overview

"In this classic study of the relationship between technology and culture, Miles Orvell demonstrates that the roots of contemporary popular culture reach back to the Victorian era, when mechanical replications of familiar objects reigned supreme and realism dominated artistic representation. Reacting against this genteel culture of imitation, a number of artists and intellectuals at the turn of the century were inspired by the machine to create more authentic works of art that were themselves "real things." The resulting tension between a culture of imitation and a culture of authenticity, argues Orvell, has become a defining category in our culture.

The twenty@-fifth anniversary edition includes a new preface by the author, looking back on the late twentieth century and assessing tensions between imitation and authenticity in the context of our digital age. Considering material culture, photography, and literature, the book touches on influential figures such as writers Walt Whitman, Henry James, John Dos Passos, and James Agee; photographers Alfred Stieglitz, Walker Evans, and Margaret Bourke-White; and architect@-designers Gustav Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright.

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Explores the use of mechanical technology to create works of art that were part of, not merely representations of, reality, and argues that from this tension developed the categories of imitation and authenticity so important to our culture. Begins the series edited by Alan Trachtenberg. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
New Republic
A rich and complex study. It casts new and revealing light on the cultural transformations of the early 20th century. By focusing on the tensions between authenticity and imitation within artistic forms, Orvell provides a new and challenging context for understanding figures too easily subject to formulaic interpretation.
New York Times Book Review
This intriguing cross-cultural look at the material world examines the day and age of the facsimile: why we copy rather than 'create,' at one level; and at another, what is reality?
From the Publisher
Intriguing.

New York Times

Stippled with descriptive insights that will reward any reader interested in the . . . debate between copying and creating the 'real thing.

Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography

A rich and complex study. It casts new and revealing light on the cultural transformations of the early 20th century.

New Republic

A smoothly written, imaginatively researched study.

Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781469615363
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 8/25/2014
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 420
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 6.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Miles Orvell is professor of English and American studies at Temple University. He is the author of The Death and Life of Main Street: Small Towns in American Memory, Space, and Community.

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