Does your name represent your true personality


1The Dictionnaire de la langue française, published by Furetière in 1690, lists two apparently opposing families of meanings for the word "representation" 1.

Illustration of an absent object

According to the first meaning, "representation" is the "image that brings to our minds and memories of absent objects and that they depict to us as they are". Accordingly, a "representation" illustrates something (thing, concept or person) that is not present by putting in its place an "image" that is able to adequately represent what is absent. In this sense, representation means to make things recognizable indirectly, through the drawing of an object, through words and gestures, through figures and signs (e.g. in a riddle, in an emblem, in a fable, in an allegory). In the legal and political sense, however, representation also means "to take someone's place, to have his power in hand." Hence the double definition of the representative as the one who represents an absent person in a public office who actually holds it, as well as the one who is appointed in inheritance matters in place of the person whose rights he holds.

3This definition is based on the old, factual understanding of "representation" as an image that was placed on the king's death bed instead of the corpse of the king. This literal meaning, which exists in both English and French, is inextricably linked with that of Ernst Kantorowicz in The two bodies of the king analyzed political theory, which finds its visible expression in the funeral ceremonies of the French and English kings and its conceptual formulation among the jurists of the 16th century. In the moment of burial, which is central to the survival of the dynasty, there is a dramatic reversal of the double presence of the ruler, who is mortal as a person and, at the same time, as the embodiment of royal dignity, never dies. It is based on

»[The] custom […] of placing a 'royal representation' on the coffin, a picture or a figure ad similitudinem regis. The image was made of wood or leather, stuffed and plastered; it wore the coronation robes, later a parliamentary robe. The image sported the royal insignia. On the head of the picture, which had been made from the death mask since Henry VII, sat the crown, in the artificial hands it carried scepter and orb. From then on, where circumstances did not forbid it, the images were used at royal funerals. In the lead coffin, which was enclosed in a wooden box, rested the king's corpse, his mortal and otherwise visible, if now invisible, natural body, while his otherwise invisible "political body" was on display on this occasion in the form of the royally decorated image was. A persona ficta, the image, personified another persona ficta, the dignitas.« 2

As Furetière wrote, "if you look at a deceased ruler on his deathbed, you only see his representation, his image". There is thus a radical separation between the absent represented (whether fictional or real person) and the object that makes it present, illustrates it.

4In Shakespeare's drama Richard II In three central scenes annotated by Ernst Kantorowicz (III, 2, III, 3 and IV, 1 according to the classifications of the folio edition of 1623), the gradual withdrawal of the natural body from its political body, the separation of the individual Richard from the the holy dignity of the elected king and representative of God. How the three scenes are based on the political theory of the two bodies of the king, Kantorowicz has shown splendidly. Countless metaphors transform the theory into equally poetic as well as religious and political images: for example, through comparisons with natural elements (day and night, sun and shadow), biblical equations (above all those of the king with Jesus Christ and his enemies with Judas or Pontius Pilate) or by figures of an upside-down world who invert the roles of ruler and subject or king and fool. The text builds on the tension that emanates from the two possible forms of the king's renunciation of power: on the one hand, it is formulated as an abdication, which gives the new king full legitimacy; on the other, it presents itself as a deposition, whose power the Threatens the peace in the kingdom to the utmost. Furthermore, the text is based on the double embodiment assumed by the theory of the two bodies: If the natural body of the king merges with the political body in one and the same individual, the reverse is also true. As soon as this political body passes to another, the king is nothing. He no longer has a name or a face, he is only that "crowned snowman" who melts away in the sun of the new ruler.

5In Richard II modifies Shakespeare's Chronicle of Holinshed in one very important point, namely in the scene of the deposition of the king. In the Chronicle Shakespeare read in its 1587 edition, the role of Parliament is to confirm Richard's alleged abdication and to approve Bolingbroke, now Henry IV, ascending the throne. Only after this double approval should the reasons for this double event be explained. In Shakespeare's play, at least in its 1608 edition, the whole thing takes place a little differently, because there - as reported by Northumberland - the House of Commons demands the public deposition of the king. This difference, which is certainly due more to dramatic than to political motives, explains why a large part of the parliamentary scene (IV, 1, verse 154–317) is missing in the first three quarto editions of the »tragedy« published in 1597 and 1598, and why in the folio edition of 1623 (in the meantime the play is a "history") the text of the scene added in 1604 was changed so that it was no longer the House of Commons, conveyed via Northumberland, but Bolingbroke that uttered those words that made the public appearance of the Demand king.

