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Insofar as literature is defined negatively, by what it is not, censorship has had a determining role in its historical constitution. Contemporary scholarship emphasizes the dynamic interplay between literary expression and forms of cultural regulation, recognizing its paradoxically productive capacity to generate as well as suppress meaning. At the same time, accounting for censorship’s role in the history of the world’s literature means coming to grips with the often brutal repression, prohibition, and persecution of writing, writers, performance, and cultural producers by sovereign power underwritten by violence. Tracing the genealogies of literary censorship, from its formulations in ancient Rome, through medieval religious persecution, sedition and heresy charges, theatre controls, early modern print and copyright licensing, to the seeming breakthroughs of the Enlightenment, details the interdependence of modernity and cultural regulation. At stake in this history are defining relations between culture and society, knowledge and power, not least in the manner in which literature traverses the boundary between public and private, and censorship polices that divide. The art-for-art’s-sake defense, which separates the literary from what is offensive—nominally from obscenity, pornography, libel, blasphemy, and sedition and effectively from politics, intimacy, and the real—stumbles and fails in the face of culture’s variant aims and readers’ differing pleasures. And the state’s use of the law to enforce its role as a custosmorum has placed not only art in opposition to the law, as Gustave Flaubert saw, but also culture in opposition to morality, when the state becomes the modern arbiter of culture’s social and political roles. The available frames for understanding censorship, from liberal, materialist, psychoanalytic, linguistic, and poststructuralist positions, face challenges from diversifying and yet synthesizing situations for literature in a global world.
Maritza E. Cárdenas
The use of the term “Central American” as an identity category is neither new nor restricted to the US diaspora. However, it is within the last forty years and in the geopolitical setting of the United States that a thriving identity politics has developed. It is during this time period that the use of the term Central American has emerged to denote a tactical American pan-ethnic social identity. This act of consciously employing the term “Central American” as a unification strategy for peoples from the isthmus in the United States echoes other US-based ethnoracial identity politics. Such movements often utilize a pan-ethnic term not only to advocate on the behalf of a racialized minoritarian community but also seeking to provide them a space of belonging by focusing on sociopolitical, cultural, and ethnic commonalities. As other identity markers in the United States such as “Asian American” and “African American” illustrate, Central Americans are not the first population to utilize a region as a strategic unifying term of self-identification. Yet, unlike these other US ethnoracial categories, for those who identify as “Central American” the term “Central America” often connotes not simply a geographic space but also a historical formation that advances the notion that individuals from the isthmus comprise a distinct but common culture. Another key difference from other US ethnoracial identities is that use of the term “Central American” in US cultural politics emerged during a historical era where the broader collective terms “Hispanic” or “Latino” were already in place. The creation and deployment of “Central American” is therefore an alternative to this other supra-ethnic identity category, as subjects view this isthmian-based term as being able to simultaneously create a broader collective while still invoking a type of geographic and cultural specificity that is usually associated with national identities.
Yajaira M. Padilla
Central American-American feminisms have come into existence within the recent span of the late 20th to early 21st century as communities of Central Americans have become more established within the United States and multiple generations of US Central American women have come of age. Central American-American feminisms are conceived of in a collective fashion and share some general characteristics. However, they are also characterized by their heterogeneity, reflecting the diversity of US Central American women and their emergent feminist politics. Among the key influences that have helped shaped Central American-American feminisms are women of color or Third World women feminisms. The theory making and feminist praxis that form the basis of Central American-American feminisms register many of the central tenets of the latter, including an emphasis on intersectionality and the notion of shared struggles against broader systems of dominations among women and peoples of color. Within the scope of these broader women of color feminist influences, Chicana feminisms have been particularly important, partly due to the cohabitation of US Central American and Mexican American/Chicano communities in areas such at the US Southwest. In as much as US Central American women identify with Chicana feminist paradigms and experiences of oppression, they also disidentify with them, responding with their own sense of US Central American feminist politics and paradigms that draw on their Central American roots and diasporic experiences.
