Preface to FORUM Issue 12: Authenticity

  • Tim Milnes The University of Edinburgh


Like many ideas forged in the Enlightenment, ‘authenticity’ has lost much of its lustre. The product of an eighteenth-century culture fascinated with the past, with notions of origins, essences, and depths, it was endowed by twentieth-century existentialism with a numinous quality that many theorists saw as ripe for deconstruction. Indeed, the traditional rhetoric of authenticity is emphatically un-postmodern in its auratic essentialism and its concern, in the absence of rational foundations, to locate some kind of centre for what is genuine and real. Such metaphysical earnestness is apt to cause embarrassment today, which is perhaps why commentators not bent on dismantling the notion of the authentic have approached it with circumspection. Among these, Lionel Trilling, whose 1971 study Sincerity and Authenticity remains essential reading, worries that ‘authenticity,’ like ‘irony’ and ‘love,’ is ‘one of those words [...] which are best not talked about if they are to retain any force of meaning [...]’ (120). More recently, Geoffrey Hartman has conceded that ‘“Spirit” and “authenticity” are word concepts that cannot be saved from their own pathos. Perhaps we should not even try to sober them up’ (1). The temperate critic, it would seem, is well advised to handle authenticity with care.

Author Biography

Tim Milnes, The University of Edinburgh

Tim Milnes obtained his MA in English and Philosophy from St Andrews University (1992) and his DPhil from St Hugh's College, Oxford (1997). While still a doctoral student he was a Lecturer in English at Christ Church University College, Canterbury (1995-98).

From 1998 to 2001 he was British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at University College, Oxford. He has published articles on Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Jeremy Bentham, William Hazlitt, Percy Bysshe Shelley, William Wordsworth, and Charles Lamb, and is the author of Knowledge and Indifference in English Romantic Prose (Cambridge University Press, 2003), William Wordsworth: The Prelude (Palgrave, 2009) andThe Truth about Romanticism: Pragmatism and Idealism in Keats, Shelley, Coleridge (Cambridge University Press, 2010). He is the co-editor, with Kerry Sinanan, of Romanticism, Sincerity, and Authenticity(Palgrave, 2010) and is a consulting editor for the journal Hazlitt Studies.

How to Cite
Milnes, Tim. 2011. “Preface to FORUM Issue 12: Authenticity”. FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture & The Arts, no. 12 (June).
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