Table of Contents
Representation is simply the act of imitation or the act of identification, people identify themselves by means of their mimetic ability, when they see themselves in others and perceive a state of mutual equality. Representation of reality may refer to simile, similarity and symbolization of the world when we take it as a transformation of myth. The idea of representation at its simple level involves our understanding for the action of representation and how we define that act. This essay details media representation of reality as outlined by key theorists and their theories in the classical age and it further explains representation as a substitute and also as ideology.
Classical age refers to the antique period before the birth of Jesus Christ (Auerbach, E, 1974). Key philosophers during this period included people such as Plato who is the ancient Greek philosopher; Aristotle who is also a Greek philosopher and he was Plato’s student; Saint Thomas Aquinas who is a theologian from Italy; Galileo Galilei an Italian physician, astronomy and philosopher and last but not least Francis Bacon who is an English philosopher and leader of scientific revolution. I will critically do an in-depth analysis/discuss representation as outlined by this philosophers and I will also distinguish representation as a substitute and ideology.
First of all let’s consider Plato who takes ‘representation’ with several meanings and connotations in the dialogue and alters the term according to the context in which he uses it. Plato can perhaps be identified as the culprit behind the idea that representation are lacking in truth or ‘real’ quality. Plato view representation as imitation or ‘ mimesis. ’(Annas, 1982)
For Plato, more than two thousand years ago, an image was the representation of something and was not, could not, be an original. It was always an imitation and always lacking in value when compared to the original since it was not an original it had to be a simulacrum, a false claim to being. (Annas, 1982)
Plato simulacrum calls into question, the entire relationship between the real objects and its copy, and also prioritises the two entities in terms of value. Plato discuss ‘representation’ as likening oneself to another in speech and bodily behaviour and as addressing the lower part of man’s soul; he also refers to the epistemology and metaphysics of the concept. (Spring, 1985)
In contradicting this, Aristotle who is known to be Plato’s student ‘representation’ does not refers to the imitation of idea and appearance, like that of Plato. Aristotle view representation as a sign and argues that each area of knowledge is imitated in the sense that as a human being we all learn through imitation (Annas, 1982)
According to Angelo (1985) Aristotle is the first to deal with ‘representation’ as a theory of art. He dwell on the concept of representation as an aesthetic theory of art and considers imitation in terms of the form it is embodied. Aristotle states that all human action are mimetic and that men learn through imitation e.g. in the social learning theory of Albert Bandura it is said that we learn by imitating from an early age. In particular to him ‘representation’ is a distinguishing quality of an art.
For Plato, the artist was nothing but an imitator. This imitator while pretending to represent the real, did nothing more than give representation to an opinion about the real. Plato’s student Aristotle, perhaps more diplomatically than Plato, described the image of painted figure not as the likeness of a character but rather as a sign of the character. Aristotle view representation of reality as referent to someone or something but does not try to pose as that someone or something (Summers, 1996:6).
However, he carefully makes a distinction between difference kinds of knowledge e.g. he claims that art and philosophy deal with different kinds of truth; philosophy deals with concrete and absolute truth, whereas art deals with aesthetic and universal truth. Aristotle take’s representation as an active aesthetic process. (Crane, R, S & Keats, W, R et al, 1996)
Plato and Aristotle attributed different meanings to the term representation. Plato considers representation as in ethical and political context whereas Aristotle uses representation as an aesthetic phenomenon and as an activity of the artist as I have explained in the above paragraph; they both agree that poetry is mimetic but they have different idea about poetry and representation. (Summers, 1996)
Plato and Aristotle argue that artist (Demiurge) and poet imitate nature, thus, a work of art is a reflection of nature. However, they have different views on the functions of imitation in art and literature. Plato believes in the existence of the ideal world, where exists a real form of every object found in nature. A work of art which reflects nature and is twice far from the reality it represents. Aristotle, on the other hand, does not deal with the ideal world, instead he analyses nature. He argues that a work of art does not imitate nature as it is, but as it should be. In this sense, an artist does not violate the truth but reflects the reality.
Plato’s main concern is with the public recitation of dramatic and epic poetry and in Plato there is emulation between philosophy and poetry. The poet influences the character of the young in every way and has corruptive impact upon the education of the young mind. In addition, poets don’t have a true knowledge of the things. Plato suggests that the emotional appeal is a threat to reason, that mimetic art is remote from reality, that the poet is not serious and knows nothing about poetry and cannot give satisfactory information about his art.
It is obvious that he resists the concept of imitation in the case of poetic composition. Tragedy, in particular, and poetry, in general, is concerned with pleasure rather than instruction and since it is not possible to imitate a wise and quiet person in the play, since such a person does not fit the content of tragedy, ‘representation’ is ethically distracting. Therefore, the function of various discussions of representational art in the Republic is ethical; wherever he mentions art he discusses it in relation to education and ethics (Annas, 1982).
Although Aristotle agrees with Plato that poetry has the power to stimulate emotions, he does not pay much attention to the ethical and epistemological aspects of ‘representation’. Yet he dwells on the pleasure that men take in learning and argues that tragedy discharges the feelings and spectators leave the play in a state of calm, free of passions.
Plato worries about the moral effect of poetry, while Aristotle strikes to psychology and returns repeatedly to shuddering terror and pity that the tragedy is creating in the spectator, who therefore repeats or imitates what has already taken place on stage. And that, in its turn, spectator repeats or imitates what has already taken place.(Phillip, 1996)
Plato argues that there is a duality between art (representation and narrative art) and ethics. This manner of representation (impersonation), according to Plato, leads to the loss-of-self or transformation of identity and becomes a matter of moral destruction. Aristotle also takes the same activity of impersonation, but in a different way. (Gerathy, 1996:275)
After few years a medieval catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas acknowledged the vertical nature that symbolic representation had now taken on; a lower verse which indicates points to represent the higher God. Although denying that the higher and the lower are equivalents, Aquinas admitted that the higher can be addressed through the lower. Aquinas view representation as a divine instrument.
According to Aquinas representation have, in the midst of the mysteries of the faith, become almost supernatural mediums between mankind and God. In fact Aquinas encouraged this practice; since we cannot directly be exposed to divine truth, the faith must be translated into something which is represented to be consumed by us through our lower or human sense (Summer, 1996:7)