Ersatzism: A Conference and Workshop on the Cultural Logic of Inauthenticity

Ersatzism is a two-day conference that will explore the ways that new media and administrative technologies increasingly blur the line between real and fake, authentic and inauthentic, nonfiction and fiction, and the practical and the theoretical. This conference/workshop will explore how the logic of the ersatz (a substituted or fake product) has expanded beyond the confines of wartime coffee to describe the modern era. Rather than wallow in a postmodern longing for authenticity, we ask whether we might turn this loss of authenticity into a means of creative production and thought, especially regarding the rise of social media technologies and marketing techniques. Day one will focus on traditional academic presentations and panels, day two will host workshops on the social media technologies that facilitate the production and distribution of ersatz culture (blogs, tweets, snaps, vlogs, etc). Participants will number around 15, depending on the applicant pool and allotted time; the schedule will be designed so that all attendees can participate in all conference events.

The conference explores how ersatzism is a major concern and characteristic of contemporary fiction. Authors such as Tom McCarthy and Shelia Heti have made a name for themselves by writing fiction that doesn’t look like fiction. Critics have described this new style as essayistic, creative-nonfiction, surreal, meta, accessible and opaque; when explaining their writing, we must place the most contrary terms side by side. The difficulty of defining the work of such authors shows that there is a crisis of genre at work in contemporary literature. This conference will explore how this crisis also extends beyond literature; the crisis of contemporary fiction also characterizes modern political and social discourse: In the era of the fake, everything is real (or seems so), and no one believes anything.

Ersatzism, the conference, approaches the problem through praxis, exploring these questions by performing them in real time. We endeavor not only to hold panels that critically explore the logic of ersatz in contemporary culture, but also to hold workshops that allow us to practice the very media and technology tools that allow for new notions of authenticity to emerge. The goal of the workshops is to explore and embody the way social media technologies and administrative technologies ask us to participate in amorphously defined professional and self-marketing practices. Because the goal of the conference is to understand a broad cultural logic, participants are invited to draw from their areas of expertise, which include national literatures, social and political theory, media theory and technology studies, as well as philosophy and history.

This workshop’s performative elements is what separates Ersatzism from a traditional academic conference. Participants will be asked to share their writing process through an ersatzism blog (among other forms of digital community--a subject of interest for the conference). The shards and fragments of blog writing, as well as the passages of books that inspire our thinking, will accrue in the months before the conference and serve as the backbone for a workshop on the relationship between writing, technologies of writing, and social media. Tracing how our ideas emerge within a hyper-mediated culture is one way that we hope to probe how ersatz culture has fundamentally changed the processes that structure how we think, write, and distribute work among our peers and to the public.