The Authenticity of Identity

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On Thursday, August 2, at 5:00pm – 7:00pm (Australian Hearing Hub, Level 5, Room 212, Macquarie University) the Markers of Authenticity Seminar Series will recommence for Semester 2, 2018 with two speakers, Associate Professor Jay Johnston from the Department of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney, and Dr Ian Stephen from the Department of Psychology, Macquarie University.

Our theme this seminar is the Authenticity of Identity, that is the way identity is performed, construed, inferred, enacted, recognised, and regulated by society. At issue is the relationship between appearance and the self and how the former may be used to affirm or deflect the latter. Associate Professor Johnston’s paper ‘Slippery Species: Considering Human–Non-Human Identity as a Contemporary Spiritual Subculture’ and Dr Stephen’s paper ‘Are our faces and bodies authentic markers of identity?’ consider the ways in which we understand how identity can be externalised at the level of body and face and the processes we engage in when making judgements about appearances. These papers are shadowed by the complicated politics of authenticity brought into being by the baggage of mind-body dualism. From the perspective of religious studies and evolutionary psychology, these papers look at the way authenticity is crafted in skin.

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The Authenticity of the Body

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On Thursday March 22, at 4:00pm – 6:00pm (Australian Hearing Hub, Level 5, Room 212, Macquarie University) the Markers of Authenticity Seminar Series will recommence for 2018 with two speakers, Dr Karin Sellberg from the School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry at the University of Queensland, and Professor Wendy Rogers from the Departments of Clinical Medicine and Philosophy at Macquarie University.

Our theme this seminar is the Authenticity of the Body, that is the way the body has been regulated and thought of in medicine, the media, and in society. Ideas about what constitutes the ideal state and what variations are permissable, tolerable, invited, and recognised shape the possibilities we imagine for ourselves and our conception of what it is to be embodied.

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Narrative Authenticity: Transgender Identity, ‘Passing’ and Coming-of-Age Stories

Dr Karin Sellberg, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, University of Queensland

From its modern emergence in the 1950’s and 60’s, transgender subjectivity and embodiment has relied on narrative as a means of transformation. After the highly publicized international announcement of the ‘first sex change’ of Christine Jorgensen in 1952, there was a surge of transition autobiographies published, outlining the pre- and post-transition histories and emotional developments of (initially primarily female-to-male) transsexual authors of various nationalities and backgrounds, as well as a number of academic works, also by transgender authors, analyzing these autobiographies and the questions they pose about gender.

Bernice Hausman recognizes both types of texts to be narratives of authenticity, or identity formation in Changing Sex (Routledge, 1995). Stories about how ‘I always knew I was a little girl/boy’, have become canonical within transgender academia and culture, as well as within the private experiences of transgender men and women. Not merely have they become the means by which a person can prove their transgender status within the clinical space, and thus receive treatment, but they’ve also become an often reiterated and internalized means of connection and self-recognition within transgender cultural spaces.

This paper will investigate the ways in which a number of linked transgender coming-of-age blogs reiterate the narrative structures as well as the more or less theoretical analyses coming out of the autobiographical transgender canon. I will argue that there is a canonical shape, content and understanding of the narratives of self appearing within this online community, and that these constraints determine the perimeters of ‘authentic’ transgender experiences.

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“Overdiagnosis and the problem of ‘real’ diseases”

Professor Wendy A. Rogers, Department of Philosophy and Department of Clinical Medicine, Macquarie University.

 The criteria for defining what ‘counts’ as a disease are contested in philosophy and medicine alike. Conditions such as measles, tuberculosis or malignant melanoma are widely accepted as authentic diseases. In contrast, conditions such as Gulf War Syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and Lyme-like disease occupy a less certain place in Western nosology. Longstanding challenges in defining disease have been exacerbated by technological advances in medicine that permit identification of ever smaller degrees of abnormality; by the introduction of widespread screening programs; and by changes in diagnostic criteria for specific diseases. These factors have prompted the observation that much of diagnosed disease does not progress in the expected ways, a phenomenon known as overdiagnosis. Overdiagnosis is the detection of conditions taken to be diseases that would not have harmed the individual if left undetected. Overdiagnosis of “non-authentic” diseases raises a plethora of conceptual and ethical challenges, upon which I touch in this talk.