In keeping with their transnational or transisthmian nature and sensibilities, Central American-American feminisms also bear the imprint of the histories of oppression and resistance and of migration of Central American women. Indeed, such histories, and the ongoing struggles tied to them, are understood within US Central American feminist politics as ones that remain inherently linked to those of women in the Central American diaspora. This helps to explain why diasporic experiences and issues related to the legacies and traumas of war, transnational migration and family separation, intergenerational relationships between mothers and daughters, and notions of identity and belonging are prominent within Central American-American feminisms. Such issues and experiences are integral aspects of the everyday lives of US Central American women, immigrants and subsequent generations alike, and, as such, are foundational to US Central American feminist politics.
The literature and cultural production, as well as scholarship, of US Central American women, both feminist and not, has been instrumental to the cultivation and emergence of Central American-American feminisms. Looking to such texts provides a useful means of helping to define what Central American-American feminisms are and to make discernible their general characteristics and limitations, the US and Central American-based influences that have shaped them, and the issues that drive them. Many of these works also push back against the multiple mechanisms and structures that have silenced multiple generations of Central American women in and outside of the isthmus. In this sense, such works do more than just offer fertile ground for exploring many key dimensions of Central American-American feminisms. They also constitute an example of US Central American feminist praxis.
Francisco A. Lomelí
Eusebio Chacón was a Mexican American (sometimes referred to as Chicano) figure who straddled the late 19th and early 20th centuries. He is someone who was forgotten and overlooked for about eighty years within the annals of Southwestern literature. He resurfaced in the mid-1970s as a key missing link in what is now called Chicano literature, at a time when its literary lineage was blurry and unknown. He was, therefore, instrumental in allowing critics to look back into the dusty shelves of libraries to identify writers who embodied the Mexican American experience within specific moments in history. Both his person and his writings provide an important window into subjects that interfaced with identity, literary formation and aesthetics, and social conditions, as well as how such early writers negotiated a new sense of Americanism while retaining some of their cultural background. Eusebio Chacón stands out as an outstanding example of turn-of-the-century intelligence, sensibility, versatility, and historical conscience in his attempts to educate people of Mexican descent about their rightful place in the United States as writers, social activists, and cultural beings. He fills a significant void that had remained up to the mid-1970s, which reveals how writings by such Mexican American writers were considered marginal.
First known as a kephalaion in Greek, capitulum or caput in Latin, the chapter arose in antiquity as a finding device within long, often heterogenous prose texts, prior even to the advent of the codex. By the 4th century
Character is a property of narrative and discursive textuality, even as it is also a moral and ethical category referring to individual and collective norms of behavior and motive. This double valence has affected the concept since Aristotle and Plato first began the unfinished, centuries-long project of literary theory. On the one hand, stemming from Aristotle, there has been a tradition of formalist conceptions of character, understanding it as a device used by writers to drive narrative momentum and effect transformations within the discourse. The domain of action, and its variously entailed reactions and consequences, was thought to belong to the agents of narrative discourse by rights, while what was generally called their “character” typically concerned the incidental qualifications and explanations of their actions in speech and thought. Once that distinction is made, however, there are smaller and smaller units into which agency can logically be subdivided, and more and more arbitrary and capricious qualities of character used to flesh out an abstract narratological principle. The histories of formalism, structuralism, and poststructuralism attest to this labor of specialization and fissiparous subdivision of the bound concepts of agent and character. On the other hand, stemming from Plato, we see a centuries-long interest in the mutually interactive relations between imaginary persons, or fictional selves, and the fashioning of public or social selves in regimes of education and discipline. The question of the role of literary characters in the formation of good citizens, or indeed delinquent ones, is one that refuses to go away, since it has proven impossible to separate fiction from reality in the complex processes of self-fashioning through which every subject must go. One last matter of interest has exerted more theoretical influence over the concept in recent years, and that is the topic of affects: the qualities and intensities of human feelings can be seen to have had a major bearing on the writing and elaboration of fictional beings, and vice versa, at least since the late 19th century.
In his memoir Writing Was Everything (1995), Alfred Kazin describes meeting John Cheever for the first time. The occasion was a 1937 party hosted by the New Republic magazine for contributors under the age of twenty-five. Kazin was impressed by the ease with which Cheever maneuvered around the room. They were both struggling young writers but very different in personality. As Kazin stammered around the periphery, the short and slight Cheever took over the party, as lithe in movement as Fred Astaire and bubbling with pleasure as he charmed everyone with his wit and cleverness. He seemed to possess an inborn social confidence.
