Art and Representation: Contributions to Contemporary Aesthetics

By Ananta Ch. Sukla | Go to book overview

10

Representation in Literatur

COLIN LYAS

If discourses articulate concepts through a system of signs which signify by means of their relationship to each other rather than to entities in the world, and if literature is to be a signifying practice, all it can reflect is the order inscribed in particular discourses, not the nature of the world.

ā€”C. Belsey

In this chapter I wish to do three things. First I wish to show, by a comparison with the visual arts, some of the ways in which the problems of representation in literature arise. Then I want to outline a way in which we might understand how representation in literature might be conceived and how that involves literature with questions of truth. Finally I wish, in the main part of the chapter, to discuss some of the ways in which, in recent years, the whole notion of literature as a reflection of the world has been attacked, an attack based on certain considerations about language and meaning that purportedly derive from the work of de Saussure.


I

The problems that I wish to discuss about representation in literature can be best approached by considering certain problems about representation in the visual arts.

The history of representation in the visual arts is sometimes said to follow a line of development that begins with an effort to hold a mirror up to nature, the task of the visual artist being to produce a two-dimensional replica of the way things look in the three-dimensional world. The unfolding history of the representational arts then becomes the story of the developing techniques by which the task of mirroring was better and better achieved. In that story certain developments, such as the understanding of perspectival rendering, become pivotal moments in the search for more perfect ways of re-rendering the world. 1

Two sets of problems arise about this task. One set, which I call internal, arises when, although the coherence of the project of mirroring the world is

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