On the importance of impostors. Orson Welles' F for Fake as Nietzschean film?

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MagShamhráin, Rachel
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German Studies Association of Ireland
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The Impostor is the blender par excellence. She is both herself and someone else, and therefore properly neither. As a rejection of the limits between I and Other, her actions might be embraced as an ultimate form of kinship, but are often frowned upon, particularly in the world-as-law, and in an age of identity politics which encourages the dissolution of identity while simultaneously censuring its usurpation. A sense of imposture is something with which many (particularly female) academics will be intimately familiar. It is part of that ‘bad conscience’ (which Nietzsche describes in his Genealogy of Morality of 1887 as an anger directed towards the self, a “Selbstpeinigung”1) that emerges from the foundational principle of originality of thought on which academia has erected itself, an originality enshrined in the tabernacle of the monograph. This essay speaks directly to its author’s on-going imposture, and concomitant “Selbstpeinigung”, but in the hope of redeeming impostors and their work for the academy. With this in mind, I examine here the concept of the fake; specifically, how it is harnessed, or rather borrowed, by Orson Welles in his film F for Fake (1974) to take issue with the idea of originality, and its supposed corollary, truth. While the association of truth with originality may seem quaintly old-fashioned in an age of infinite digital reproducibility and enhanceability, it is a stubborn association, nonetheless. Perhaps precisely because truth in a virtual era is in a state of infinite regress, we presume now more than ever upon that alliance of truth and art that Keats so adamantly expressed as “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, – that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” It is an equation the fame-hungry Romantics extended to include originality. In other words, to borrow from C.S. Lewis, not only is beauty synonymous with truth, but “in literature and art […] if you simply try to tell the truth […] you will, nine times out of ten, become original.” According to this pre- vailing syllogism, no great art can be false, and no great art can be unoriginal; therefore, great art is always both original and true, and, in fact, art, truth and originality are coterminous. It is a notion perpetuated by the academy, expressed, amongst other things, as an antipathy to plagiarism. And on the art market, as an antipathy to fakes. In both cases, the untrue is understood by self-appointed custodians of beauty and art to be a crime.
Orson Welles , F for Fake , Nietzsche
MagShamhráin, R. (2021) 'On the importance of impostors. Orson Welles' F for Fake as Nietzschean film?', Germanistik in Ireland, 16, pp. 67-78.
© 2021, the Author. Published by the German Studies Association of Ireland.