Robert M. Dowling
America's first great black novelist, Charles W. Chesnutt, was a mixed-race, middle-class political moderate. He spent much of his life, both as a child and an adult, in northern cities and southern towns, particularly in Ohio and North Carolina. He was a product of the industrial Gilded Age and of agrarian Reconstruction, an author who fused tradition with new forms, realism with romance, ancient mythology with African-American folklore, and love stories with the law. “I am neither fish, flesh, nor fowl,” Chesnutt confessed in 1881, “neither ‘nigger,’ white, nor ‘buckrah.’ Too ‘stuck-up’ for the colored folks, and, of course, not recognized by the whites.” Chesnutt, who wrote during the period that in 1931 he called “Post-Bellum, Pre-Harlem,” falls in between most American group identities. That station simultaneously equipped him as a realist, hobbled his ability to achieve an authentic social affiliation, and made him one of the most intriguing representatives of his period. As William Dean Howells wrote of Chesnutt's work in the context of the American race-writing tradition:
The “Chicago Renaissance,” as it is called, can be regarded as a cheerfully inexact moniker for the simple reason that a city like nineteenth-century Chicago, with no literary past to speak of, would have had none to revive in a “renaissance” either. Yet Chicago did compel a surge of new and unprecedented literary activity from a varied corps of writers beginning in the 1890s and lasting through the 1920s. These writers wrote in Chicago, they wrote of Chicago, and whatever they wrote was shaped somehow by the city. In their turn, the poets and novelists of the Chicago Renaissance gradually worked a change on the local and national literary landscape. Their city, described in 1914 by Theodore Dreiser as “a maundering yokel with an epic in its mouth,” led them all to scribble toward an epic that would fit their own sense of style, scale, and literary destiny. From Dreiser the monumental realist to Edgar Lee Masters the free-verse elegist, from L. Frank Baum the pop American allegorist to Harriet Monroe the poetry magnate, the protagonists of the “renaissance” relied on Chicago to twist their pens and turn their pages.
The Chicana/o gang story begins with the literary appearance of the pachuco/a figure in newspapers, rumors, gossip, and the vernacular and folkloric imaginations of Mexicans, Chicanas/os and Anglos from El Paso, Tejas, to East Los Angeles and even Fowler, California, in such works as Beatrice Griffith’s American Me (1948) and José Montoya’s “El Louie” (1972). It evolves to include tell-all stories by former Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia members, who detail their disenchantments with these pinto organizations and the very real dangers they represent. Complementing these literary representations of the pachuco and the cholo figure is Hollywood’s cinematic rendering of them in early Chicana/o gang stories, such as Kurt Neuman’s The Ring (1952), and in later films, such as Taylor Hackford’s Blood In, Blood Out (1993). Despite the different narrative forms, all these gang stories, with few exceptions, operate as cautionary tales of lives wasted away in gang membership. Some stories moralize; others simply seek to render a realist representation of gang life without judgment; still others seek to contextualize gang membership in complex ways to subtextually call for addressing the root causes of these “social problems.”
Most of these narratives fall into one of two primary ideological camps. The first is the dominant camp; it seeks to represent gang life as deviant and destructive and functions to socialize Chicanos/as through these cautionary tales. The second is the insurgent camp, in which gang members represent themselves as products of the socioeconomic conditions of the barrio; it therefore relies heavily on understanding gang life as part of a barriocentric vernacular capitalism that renders those stories inherently valuable.
The result of the first camp’s lens is that Chicana/o gang fiction (that which is represented by outsiders and non-gang members) and other fictionalized gang narratives often rely on oversimplified snippets or sketches of life in the barrio. They thus create inauthentic, one-dimensional, or stereotypical representations of Chicana/o gang members and the barrio itself. This leads to the continued barrioization (Villa) of Chicana/o life and Chicanas/os themselves. Most mainstream Hollywood Chicana/o gang films reproduce these logics. In fact, the majority of Hollywood Chicano gang films are set in East Los Angeles or the “greater Eastside”—an area that includes Northeast Los Angeles, Echo Park, Boyle Heights, and the unincorporated area of Los Angeles east of the Los Angeles River. What this means is that East Los Angeles remains Hollywood’s localized “heart of darkness.”
