The Triangle of Representation

The Triangle of Representation

Christopher Prendergast
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 123
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Triangle of Representation
    Book Description:

    Moving deftly among literary and visual arts, as well as the modern critical canon, Christopher Prendergast's book explores the meaning and value of representation as both a philosophical challenge (What does it mean to create an image that "stands for" something absent?) and a political issue (Who has the right to represent whom?).

    The Triangle of Representation raises a range of theoretical, historical, and aesthetic questions, and offers subtle readings of such cultural critics as Raymond Williams, Paul de Man, Edward Said, Walter Benjamin, and Hélène Cixous, in addition to penetrating investigations of visual artists like Gros, Ingres, and Matisse and significant insights into Proust and the onus of translating him. Above all, Prendergast's work is a striking display of how a firm grounding in theory is essential for the exploration of art and literature.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50609-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Art & Art History, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. 1 The Triangle of Representation
    (pp. 1-16)

    Wherever it is that we may have found ourselves camping out in the battlefields of Theory, we will doubtless have encountered, whether as friend or foe, the concept of representation. In one of the now numerous guides to literary theory, not only does the entry for representation come first in the volume, the entry itself makes the claim—by way of the example of Aristotle’s Poetics—that representation is both historically and conceptually foundational for our thinking about literature and culture.¹ The claim rests on a plausible translation of mimesis as representation,² linked to Aristotle’s view of literary fictions as...

  6. 2 Blurred Identities: REPRESENTING MODERN LIFE
    (pp. 17-30)

    In 1877 a critic in Le Télégraphe sketched, half jokingly, half prophetically, a scenario for the impressionist novel, according to which the identity of all its characters and actions would be undecidable. These of course are the distinctive tones of what we call modernity, and modernity, both as development in the later nineteenth century and as problem bequeathed to us (for whom the “undecidable” has assumed almost sacrosanct status), is the central concern of a most remarkable book, T.J. Clark’s The Painting of Modern Life.¹ Although its main focus is on nineteenth-century French painting of the period, it engages critically...

    (pp. 31-46)

    People have often commented on the quietly authoritative voice we so often hear in the writings of Raymond Williams. But alongside the directness and confidence of address, we should also remember the many hesitancies and uncertainties, along with the constant reaching for complexity. The endlessly backtracking and self-qualifying style (what Robin Blackburn has called Williams’s “characteristic mode of piling qualification upon complexity”) tells of a strategy not merely of ordinary intellectual scrupulousness but also of active unsettlement of terms and positions (from a man many of whose existential and political preferences were for settled forms of life against the huge...

  8. 4 Circulating Representations: NEW HISTORICISM AND THE POETICS OF CULTURE
    (pp. 47-62)

    New Historicism, like all the other isms of our time, has rapidly become a catchword, a label, under which the heterogeneous is repackaged and marketed as the more or less homogeneous. The intellectual reality of New Historicisms in fact discloses a variety of sins or virtues or a mix of both depending on one’s point of view (the points of view themselves of course vary in that from its inception to the present New Historicism has been an object of fierce and continuing controversy). For example, in the very fine book by Graham Bradshaw on Shakespeare,¹ we find, convincingly demonstrated,...

  9. 5 Representing (Forgetting) the Past: PAUL DE MAN, FASCISM, AND DECONSTRUCTION
    (pp. 63-82)

    In Paul de Man’s literary and philosophical writings (which have come to be referred to as “late Paul de Man”), there appears to be a linguistic version of the doctrine of the Fall:“What stands under indictment is language itself and not somebody’s philosophical error.”¹ Geoffrey Hartman (in an article to which I shall return in detail below) glosses this claim as meaning that something called language is the site and source of an “essential failure” and an “original fault.”² Language (as distinct from the specific uses to which it is put by human speakers and writers) is intrinsically and originally...

  10. 6 Representing Other Cultures: EDWARD SAID
    (pp. 83-100)

    The occasion for the following remarks on the work of Edward Said is the appearance (in French translation) of his short book Representations of the Intellectual.¹ It is the only one of Said’s books in which the word “representation” figures in the title, although, as I shall show, the term has a very long reach into the arguments for which he is best known. The book’s principal theme—the place of the so-called intellectual in the modern world—is tackled in both theoretical and personal terms, where Said relates several of his own experiences as an “exiled” Palestinian intellectual, the...

    (pp. 101-116)

    “It is characteristic of philosophical writing that it must continually confront the question of Darstellung.” This—the opening sentence of the “Epistemo-Critical Prologue” to The Origin of German Tragic Drama—is arguably the most important and philosophically freighted sentence in the entire Benjaminian oeuvre. In quoting it in English translation I have left the original Darstellung, because the way this particular word—with a long history in German philosophy and aesthetics—is translated at once raises and potentially begs many questions: is it better translated as “representation” or as “presentation”? The published translation has “representation,” which does indeed correspond to...

  12. 8 God’s Secret: REFLECTIONS ON REALISM
    (pp. 117-132)

    I have to begin on what might seem a potentially discouraging note by remarking that, in a project devoted to discussing the idea of mimesis and commemorating the magisterial work of Erich Auerbach, I shall not really be talking about either, although I hope it can be taken more or less for granted that the shadow of Auerbach looms over virtually everything I will be saying.¹ My concern is broadly speaking with certain intellectual developments post-Auerbach, in connection with the concept of realism, historically and theoretically a subspecies of the concept of mimesis. The two—mimesis and realism—are often...

  13. 9 Visuality and Narrative: THE MOMENT OF HISTORY PAINTING
    (pp. 133-146)

    The theory of narrative has been at once enriched by a set of distinctions and burdened by a degree of terminological confusion over the principal terms of these distinctions. I refer to the distinction drawn by Henry James between “telling” and “showing” and the cognate distinction proposed by Georg Lukács between “describing” and “telling” (beschreiben and erzählen). The potential confusion arises by virtue of the different meanings and values that respectively attach here to the notion of telling. For James it is a negative value (narrative should show, dramatize, rather then tell or narrate). For Lukács, on the other hand,...

  14. 10 Literature, Painting, Metaphor: MATISSE/PROUST
    (pp. 147-160)

    Proust famously defined literature as translation, in the sense of the representation of one set of terms by another.¹ Literary art as translation in Proust can be understood in a variety of contexts: extratextual (the privileged sensations of A la recherche as signes that it is the task of the writer to decode); intertextual (A la recherche as the rivalrous rewriting of Balzac’s Comédie humaine or Saint-Simon’s Mémoires); and interartistic (the literary work sustaining complex transactional relations to the other arts, notably music, sculpture, and painting).

    The relation with painting is the one that concerns me here, though not in...

  15. 11 English Proust
    (pp. 161-176)

    Much of the last volume of Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu is devoted to life in Paris during the First World War. Proust, the least chauvinistic of writers imaginable, is nevertheless so moved by patriotic sentiment as to transgress the convention that keeps a fictional world separate from its author:

    In this book in which there is not a single incident which is not fictitious, not a single character who is a real person in disguise … I owe it to the credit of my country to say that only the millionaire cousins of Françoise who came out...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 177-190)
  17. Index
    (pp. 191-198)