Literary Sketches

Systems of Authenticity

January 12, 2011

Systems of Authenticity:
A Literary Criticism of Lupton’s Thinking With Type & Benjamin’s Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction


Reading is the result of an organized experience. As the text on a page dictates the reader subconscious experience of reading, it also demonstrates how to navigate the layout: the grid structure. These standards create a navigational reference of how we interact with the system of the text visually.

However, the mechanical duplication of text and artwork share a similar relationship to their initial creation: the separation of the copy and the original. The hierarchy of authenticity maintains the shared context we experience through these connections, however, the different methods of mechanical reproduction do not always guarantee an accurate relationship to the original form.

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According to Benjamin, the different methods of reproducing text creates a displacement of the initial presence of the object. This is the original: a media defined by our response to the “mechanical reproduction… of the concept of authenticity.” (Benjamin, 1234) As an hierarchical structure that defines value by production, the accuracy of each media’s content is dependent on the paper-processing type, ingredients within ink/print, consistent grammatical style.

Shakespeare’s “original” folios, “(his) first collected edition…published in 1623, included thirty-six plays” (Signet, xvi) were compiled after his death as a record of his performances. Subsequently, the validity of each script assigned to his authorship are based on analyzing lineage through previous owners or productions, the historical-cultural perception of commodity, “(and) the manner in which human sense perception is organized (as a) medium accomplishes by… historical circumstances.” (Benjamin, 1235)


As a theatrical production company, Shakespeare’s dual role as play-wright or actor increased greater interactions between other actors in regards to re-written scenes and or speeches produced during rehearsals, governmental censorship (Signet, xlv), collaborations towards the final performance, allowances for stage settings, and criticism from descendants of historical figures (Elizabeth I, Oldcastle) (Signet, xlvii).

Each Signet Classic edition reiterates that even these published writings are not wholly accurate; his plays are translated from the forerunner of modern language, discrepancies between definitions of vocabulary, and are based on two folios instead of one. (Signet, ) Despite these minor changes and scruples, every single performance of his plays as a ‘copy’ “enable the original [Shakespeare] to met the beholder halfway. (Benjamin, 1235)”

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As an audience, we re-experience each performed production, despite differences between actors and eras, because of the undercurrent of our nature’s that we recognize; the psychology of the choices and actions that affect humanity. These factors create a different approach towards the vocabulary and grammatical language, constructed gender roles and costumes applied to the actors, endowing the copy-relationship of Shakespeare’s scripts as “(a) unique existence at the place where it happens to be.” (Benjamin, 1234)

Conveyed through the interpretations of the performance, the mechanical reproduced text is unaffected, and fulfills it’s “intended play… the work of readers and spectators… who (respond to) and create (meaning)… to the play.” (Signet, xlvi) The audience builds the relationship between the performance and actors as a means of accessing the intentions of the plot. However, the standards of authenticity can also be applied to other works of art that have ventured outside of the “traditional context” boundaries. (Benjamin, 1236)

Throughout history, Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of the Mona Lisa surpasses her original purpose as a portrait of a woman by a famous artist: she has maintained a duplicity of roles throughout succeeding media,empowering the “mechanical reproductions (to place) the copy into situations which would be out of reach for the original” (Benjamin, 1235) such as an historical landmark on postcards and stamps, appearances in television and film, a symbol of parody for French culture, and transcending to a cultural iconography in different countries.

The Mona Lisa has also appeared in other cultural artifacts of commodity, such as board games, puzzles, teapots and toilets, cigarette lighters, dish ware, fashion runways and graffiti street artists, such as Banksy.


“Mechanical reproduction of art changes the reaction of the masses towards art.”(Benjamin, 1244) Transcending these different medias and modes of technological duplication, one example as such as the tutorial available on Youtube describing how to reproduce the artwork through the medium of Windows MS Paint, display how the everyday man or woman, can create the “reproducible… a man-made (artwork) could always be imitated,” (Benjamin, 1233).

It is because of these variety of roles that is expected from her performance that we assign a different different shades of meaning based on context, varying from beauty, iconography, creator-creation inspiration, and cultural value.