By contrast, the second ideological camp relies on lived experience or what I term a “barrio-biographics” that privileges the barrio as the site of and cultural foundation for the gang member’s narrative and her or his epistemological and ontological formation, creating a “barriological” framework (Villa). These barrio-biographics are the core literary forces that drive authentic Chicana/o gang stories. It should also be noted, however, that pinta/o narratives differ from Chicana/o street gang narratives in that pinta/o narratives foreground the experience of imprisonment and the author’s or main character’s interactions with the carceral state as an added layer of their own epistemological and ontological formations in the barrio.
Chicana/o gang narratives, broadly defined to include pinta/o stories and gang films, operate as cautionary tales but also as tales of coming into a “complete literacy,” as Luis J. Rodríguez would describe it. This complete literacy, in turn, allows Chicana/o gang members to articulate their own lives and choices, and complicates any impulse to moralize or render Chicana/o gang figures simply as “deviants.” Thus these Chicana/o gang figures and their narratives remain part of a history of real, realist, and fictive representations of themselves in the American imagination that provides them the space to contest their own cultural significations. Overall, some narratives celebrate and glamorize the Chicana/o gang figure as a revolutionary in the fight against white supremacy, while others that see this figure as regressive, violent, and, arguably, equally oppressive.
“Language,” Loren Eiseley wrote, “implies boundaries. A word spoken creates a dog, a rabbit, a man. It fixes their nature before our eyes.” What does well for a rabbit or a man, however, is inadequate for literature. The phrase “children's book” resembles a tent, baggy and capacious, containing all kinds of writing and drawing. For some critics, any book a child reads or plays with is a children's book. A Golden Touch and Feel book, Dorothy Kunhardt's Pat the Bunny, is for preschoolers. The “reader” imitates the characters Judy and Tom as they touch things. While Judy pats an illustrated bunny, the child touches a piece of cotton. After Paul smells flowers in an illustration, the reader sniffs a scented page. For children slightly more advanced are “Board Books,” small books whose pages are thick as cardboard to resist rough handling; Sandra Boynton's books are an example. At the other intellectual extreme are books read by precocious children. If a child reads John Steinbeck's East of Eden in the fifth grade, can the book be classified as a children's book? Or should it simply be labeled “extraordinary reading”?
The 19th century featured two opposed yet interconnected historical trends: the growth of a multigenerational and deeply rooted Chinese American community; and the development of the cultural prejudices and fears comprised by the Yellow Peril narrative. Those xenophobic fears produced violence, social and political movements, and legal exclusions, culminating in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and its many follow-up laws and policies, all designed as much to destroy the existing Chinese American community as to restrict future immigration. But out of that period of exclusion and oppression came some of the first Chinese American literary and cultural works published in both Mandarin/Cantonese and English: the personal and collective poems carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station by detainees; auto-ethnographic memoirs of Chinese American life and community such as Yung Wing’s My Life in China and America (1909); and the journalistic, autobiographical, and fictional works of Edith Maude Eaton/Sui Sin Far, the first Chinese American professional creative writer. These works both reflect and transcend the realities of the Exclusion era, helping contemporary audiences understand those histories, connect them to later Chinese American writers, and analyze the exclusionary debates and proposals of the early 21st century.
Asians in the West Indies are primarily migrants and their descendants from either South Asia or China. The representation of the Chinese in West Indian fiction is integrally connected to the specific development of the region. Indeed, to consider the role that the Chinese play in West Indian fiction is to engage, more generally, in the act of imaginatively locating the West Indies. Despite the fact that numerically, they have always held a marginal status in the region, the Chinese are very much present in West Indian literary landscapes. The recurring representations of the Chinese and Chineseness in such fiction are intimately tied to locating the metaphorical and discursive contours of the West Indies and of West Indians. In this context, depictions of the Chinese in West Indian literary texts tend to follow three lines of representation: (1) defining the region as an exotic “other place”; (2) negotiating the boundaries of West Indian belonging; and (3) complicating settled narratives of West Indian identity.
Katherine O'Flaherty Chopin is best remembered for her novel The Awakening, which was greeted by popular critics as scandalous when it appeared in 1899. The controversy centered around the main female character's dissatisfaction with married life and her romantic attraction to a younger man. Chopin, however, was never one to be bound by convention and had been raised and educated by a series of headstrong women. Her outlook granted her a freedom to write without an internalized social censor; however, society was not yet ready for her work.
