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You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way

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Dylan has addressed the controversy about the mechanically signed copies of his new book Paul discussed earlier:

That’s because he hadn’t. In what feels like the least Dylan-esque move imaginable, he released a long message on Facebook explaining that he suffered from vertigo throughout the pandemic, which — coupled with coronavirus precautions — made signing so many books a difficult, if not impossible, task. So he used an autopen, a contraption that automatically replicates a person’s signature, to sign all those books.

“I’ve been made aware that there’s some controversy about signatures on some of my recent artwork prints and on a limited-edition of Philosophy Of Modern Song. I’ve hand-signed each and every art print over the years, and there’s never been a problem,” his post read. “However, in 2019 I had a bad case of vertigo and it continued into the pandemic years. It takes a crew of five working in close quarters with me to help enable these signing sessions, and we could not find a safe and workable way to complete what I needed to do while the virus was raging. So, during the pandemic, it was impossible to sign anything and the vertigo didn’t help. With contractual deadlines looming, the idea of using an auto-pen was suggested to me, along with the assurance that this kind of thing is done ‘all the time’ in the art and literary worlds.

“Using a machine was an error in judgment and I want to rectify it immediately. I’m working with Simon & Schuster and my gallery partners to do just that,” he concluded.

This is a fitting iteration of a career that, among other things, has been a lengthy deconstruction of the concept of “authenticity.”

One interesting thing about this to me beyond the particulars is what it means in 2022 for a signature to be “real.” Generally, when I need to sign an important document the “sign” is some form of electronic. The most common request for hand signatures come when retailers or restaurants require you to “sign” receipts, although they’re essentially never checked and I generally just do a quick scrawl with no particular attempt to replicate my signature. It’s so unusual to be asked for a hand signature that actually means anything the DMV had to remind me recently that this one was a real signature requirement. I don’t really know how to adjudicate this specific controversy — the autograph market is one where there remains an expectation of “real” hand signatures, and they charged a lot of money based on this — but the whole concept is in significant measure going, going, gone.

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