Representation is a distinctive manner of imagining the real, and is a fundamental phenomenon upon which all culture rests. (Clifford Geertz) For Aristotle, representation is the defining human activity. Since antiquity, representation has been the foundational concept of aesthetics and semiotics. In the modern era, it has also become a crucial concept in political theory.
The relation of representation is a relation of something or some one, by some thing or some one, to someone (and perhaps also as made by someone.) One can think of two axes, sometimes as cross-purposes: a representational axis and an axis of communication. (W.J.T. Mitchell, "Representation," in Critical Terms for Literary Study.)
"Modern representational theories conceive of mind as having access to systems of internal representations; mental states are descriptions of what the internal representations currently specify, and mental processes describe how internal representations are obtained and how they interact. Psychology requires some notion of causally effective representational states." (David Marr)
Perceiving representations requires a system or "code," a body of rules for combining and deciphering representational signs. Any particular representation makes certain information explicit at the expense of other information that is pushed into the background and may be quite hard to recover. "A representation of a set of entities S is a formal scheme for describing them, together with rules that specify how the scheme applies to any particular one of the entities." -- David Marr, Vision. For Marr, a formal scheme means only that it is a set of symbols with rules for putting them together -- no more and no less. (p21) Marr calls the result of using a representation to describe a given entity a description of that entity in that representation. (see explain / describe )
Computational theories describe the propagation of representational state.
Following Charles Sanders Peirce, semioticians generally differentiate three types of representational relationships under the names icon, index, and symbol . Iconic accounts of the relationship stress ressemblance. Indexical relations work in some causal or "existential" way, through a physical or temporal mediation, and symbolic relations are based on arbitrary stipulation, (as in language) These three forms of reference reflect a classic philosophical trichotomy, developed by Hume, of possible modes of associative relationship: similarity; contiguity, or correlation; as well as the trichotomy of law, causality, or convention. No particular objects are intrinsically icons, indicies, or symbols. They can be differently interpreted, depending on whether they are considered with respect ot their form, their correlation with other things (cf map), or their involvement in systems of conventional relationships.
Representation becomes a central issue in all theories of knowledge, whether realistic or idealistic, that start from the mind to go out to the world, rather than the other way around. In Bergson's phrase, all perceptions become "veridical hallucinations." (Matter and Memory, p. 68)
Descartes, precisely because of his unhistorical temper, was the first to succeed in the historic act of liberation. For he never merely took over conclusions, "but reimbodied in himself the original power of philosophical thinking." (Cassirer, The Problem of Knowledge, p.13) Since Descartes, man experiences himself as the ego (ich ) that relates itself to the world by positing the world at its disposal in correct representational connections, that is, judgements, and thus posits the world opposite itself as its ob-ject. (see subject) Judgements and assertions are correct, that is, true, only when the ground of the connection between subject and object is presented and rendered to the representing ego. (Martin Heidegger, "The principle of Ground") For Heidegger, the principle of ground (ratio) expresses the claim to determine what is allowed to pass for the Being of a being, although becoming does not require a ground.
In his letter to Marcus Herz, dated February 21, 1772, Immanuel Kant lays out the project of the Critique of Pure Reason with the question, "What is the ground of the relation of that in us which we call 'representation' to the object?" By representation (Vorstellung ), Kant refers broadly to the way by which an object is given to the subject, through the intuitable figures of cognition. For Kant, our understanding lies somewhere between the two extremes of passive receptivity in which the object produces the representation, and "divine understanding" in which the representation produces the object.(cf. the metaphors of mirror and lamp in M.H. Abrams) (see also intuition)
Kant's primary question is "How does the faculty of understanding achieve conformity with the things themselves in a manner independent of experience?" (why, we could ask, is it necessary to move away from experience?... Is it because of the idea of truth?)
For aesthetics, the figure of the mirror has traditionally served as the analogue to representation. Henri Bergson describes the distance between presence and representation as the interval between matter itself and our conscious perception of matter. In order to move from one to the other, it is necessary to detach it from its surroundings, in which it is encased as a thing, in order to see it as a picture. It is necessary to suppress what follows it, what precedes it, and also all that fills it, and to retain only its external crust, its superficial skin. (Matter and Memory, p 36) It is important to note, however, that Bergson describes both being and being consciously perceived as images, with merely a difference of degree, not of kind, between them. For Bergson, our representation of matter is the measure of our possible action upon bodies. (see memory) For Heidegger, as for Bergson, time is foundationally existential.