Disobedience in the Milgram Experiments: Kathryn Millard’s Experiment 20

Professor Kathryn Millard (Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies) has been working on the famous Milgram ‘Obedience to Authority’ experiments for a number of years, mining the archives for new critical insights into the human reality behind the now infamous conclusions. Her interdisciplinary projects, working with psychologists in the United Kingdom, get under the skin of psychological method and reveal on film the importance of small moments of resistance. Following on from the success of Shock Room, Experiment 20 (featured in the Guardian Australia’s Present Traces series) highlights the experience of women participating in the experiment by using recordings of the experiment to bring them to life on the screen. Professor Millard will be discussing these projects in the final event of our Markers of Authenticity seminar series, The Spectacle of Science, this year in November.

Online Conspiracy Forums and Belief – Colin Klein, Peter Clutton & Vince Polito

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Last year, Dr Colin Klein (Philosophy, ANU) presented in our Markers of Authenticity seminar on ‘Faking the News’ with Dr Margie Borschke (MMCCS, Macquarie University) on the 14th of August. Colin’s work, with colleagues Peter Clutton (formerly ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders, Macquarie University) and Vince Polito (Department of Cognitive Science, Macquarie University), on conspiracy theories and the online communities which disseminate these has now been published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology: Personality and Social Psychology (Feb. 21 2018). Check out ‘Topic Modeling Reveals Distinct Interests within an Online Conspiracy Forum‘ to learn more about how this work on online conspiracy forums complicates our picture of belief. Vince Polito will be speaking later this year in our Markers of Authenticity seminar on the Authenticity of Faith.

‘Markers of Authenticity’ in 2017

We’re a bit late on reporting on our Markers of Authenticity series in 2017, but thought we should put out a recap as we look ahead to 2018.

In 2017 the Markers of Authenticity Interdisciplinary Seminar Series continued at Macquarie University, supported by funding from Faculty of Arts Research Theme funding scheme, and the MQ Ancient Cultures Research Centre: we’re very grateful to both bodies for their generous support.

Our 2017 program saw an increase in disciplinary representation across the Faculty and University: as well as the range of fields represented by the presenters, the audiences regularly featured staff and students from a wide range of departments (International Studies; English; Ancient History; Music, Media, Communication and Cultural Studies; Linguistics; Philosophy; Modern History; Security Studies and Criminology; and Cognitive Science). Audience numbers averaged between 20 and 30 throughout the year, with several larger events exceeding this. This year we aimed to enhance our  links with other research clusters and centres, and to this end co-sponsored events with the Centre for Applied History, the ‘Environmental Humanities’ research cluster, the ‘World Literatures and Cultures’ Research Cluster, and the Australian Centre for Ancient Numismatic Studies.

In the first half of 2017 we held three events: a seminar ‘On Authenticity and Race’ on May 26th, given by Dr Adam Hochman (Philosophy) with a response by A/Prof. Andrew Gillett (Ancient History); an introduction and progress report on the ARC-funded Project ‘Forging Antiquity’ by A/Prof. Malcolm Choat, Dr Rachel-Yuen Collingridge, and our PACE intern (and now Research Assistant) Vanessa Mawby (Ancient History) on June 2; and a conversation on June 9th on ‘The Internet Antiquities Trade: Insight into an Invisible Market?’ between Lauren Dundler (MRes student, Ancient History) and Iain Shearer (Freelance archaeologist, Honorary Fellow University College London).

We began our program for the second half of the year on August 14th with a seminar on ‘Faking the News’, with papers by Dr Colin Klein (Philosophy) and Dr Margie Borschke (Music, Media, Communication and Cultural Studies). This was followed on September 5th by a seminar by Dr Julian Droogan (Security Studies and Criminology) on ‘The Authentic Terrorist?: Mobilising the Past, Battling for the Future’.

confOn October 13th–14th, we co-hosted a conference, ‘Imagining the Real: Alternative (Arte)Facts from Antiquity to the Present Day’ with the Australian Centre for Ancient Numismatic Studies, which featured keynote speakers from the University of Western Australia (Emeritus Professors John Melville Jones ) and University of Agder (Professor Årstein Justnes), in addition to a range of other speakers ( program and abstracts for the conference).

In late October (26th), we held a seminar on ‘Creative Authenticity: Originality and the Real’ with papers given by Dr. Mio Bryce (International Studies) and Dr Ilona Hongisto (Music, Media, Communication and Cultural Studies).

In early November (2nd), we co-sponsored a panel on the ‘Authenticity of Experience: IMG_20171102_190404History and Gaming’ with the Centre for Applied History, which was attended by nearly 60 people. Dr Rowan Tulloch (Music, Media, Communication and Cultural Studies), Daniel Keogh (Educational Games Designer, 3P Learning), and Abbie Hartman (Modern History), gave presentations, followed by a lively Q&A with the audience. Thanks to funding contributed by the Centre for Applied History, the presentations were recorded on video, and can be seen online.