Public presence of a person or thing

6Foretière, the term »representation« has a further meaning: »In the (justice) palace, representation means the presentation and presentation of a thing«. This introduces the definition of representing as "appearing personally and representing a thing". Representation here means something like showing a presence, the public presentation of a thing or a person. The thing or the person is the representation of themselves. That or the person represented and his or her image are one, inseparably linked: “Even with living people, one sometimes speaks of representation. In front of a serious, majestic figure one says: this is a person of beautiful representation [›voilà une personne de belle représentation‹]. «

7The dictionaries of other European languages ​​of the 17th century also record this double regime of presence of the word "representation" in that they presuppose either a relationship between sign and thing or a correspondence between thing and sign. Published in 1611 Tesoro de la lengua castellana Covarrubias only mentions the first family of senses: "Representing: makes a thing present to us through words or images that are fixed in our imagination". This is followed by the legal sense ("to represent means to include a person in yourself as if you were this person yourself in order to take their place with all actions and rights") or those with "represent" / "representation" associated words in the field of theater: "representation, comedy or tragedy" or "representatives, comedians, one who represents the king as if his figure were present; another gives the lover, another the lady, etc. "

8 At the beginning of the 18th century in Diccionario de Autoridades as in Furetière, the meaning of "representar" is divided into "to make something present" and that Tesoro from Covarrubias not yet familiar "to make visible something that exists or seems to exist". Both definitions - the former, that of the absence of the person or thing represented, and the latter, that proceeds from self-expression - are brought together: “Representation also means authority, dignity, character or the recommendation of a person. And so it is said that Mr. Fulano in Madrid is a man of representation «.

In considering the relationship between the representation of political power and the political power of representation, Louis Marin never disregarded these two ancient meanings of the word. The first sense of the word, which fits into the tradition of sign theory of the grammarians and logicians of Port Royal, denotes the two operations of representation when it visualizes an absent speaker:

»One of the most operational models that have been created in order to explore the functioning of modern representation - be it linguistic or visual - is one that requires the consideration of the double dimension of its dispositive: here the 'transitive' dimension or transparency of the content of the utterance, that is, each representation represents something; there the 'reflective' dimension or utterance opacity, i.e. every representation presents itself as representing something «.3

When the Eucharistic model is transferred to the power of the highest Catholic prince of the church, a first dimension results, in which the host is the representation of the body of Jesus Christ and its image is the representation of his absent body. But with this narrative, historical representation, which implies a relationship between a sign and the one that gives meaning, the meaning of the Eucharist or the image of the ruler is not exhausted. They also fall under the second sense of representation, that which understands representation as the (showing) of a presence. The host is the body of Jesus in its true presence, just as his images - in all absence - are the visible manifestation of the presence of his sacramental body. This complex construction, based on the two meanings of representation, is shaken when Louis XIV introduces his own naturalistic portrait on the symbols that are supposed to represent him in his absence as well as his presence. By linking the two dispositives of representation, the transitive and the reflexive, in their own historicity, the mechanisms can be examined, thanks to which the representation presents itself as something representative. In the introduction to his book The opaque in painting Louis Marin emphasizes the heuristic effects of such a shift, in which a purely semiotic, structural approach based solely on the analysis of language is replaced by a historical and material study of the modalities and procedures of the "presentation of representation". Thus, a close connection can be established between conceptual reflection on the concept of representation in the areas of logic, theology and the political and the analytical perspectives, which pay attention to the meaning effects produced by the forms of inscription of the discourse.

10With the help of the concept of representation, the different relationships between individuals or groups and the social world to which they belong could be articulated better than with the concept of mentality. Thanks to its ambiguity, in the sociological sense of "collective representation" or "collective imagination" it first describes the patterns of perception and judgment on which the classifications and hierarchies that construct the social world are based. According to the older sense recorded in the dictionaries of the 17th and 18th centuries, the concept can denote practices and signs, symbols and behaviors, the aim of which is to show and allow a social identity or an authority to be recognized. Finally, in a political sense, the concept characterizes the institutionalized forms, on the basis of which "representatives" (whether individuals or collective instances) visibly embody or "visualize" the cohesion of a social category, the stability of an identity or the strength of a power. By connecting these three levels, the concept of representation changes the understanding of the social world, for it forces us to think of the construction of identities, hierarchies and classifications as the result of "representation struggles" in which it is about the (recognized or denied) power of Sign goes that should allow a rule or sovereign power to be recognized as legitimate.

