'Perspectives on authenticity in the representation of classical music in contemporary fiction'

Capulet, Emilie (2019) 'Perspectives on authenticity in the representation of classical music in contemporary fiction'. In: Representing 'Classical Music' in the Twenty-First Century Network Event, 2 Sep 2019, Exeter University.

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“Authenticity will be the buzzword of the twenty-first century.”
(Michael Crichton, Timeline, 1999)

Never more than today has the search for authenticity been headline news. It affects our political choices (Shane, 2018), the music we listen to (Peterson, 1997; Speers, 2017; Barker and Taylor, 2007; Dolan, 2010), the artwork we appreciate (Benjamin, 1969; Jenson, 1994), the food we eat (Zukin, 2008), the holidays we go on (Reisinger and Steiner, 2006) and the way we portray our lives on social media (Salisbury and Pooley, 2017). In fiction, authenticity is, for obvious reasons, a more problematic concept, and we find that authenticity is not just linked to notions of plausibility (Stoltzfus, 1988), realism (Funk et al, 2012) and historical accuracy (Brantly, 2017), but it raises the issue of a particular understanding of the text in relation to the figure of the author (Gunning, 2012), or what Ana María Sánchez-Arce has argued is "the discourse or grand narrative that legitimizes knowledge on the grounds of it originating from essential identity characteristics or subjectivities" (2007: 143). Authenticity is felt when in the author’s personal voice, we recognize our own unique individuality, often within a community of individuals who share that same narrative. For this reason, authenticity is strongly linked to the notions of identity and common shared values. Speaking about authenticity in the performance of popular music songs, Allan Moore has argued that “authenticity of expression [...] arises when the originator (composer, performer) succeeds in conveying the impression that her utterance is one of integrity, that it represents an attempt to communicate unmediated form with an audience” (2002: 214). In other words, if we trust the legitimizing framework of a shared perception of an artist’s artistic sincerity and their integrity as a story-teller, we consider their voice as being authentic, even if the work itself is an artificial construct.
Authenticity is a concept which plays a significant theoretical role in two particular artistic areas: transnational and transcultural writing (cf. Dagnino, 2012; Brantly, 2017) and musical performance. As musicologist Richard Taruskin has argued, authenticity “is knowing what you mean and whence comes that knowledge. And more than that, even, authenticity is knowing what you are, and acting in accordance with that knowledge” (1984: 3). Moving away from the objective reality/authenticity correlation of the positivist approach which searches for (an elusive) truth within the work itself, from a constructivist point of view, authenticity will be found at the crossroads of subjectivity and social networks. Within this context, in the words of Allan Moore, “in acknowledging that authenticity is ascribed to, rather than inscribed in, a performance, it is beneficial to ask who, rather than what, is being authenticated by that performance” (2002: 220).
Contemporary novelist, Booker Prize and Nobel Prize winner, Kazuo Ishiguro is considered to be a transnational/transcultural author (Walkowitz, 2007), and one who is profoundly musical. He once said that:

“I used to see myself as some sort of musician type but there came a point when I thought: actually, this isn’t me at all. I’m much less glamorous. I’m one of these people with corduroy jackets with elbow patches. It was a real comedown.” (2015)

Here, Ishiguro is arguing that the authentic Ishiguro is fundamentally musical - having only rejected the craft (or “glamour”) of the musician (music’s inauthenticity) to keep the essence of music within his writing. So doing, his musical inspiration serves to validate the authenticity of his writer’s voice, and also serves to affirm the notion that music is intrinsically authentic as a true representation of our subjectivity and emotions.
In this presentation, I will be focussing on Ishiguro’s five short stories, Nocturnes, subtitled ‘Fives Stories of Music and Nightfall’, published in 2009, and the way in which he creates a correlation between the musical experiences featured in the stories and his character’s ambivalent relation with concepts of authenticity and identity. I will be arguing that Ishiguro is challenging the traditional representation of classical music by placing it within a popular music framework and using authenticity to blur the traditional distinctions between art cultures. Whilst Ishiguro offers us a mise-en-scène of musical practices/authenticities within the fictional worlds he is creating, he is also encoding the authenticity of his own voice within a metanarrative on artistic creation understood as musical performance.


Barker, H. and Taylor, Y. (2007) Faking it: the quest for authenticity in popular music. New York: Norton.

Brantly, S. (2017) The Historical Novel, Transnationalism, and the Postmodern Era: Presenting the Past. Abingdon: Routledge.

Benjamin, W. (1969) The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, In: Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt, transl. Harry Zohn, from the 1935 essay. New York: Schocken Books.

Dagnino, A. (2012) ‘Transcultural Writers and Transcultural Literature in the Age of Global Modernity.’ Transnational Literature Vol. 4 no. 2

Dolan, E. I. (2010). ‘“…This little ukulele tells the truth”: Indie pop and kitsch authenticity.’ Popular Music, 29(3), 457–469.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Lecture)
Additional Information: Project title: "Representing 'Classical Music' in the Twenty-First Century" (AHRC Research Network)
Subjects: Literature
Depositing User: Emilie Capulet
Date Deposited: 05 Nov 2019 20:47
Last Modified: 28 Aug 2021 07:11
URI: https://repository.uwl.ac.uk/id/eprint/6513

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