Troy J. Bassett
Beginning in the 18th century and continuing throughout the 19th century, circulating libraries became an integral part of the literary marketplace as the chief means of distributing books. Subscribers paid an annual or per-book fee to rent volumes: during the Victorian period, the typical subscription rate was one guinea (21s) per year to borrow one volume at a time. The relatively high price of books made circulating libraries an economical means for many middle-class families to access books: for less than the price of one three-volume novel (one-and-a-half guineas, or 31s 6d), a subscriber could borrow dozens if not more volumes. Hundreds of circulating libraries existed during the Victorian period, but the two largest were Mudie’s Select Library (1842–1937) and W. H. Smith and Son’s Subscription Library (1860–1961). Mudie’s, headquartered in London, had upwards of 50,000 subscribers, established branches in other major cities, and shipped books around the world. W. H. Smith added a library department to its pre-existing network of railway bookstalls with larger branches in major cities. Between them, Mudie’s and W. H. Smith became the largest purchasers of books and thereby had a direct and indirect effect on Victorian literature. In particular, the three-volume novel system—whereby the high price limited sales to the libraries who then had a monopoly on new fiction—encouraged British readers to become book borrowers instead of book buyers. The format of the three-volume novel led to certain generic conventions influencing areas such as characterization, plot, and style, which remained until the format was abolished in 1894. Since the libraries, especially Mudie’s and W. H. Smith, largely controlled the distribution of literature, they often exerted an informal censorship on literature which some authors, such as George Moore, advocated against.
José F. Buscaglia-Salgado
Mulataje is a neologism, reclaimed in 2003 in Undoing Empire: Race and Nation in the Mulatto Caribbean by José F. Buscaglia-Salgado. Prior to this reclamation, the term was used sparingly and in a very limited way to refer to “racial mixing” in societies that were predominantly composed of Afro- and Euro-descendants in the Caribbean and Brazil. As such it was simply an adaptation and a synonym of mestizaje, used in the context of the Afro-diasporic populations of the Atlantic World.
Conceptually reformulated, in its current acceptation, mulataje identifies a counterhegemonic culture that, since the earliest times in modernity, has moved against all colonialist calculations aimed at the possibility of moving beyond and leaving behind all things racial. As a most fundamental practice of being and of knowing informing individual self-conception and social action in the modern colonial world, mulataje speaks to the movements, great and small, individual and collective, that have attempted to outmaneuver all racial codes and racialist conventions as they have informed the distribution of labor and the allocation of natural resources and political rights past and present. Ultimately, the movement of mulataje points to the possibility of dethroning race as a valid and privileged category of knowledge.
Olga L. Herrera
Sandra Cisneros is one of the best-known and most influential Chicana authors in American literature. Beginning with her first chapbook publication in 1980, the poetry collection Bad Boys, Cisneros has written and published fiction, poetry, and essays with a distinct Chicana feminist consciousness. Drawing on her experience as an only daughter in a large Mexican American family, Cisneros challenges patriarchal hierarchies in Latino/a culture in her work, as well as those grounded in race, class, and gender in US culture more generally. As part of a larger Chicana feminist intellectual critique of gender roles within Latino/a culture, Cisneros’s fiction and poetry examine the social roles for women in marriage and motherhood and identify the archetypal figures of the Virgin of Guadalupe, La Malinche, and La Llorona as sources of oppression within discourse and practice. Innovative in form and language, her work explores the influence of these figures on the lives of women and imagines new, more liberating possibilities in the recuperation of their agency, self-determination, and independence. Cisneros joins this revisionary work with one of her primary thematic concerns, the Chicana writer’s need to break with cultural expectations in order to establish herself and develop her talents. Her innovations in genre and language, such as the hybrid poetic prose used in The House on Mango Street, demonstrate formally the results of a Chicana feminist resistance to class-inflected literary conventions. From the publication of The House on Mango Street (1984) through the poetry collections My Wicked Wicked Ways (1987) and Loose Woman (1994) and the short story collection Woman Hollering Creek (1991), to the publication of Caramelo or Puro Cuento (2002) and her book of essays, A Home of My Own (2014), Cisneros explores with depth and compassion the struggles of Latina women to break down patriarchal conventions and create for themselves a space for self-expression and creativity.