One week later (Nov. 9th), we held a seminar on the ‘Authenticity of Desire’ with papers by Dr Thomas Baudinette (International Studies), and Dr Chelsea Barnett (Modern History). Finally, we co-sponsored a workshop on December 11th on ‘Environmental Change and the Historical Imaginary: Ancient, Medieval, Modern’, with the ‘Environmental Humanities’ research cluster, convened by Professor Louise D’Arcens (English) and featuring an international keynote as well as speakers from Ancient History, Modern History, and English.

We think the 2017 iteration of the series had extremely good outcomes in terms of bringing together a broad cross-disciplinary group to a regular forum to discuss a central theme from multiple disciplinary perspectives. Planning for our 2018 program is well advanced (see our ideas here), and we hope to see many of you at these events: we’ll post a final schedule as soon as it’s available.

Markers of Authenticity, Events for 2018

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For 2018 we have a range of events planned including seminars, a conference, and a showcase evening.

We will be holding seminars on:

  • the Authenticity of the Body, looking at the history and present of the medical interventions on and reasoning about ‘authentic’ bodies;
  • the Authenticity of Landscape, looking at the way ideas of authenticity are mobilised to privilege certain environments and stages of cultivation over others;
  • the Authenticity of Identity, looking at the way identity is determined and policed by new technologies meant to counter identity fraud

And finally

  • the Authenticity of Faith, looking at discourses of heresy, faith, and delusion from a range of perspectives including historical and cognitive.

The conference,  How to edit a forgery: Manuscripts from the Margins, for the Australian Research Council Discovery Project: Forging Antiquity: Authenticity, forgery and fake papyri, will consider the how and why of editing forgeries from a practical and ethical perspective. The conference will involve a number of international scholars from diverse fields from antiquity through to the Renaissance examining these issues through editions of specific forgeries, as well as a series of public lectures to showcase the theme.

And finally, to end the year off, we will host a showcase event on the intersection between Art and Science, looking at the way humanities methods have been used to propel and communicate scientific discovery. The format of the evening will be one of wonder and spectacle, to remind us that scientific communication (broadly conceived) has historically been embedded in worlds of social and intellectual ritual, from the salon through to the cabinet of curiosity.

Do sign up to keep in touch and hear more about these events as our plans unfold!

 

Rights of the Dead and Orientalism

In a learned discussion about the history of the ethics of displaying human remains, Chip Colwell (senior curator of Anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science) illustrates many problems with displaying  Human Remains (‘The Long Ethical Arc of Displaying Human Remains’, Atlas Obscura, November 16, 2017). The discussion covers the current fad for exhibitions of human remains and narrates the history of the collection and exhibition of Native American Human Remains and the successful battle to prohibit this and return remains to their communities.

Colwell draws comparison with the treatment of human remain from other cultures (Britain, Vikings, Neolithic China), highlighting in particular the case of the Egyptian mummy.

He draws attention to the indulgent use of Egyptian remains as a source of spectacle and fantasy from the Enlightenment on (he might have also included reference to the long Renaissance engagement with Egypt propelled in part by the rediscovery of Horapollo’s ‘translation’ of hieroglyphs among others).  Here he points out rightly “the collection of Egyptian skeletons is rooted in colonialism and a disregard for the wishes of the dead.” However, the claims which follow make out of Ancient Egypt a special case and include a number of points with which we would take issue.

The paragraph of concern in its entirety runs as follows:

Like the treatment of Native Americans, the collection of Egyptian skeletons is rooted in colonialism and a disregard for the wishes of the dead. But, while living Native Americans claim descent from their continent’s first peoples, the Islamic communities of Egypt do not claim continuity with the people who built the pyramids. And even if they did, mummies were gathered to glorify ancient Egyptians while Native American skeletons were long collected to dehumanize indigenous peoples. The modern-day Egyptian government has given its consent for the excavation of tombs.

Let’s examine these claims:

The claim that “the Islamic communities of Egypt do not claim continuity with the people who built the pyramids” reflects a widespread misconception which does not recognise explicit institutional and popular identifications with the Pharaonic past. The use of Pharaonic imagery in government artworks like those which adorn the National Military Museum illustrates the ongoing importance of Egypt’s ancient history to its sense of agency and identity.