According to Heidegger, the "world-as-picture" entails a distance between us and the world, a transformation of participation and dwelling into observation and representation. (see image) Values and goals (as opposed to meaning) lend themselves to spatial representation as end points, something that one can approach or recede from. Heidegger characterizes this as a "loss of nearness."
Eduard Dijksterhuis coined the term "Mechanization of the World Picture" to characterize the intellectual revolution of the seventeenth century. (see machine) For Michel Serres, representation is an operation that reduces the multiplicity of the real to rational sequences and controllable consequences. For Serres, the unity of representation is a geometry of violence.
Since J.L. Austin drew attention to the performative functions of language in How to Do Things with Words (1962), philosophers have become concerned with the effectiveness of language, not just its representational function. In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Richard Rorty proposes to move beyond epistemological philosophy that concerns itself with"accurate representation," in favor of a pragmatist conception of knowledge which eliminates the Greek contrast between contemplation and action, between representing the world and coping with it. (pp10-11) He argues that the desire for a theory of knowledge is a desire for constraint -- a desire to find "foundations" to which one might cling, frameworks beyond which one must not stray. (p.315) In Pragmatism, the measure of truth lies in a notion of efficacy . (cf. metaphor)
Contemporary critiques of representation from a historical or sociological point of view remind us that intellectual and aesthetic productions, mental representations, and social practices are governed by mechanisms and dependencies that the subjects themselves are unaware of. This analysis of representation stresses how individuals classify, judge, and act within collective representations that embody divisions of the social world. It shows how political power or social identity are exhibited in signs and symbolic performances, what Max Weber called the "sylization of life." Michel Foucault analyzed how the "economy" of discourses, not a system of representations, determines the essential features of what they have to say.
What is the relation between representation and ideology?
In a discussion of law and ethnography, Clifford Geertz calls into question the Western distinction between matters of fact and matters of value, between "trouble over what is right and trouble over what is so." For Geertz, "The legal representation of fact is normative from the start." ( Local Knowledge, p174) The question then becomes that of how to tell them apart. "Facts and law we have perhaps everywhere; their polarization we perhaps have not." Geertz's hermeneutic approach leads him to focus on the relation between the grounding of norms and the representation of fact (or: the representation of norms and the grounding of fact.) (p.219)
What is the relation between Space and Representation?:
Henri Lefebvre distinguishes Representations of space and Representational spaces . (see social space) For him representations of space form a conceptualized space ( the space of scientists, urbanists and other rationalizers) and these are the dominant modality of space in any society. These spaces tend also to be worked out in verbal signs. Representational spaces are "directly lived" through associated images and symbols (see Surrealists) which overlay physical space, making symbolic use of its objects. (Production of Space , pp.38-39) Representational spaces have an affective kernel. For Lefebvre, these two elements are part of a triad which includes Spatial Practice , which is revealed through the deciphering of a society's spaces. He links spatial practice to the perceived, representations of space to the conceived, and representational spaces to the lived. (cf Heidegger)
For Lefebvre, culture intervenes in "lived" experience and provides an illusionary immediacy.
(see public / private )
see also Michel de Certeau's characterization of space as practiced place in space / place.
In his discussion of privatization and sexuality in Sexuality and Space (pp 346-347) Mark Wigley, following Foucault, traces productive mechanisms of both space and representation According to Wigley"..these systems of representation cannot be separated from that space. The mechanisms that define the house cannot be divided into those that are spatial and those that are representational. The space in which the privatization of sexuality could occur is literally (italics mine) produced by transformations in representational systems and, equally, those systems are made possible by that space. The space depends, for example, on the production of new kinds of writing...(Alberti)
Lefebvre aks "What is an ideology without a space to which it refers? ...What would remain of the Church if there were no churces?" (p.44) For Lefebvre, "Ideology per se might well be said to consist primarily in a discourse upon social space.
What is a "readable space?" -- an arena of alienation?
see Ruins of Representation