In 1898, U.S. imperialism spread beyond the continent’s borders and took possession of Puerto Rico during the Spanish–American War. This began the repeated waves of migration from the island to the mainland. In New York City (the main destination, along with Chicago), Puerto Ricans settled in East Harlem and the South Bronx, while the Lower East Side became the immigrant neighborhood par excellence. Adaptation strategies, common to previous immigrant communities, ensued, especially regarding the urban context and the reinvention of spaces. During the 1960s, authors such as Piri Thomas or Pedro Juan Soto began to narrate this complex experience, always in an unsteady balance between Puerto Rico and the United States. This first phase of literary output culminated the following decade (a period of deep economic and social crisis) in the so-called Nuyorican Experience, where “nuyorican” stands for “New York Puerto Rican”—a neologism that sums up the community's condition of “divided self” and defines the social and cultural horizon of a new generation of artists. In their works, poet-performer Pedro Pietri and writer Nicholasa Mohr expressed their peculiar view and sense of the city, both surreal and realistic, ironic and passionate.
The South has generated a unique set of myths, which are often at odds with the dominant Puritan-bred tales of American exceptionalism. If the North had to downplay vertical visions of the social, class stratifications have always been recognized more readily in the Southern regions. Rather than disentangling race from class, however, these categories were seen as closely connected in the antebellum slave-holding South. Even after the end of slavery, class was never solely an economic category; surprisingly close to notions of caste, class dynamics came fully entrenched with cultural distinctions, which more often than not were cast in the language of blood ties—the rhetoric of race. As a result, strong values were attributed to these distinctions. And although the North, too, assessed the rich and the poor in the stern moral vocabulary, the influence of pseudo-scientific Eugenics studies and other factors added a new dimension to this moralizing of the hierarchic order in the South. This had repercussions on the way the poor were perceived. The allegedly chivalrous planter aristocracy at the top found their counterpart at the low end of the stratum in a form of abject poverty. Some poor whites were located just a notch above the black citizenry whose exclusion dramatically exceeded went beyond economic hardship. It proved to be a proximity structuring the cultural imaginary to come. Intricately linked to the logic of racism, a slur such as “white trash” introduced a categorical difference into whiteness—the good, reformable poor were pitted against the hopeless “dirty” poor—thriving on stereotypes similar to the dehumanizing depictions of African Americans and begging the question of reciprocity between “them” and “us.”
From the Old South to the New South, literature has fulfilled a variety of functions in this regard. Often, it was complicit in maintaining the biases of this peculiar culture of poverty, by revitalizing the stock of stereotypes of poor whites, or by downplaying the terror of the plantations and naturalizing the hierarchies between the classes. At times, it also subverted the household representations and created ambiguous tales of class and life in poverty; at others, writers aimed at a more truthful account, or tried to tell tales of solidarity. The literary history of white poverty is only the most consistent tale to be told when it comes to Southern writing. While not unrelated, another tradition has come to the fore when African American writers were able to create and publish their own accounts of black life. Ever since Jim Crow laws created a black underclass in the Reconstruction period, depictions of their life experiences included economic hardships as well. Tied to different genres and poetological interests, black writers engaged in a reflection of the twin exclusions of race and class. Finally, in the so-called Postsouth era, the literature of poverty has been rejuvenated by a more self-reflexive aesthetics that moves beyond the earlier concerns of Southern literature.
A term deriving from the sound of the mechanical printing process able to provide cheap and fast reproductions of literary works, the cliché is at once both a foundation of modern culture and its constant adversary. Denoting a lack of originality, thought, or effort, clichés appear to be the very opposite of literature’s aspirations, and there is no end to the warnings for writers to avoid them at all costs. However, few theorists have spent sustained time detailing the workings of the cliché outside of criticizing their use. Indeed, the cliché seems to resist being thought about too much. At the same time, this resistance to theory can also obscure a range of issues that the cliché raises as a problem for literature. Unpacking these problems suggests that the cliché is not simply an issue of unoriginal thought, but arises from, and is perpetuated by, a number of tensions within the production and circulation of writing itself. These include tensions between artistic worth and literary ownership; between organic creation and technologies of reproduction; between localized communications and universal truth; and concerning the status of the intellectual in relation to the masses and the place of authenticity in late-modern culture.