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National Military Museum, Cairo. Image: Richard Seaman, http://www.richard-seaman.com/Aircraft/Museums/EgyptianNationalMilitaryMuseum/index.html

Likewise the spontaneous appearance of Pharaonic imagery in graffiti during and after the Revolution by Egyptian artists like Alaa Awad among others attests to the ongoing importance of Ancient Egypt to the present and future of Egypt’s peoples (see the discussion by Lisa Lau, ‘The murals of Mohammad Mahmoud Street: Reclaiming Narratives of Living History for the Egyptian People’, Boston University: Arts & Sciences Writing Program, Issue 5, 2013–2013).

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Alaa Awad’s mural from Mohammad Mahmoud Street, image: Lisa Lau, http://www.bu.edu/writingprogram/journal/past-issues/issue-5/lau/

Such a sharp division between Egypt’s Pharaonic and Islamic pasts does not acknowledge the fact that some of the earliest Egyptologists concerned with the material and linguistic remains of Ancient Egypt were Islamic scholars. Figures like Al-Idrisi, the 12th century scholar responsible for some of the earliest descriptions of the monuments at Giza, or Ibn Wahshiyya, the 9th/10th century alchemist whose investigations of hieroglyphs recognised determinatives and some phonetic values, have been largely excluded from the Napoleon-centric version of the history of Egyptology.

Beyond these artistic, governmental, and scholarly links, a connection with the Pharaonic past is deeply felt by many modern Egyptians, within Egypt and throughout the Egyptian diaspora. At times the ‘authenticity’ of such connections is disputed. This type of argument engages in an orientalising view of culture, in which only certain communities are allowed to sustain the integrity of their connection with the past in spite of monumental and significant changes in belief, government, practices and demography (see on this in particular the work of James Clifford). The “glorification” of Egypt in the hands of scholarship has often supported – not combatted – the orientalising view of Egypt as other. A fetishised approval is no less diminishing.

Finally, one might interrogate the notion of consent. Colwell correctly notes that the Egyptian government, via the Ministry of Antiquities, grants permission for the archaeological investigation of theses tombs. But what of the wishes of the dead? Evidence from grave and tomb inscriptions from across the Mediterranean indicates clearly that disturbing a burial threatened the spiritual wellbeing of the deceased. Such interference is strictly and explicitly prohibited. The evidence from Ancient Egypt is voluminous in this respect. The statements are repeated in tombs from across Egypt’s history from the Old Kingdom to the Late period, such as the 6th Dynasty tomb of Djenwen:

“As for any man who will do something against this (tomb), there will be judgement with him by the Great God”

or the 25th Dynasty Block Statue of Montuemhat from Karnak:

“As for anyone against this tomb in my place: the one who disturbs is a criminal”

or finally the 18th Dynasty Statue of Wersu from Koptos:

“As for anyone who will desecrate my corpse in the necropolis, who will remove my statue from my tomb, he will be a hated one of Re, he will not receive water from the water-jar of Osiris, he will not hand over his possessions to his children, ever.” … “As for the one who desecrates my place, who will damage my tomb or remove my corpse, the soul of Re will hate him, he will not hand over his possessions to his children, his heart will not rest in life, he will not receive water in the necropolis, his soul will be destroyed forever.”

In these curses the damage to be inflicted on those who violate the bodies and tombs of the deceased mirrors that which is incurred by the deceased through such actions.

The beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians are as clear as can be on this matter, as countless curses of this nature demonstrate. More can be found in the thesis of Sarah Colledge, who studied these curses for her 2015 Liverpool PhD, and whose translations we cite above (other examples are on her blog, and in the thesis itself which may be viewed here). It’s unlikely that the Ancient Egyptians would be sympathetic to the ethical sophistry of those who might want to argue that new non-invasive technologies (CT scanning among others) respect these wishes: such scans are only possible because the bodies have been removed from the tomb (thus violating the dead’s wishes) in the first place.

An advanced screening at the recent ‘Creative Uses of the Archive‘ Workshop at Macquarie University of parts of the documentary, Etched in Bone, being made by ANU researchers Martin Thomas and Béatrice Bijon about the stealing and repatriation of skeletal remains from mortuary caves in a North Australian Aboriginal reserve provided us with a salient reminder of the importance of critically assessing past practice. The remains which were taken to the Smithsonian Institution when the National Geographic American-Australian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land visited the region in 1948 were repatriated to the settlement of Gunbalanya after a long campaign by the Australian government (among others) in 2009–2010. Such repatriation efforts sadly coincide often with the deaths of those who witnessed the thefts in the first place. They remind us of our responsibilities to the dead and to the diverse communities to which they belong. In the case of people from the ancient world, there may be no one left to speak for them:  does this mean we should heed their wishes any less?

Malcolm & Rachel