The discussion about 3D printing reminds me of an old essay by Italian semiologist Umberto Eco. In his 1986 essay “Faith in Fakes” (included in Travels in HyperReality), Eco states that “the American imagination demands the real thing and, to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake.” His examples include the Lyndon B. Johnson Library, where ‘the past must be preserved and celebrated in full-scale authentic copy,’ heritage villages, the Madonna Inn, seven wax versions of Leonardo’s Last Supper, William Randolph Hearst’s museum-castle (the Xanadu of Orson Welles’ film Citizen Kane) and Disneyland, the home of the ‘total fake.’

Perhaps 3D printing technology makes “seeing and knowing through making” (the transformative principle of contemporary digital culture) literal to the point that the fake, the copy that we can manipulate may acquire more functional, practical, or epistemological value than the original artifact that we cannot touch. Because of its inaccessibility the original artifact might preserve at least a trace (or a shadow) of its “aura,” to use W. Benjamin’s term. Yet, my question is whether in the digital mode of reproduction, also 3D copies are charged with an emotional and cognitive investment that creates a sort of substitutive or surrogate ‘aura’ around them (as Daniel rightly points out in his post “Most of the value [of 3D printing] is explained in psychological terms and the emotional impact of physical objects. It comes up over and over again”).

Are we entering the realm of hyperrealist knowledge (the triumph of the “absolute fake,” according to Eco, or “total simulation,” according to French theorist Jean Baudrillard)? To Eco this is the ‘quintessence’ and triumph of ‘consumer ideology,’ but perhaps there is indeed value to be found in the process of total reproduction. Daniel invites us to look at different scenarios in which “making fakes” might have some value as a cognitive process. 3D modeling seems to provide the best value for scaling and mash ups, for example. A sort of engineering mentality (with an aesthetic flavor) seems to take roots within the humanities…

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