The dialectic object has been assigned new meaning and mythos to her resume, her list of references and celebrity letters are numerous, yet the Mona Lisa has always retained relationship between the original and “plurality of copies for a unique existence,” (Benjamin, 1235) without diminishing her original raison d’etre. She is a portrait of Lisa del Gioconda, (during the sitting) pregnant wife to silk-merchant and patron, Francesco del Giocondo (ii), and continually re-touched and edited by da Vinci throughout his entire lifetime.

Another example of a copy exceeding it’s original environment would be Andy Warhol’s utilization of products from middle America’s supermarkets in painting and sculptures, such as the banana and canned food packaging, iconic faces of pop culture such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and other historical figures in entertainment industries available in commodity form.

These commercial artworks are copies, of copied advertising and packaging, and of the original copied experience of the grocery store. The mechanical reproduction strengthens the bond between copy and original, in both forms of media and as text. We understand the original through the medium presented to us, and their relationships influences our gaze.

Mirror Reading

According to Lupton, the authenticity of the text is based on the relationships between legibility that we subconsciously adhere to while reading. This is the goal of typography: “(to find) an appropriate match between a style of letters and specific social situation (of the) body of content.” (Lupton, 30)

Subsequent readings of the content are also judged simultaneously on another level, where ”(the) text is composed to create a readable, coherent, and visually satisfying whole that works invisibly, without the awareness of the reader. (iii)” These factors of readable and visual content includes elements of spacing between words and margins, alignment of text for different languages, emphasis on titles or bold/italicized text, selection of fonts-types, and an underlying grid structure where all of the content is arranged.

These arrangements are intended to “communicate meaning as unambiguously as possible… navigating around the information with ease, by optimal inter-letter, inter-word and particularly inter-line spacing, coupled with appropriate line length and position on the page, careful editorial “chunking” and choice of the text architecture of titles, folios, and reference links.” (iii) Each page within a book contains page numbers, chapter headers or footnote subtitles to indicate time progression; in contrast, spoken language is perceived to contains minimal pausing between words.

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Another function is the spacing between words to create an intelligible experience during reading, where “paragraphs are traditionally marked with a line break and an indent.” (iv) These attributes are featured within ‘The Telephone Book’ (Lupton, 66) where the information designer has re-structured the sentence layout to exclude minimal spacing between words and unspecified emphasis within the three columns. Instead, imperceptible sentence flow in rivers of crooked lines and spacing, confronting the reader with interrupted ruptures during their scan of the text.

The three columns have broken the previous constraints of the text’s fixed location; creating a division between the unified sentences and “emphasiz[ing] the rhetorical argument.” (Lupton, 66)

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However, this would not be a similar experience while reading other forms of literature-based media, such as the newspaper columns with overflowing grid structures, magazines pages, and other sources where the unified text is divided into their own dimension within the page. The New Typography Diagram (Lupton, 183) demonstrates the “specialized requirements, newspapers and magazines rely on compact, tightly-fitted serifed text fonts specially designed for the task, which offer maximum flexibility, readability and efficient use of page space.” (iii)

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The grid structure of the Mertz Matineen (Lupton, 120) is confusing at first glance, yet upon introduction, the reader must know “where to enter and exit and how to pick and choose (meaning). Each level of the hierarchy should be signaled by one or more cues, applied consistently across… the text.” (iv)

Various sections of the structure featuring text in vertical or horizontal format influences how the reader interprets the context of the page, large-sized for emphasis to draw in your attention, smaller text for details, and solid blocks of ink separating content. Through this reading experience, our focus dictates how we navigate the page, emphasizing our relationship between the copies within the original form.


In conclusion, the text’s interaction within the grid structure reasserts the hierarchy: authenticity is determined by the created relationships between the standard practice of scanning a page while reading the unified text with standard spacing and horizontal alignment (the original experience) and the interrupted grid divided into different subsections, placing emphasis on where our locus is directed (the copy).

However, the hierarchical structure of authenticity exists only when the original form is present or once was present: the “transformation of the superstructure, mechanical reproduction of a work of art… (the relationship of the copy is to) the presence of the original, the prerequisite of the concept of authenticity.” (Benjamin, 1234)

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