In this way it is also understandable how confrontations in which opposing powers and brute forces confront each other are transformed into symbolic battles in which the representations are both a weapon and an object of conflict. Representation has such a capacity, according to Louis Marin

»Completes the substitution of the external manifestation in which a force only appears in order to destroy another force in the struggle for life and death, through signs of strength or, better, through signals and clues that only seen, stated, shown, then tells and recited so that the force whose effects they are believed will. «4

The reference to Pascal is very close here. If the latter describes the mechanism of "display" which is aimed at imagination and produces faith, then he contrasts those for which such an "apparatus is necessary with those for which it is not". Among the former are the judges and the doctors:

“Our law enforcement officers saw this secret very well. Their red gowns, their ermine, in which they wrap themselves up like cats adorned with fur strips, the palaces in which they speak right, the lily coats of arms, all this sublime splendor was very necessary [...] and if the doctors had no coats and slippers and those Legal scholars do not have four-part berets and four-part robes that are much too wide, so they would never have betrayed the world, which cannot withstand this so credible display. If they spoke the true law and if the doctors had mastered the real art of healing, they would not need square berets. The dignity of these sciences would be awe-inspiring enough in themselves, but since they have only imagined sciences, they have to resort to those vain tools that work on the imagination with which they are dealing, and thereby actually earn themselves respect. «5

For the masters of brute force, however, such manipulation of the signs is completely useless:

“Only the warriors didn't disguise themselves like that because their personal intervention is indeed more essential. They prevail with violence, the others with dazzling work. «6

The contrast established by Pascal is particularly relevant to the history of the societies of the Ancien Régime, as it allows the forms of symbolic rule - through images, "display" or "splendid furnishings" (l’attirail) «(The word is from La Bruyère) - to think as the logical consequence of the monopoly on the legitimate use of force that the absolute ruler strives to establish. The violence does not disappear in the process that transforms it into power, it is rather at the ruler's service - like his soldiers too - at any time, through the multiplication of symbols (portraits, coins, buildings, hymns of praise, stories, etc.), which illustrate the power of the ruler and are supposed to evoke obedience and worship without the slightest use of force, but put on hold. Consequently, the instruments ensure the symbolic rule basically

»The negation and at the same time the preservation of the absolute of violence: negation because violence is neither exercised nor manifested, for it is peaceful in the signs that it signifies and that designate it; Conservation, because violence is represented by representation and in it as justice, that is to say, as an obligatory law on the punishment of death «.7

The exercise of political rule is thus based on the display of the symbolic forms that represent the power of the king, which is visible and credible even in his absence. As an extension of this silent dialogue between Marin and Elias, one can add that it was precisely the (at least relative, tendency) pacification of social space between the Middle Ages and the 17th century.Century made possible the transformation of violent conflicts into representation battles, in which the order of the social world and with it the rank of each class (budget), any corporation (corps) or every single person was at stake.

Hence the relationship between collective mental ideas and theatrical performances, which was so pronounced in the early modern period. As Stephen Greenblatt in Negotiations with Shakespeare emphasizes, they seize the social energy that lies in the languages, speeches, rituals and practices of the social world and transform it into powerful fictions:

»But what is the social energy that is implemented here? It is about power, charisma, sexual arousal, collective dreams, amazement, desire, fear, religious awe, random, intense experiences. In a certain sense the question is absurd, because anything that is produced by society can also circulate unless it is deliberately excluded from the cycle. «8

The representations on the stage in turn model those of the audience:

»By virtue of its own means of representation, each piece brings different quanta of social energy onto the stage; the stage in turn transforms this energy and directs it back to the audience. «9

This circulation of representations between a work and its viewers or readers is thus defined as the

13 »Ability of certain linguistic, auditory and visual traces to evoke collective physical and mental sensations and to shape and order them« .10

Now the heuristic relevance of the concept of representation is not limited to the societies of the ancien régime, despite the historical classification, and is not only regulated by the legal codification of social inequality, but it is no less useful for understanding how it is in contemporary "democratic" societies At the intersection of objective social characteristics and the (accepted or rejected) representations that classes or groups present of themselves, ranks and hierarchies are constructed. Bourdieu writes in The subtle differences:

»One only needs to realize once that goods are transformed into distinctive signs which - once seen in relation to others - can be signs of distinction, but also of vulgarity, in order to recognize that the ideawho have favourited individuals and groups through their characteristics and practices inevitable convey is an integral part of their social reality. A class defines itself through it Being perceived as well as through her Be, through their consumption - which does not have to be ostentatious in order to have a symbolic character - as well as through their position within the relations of production (even if this determines them)

According to this, struggles for classification and representation shape the social world at least as strongly, if not more, than objective determinations according to which classes and groups are separated. The incorporation of social structures by the individual, depending on his or her origin, way of life and affiliation, and the power relations made possible by the perpetuation of the representations that legitimize them bring together here. It is only when these representations crack and crumble that criticism and ruptures become conceivable.

It is probably for this very reason that the concept of representation has been used in so many works in recent decades, which meanwhile in itself describes cultural history, as well as the terms of symbolic rule or symbolic violence, which, according to Bourdieu, in the Meditations, presuppose that the person concerned contributes to their effectiveness by believing in the legitimacy of the principles that oppress them.

»Symbolic violence is a compulsion that does not come about without consent, which the ruled cannot refuse to the ruler (and thus the rulership) if he is only to reflect on him and about himself or, better, to reflect on his relationship with him has cognitive instruments at his disposal which he has in common with him and which, since they are nothing other than the incorporated form of the structure of the dominant relationship, make this relationship appear natural; Or, in other words, when the schemata through which he perceives and evaluates himself (high / low, male / female, white / black, etc.) are the product of the incorporation of classifications that thus become his own nature, the product of which is his social being. «12

It is well known that the interplay of these two concepts has profoundly changed the understanding of several fundamental realities: for example the exercise of authority based on the acceptance of the signs, rites and images that represent them and call for obedience. Or the construction of identities, regardless of which one, which always takes place in the field of tension between the ideas imposed (by powers, authorities or doctrines) and the individual people's sense of belonging. Not to be forgotten: the relations between the sexes, which contradictingly appear at the same time as the imposition of certain roles by ideas and practices that justify male supremacy, and the assertion of one depending on whether the male models are rejected or internalized, outside or inside the female identity settled in consent.

The reflection on the construction of male and female identities through representations exemplifies the high standards that pervade every historical scientific practice today: It is important to understand how representations, be they conveyed through language, images or actions, determine relationships of domination and at the same time even depend on the unequal resources and conflicting interests of those whose power they legitimize and those others whose submission they are supposed to perpetuate. A perspective that makes the investigation of representations the fundamental object of her research does not ignore the realities of the social world, as some believed or feared, but on the contrary is the most social of all historiographies.

In the last few years Paul Ricœur has undoubtedly dealt most emphatically in his work with the relationship and the differences between the various modalities of the representation of the past - narrative fiction, the processes of memory, historical knowledge. In his work Memory, history, forgetting he makes a number of distinctions between the two forms of presence of the past in the present: the search for memory or anamnesis when a person, as Borges writes, "descends into his memory", and the historiographical process. The first distinction is that between testimony and document. The former is inextricably linked with the (eye) witness and with the credibility that his testimony may or may not evoke; The latter, which creates access to a past that is nobody's memory, can only be evaluated using the techniques of historical criticism. A second distinction highlights the contrast between the immediacy of the reminiscence and the construction of the historical explanation, whereby the latter can either privilege the regularities and contexts that the actors fail to recognize or their own explicit motives or conscious strategies. And finally, the recognition of the past promised by memory stands in contrast to its truthful representation, which is provided by the document criticism and explanatory construction peculiar to historiography.

This explains the twofold status of representation in Ricœur's considerations: it does indeed designate a special subject of the historiographical questionnaire that has assumed a central position in cultural-historical practice; and at the same time it describes the regime of historical statements per se, which are subject to the discipline's own claim to truth and verifiability of knowledge. Paraphrasing the distinction made by Louis Marin, one could say that the historical representation of the past really has a double dimension: a transitive in that it represents something that has been and is no longer, and a reflexive because it does so by they openly set out the rules and demands that govern their representation work. In the case of the social and cultural history already mentioned above, the representations of the actors themselves become the object represented by the historical representation. And this is precisely why for Ricœur the ambiguity and conciseness of the concept of representation, which is able to unite the object to be known and the process of knowing:

»The historian is thus confronted with what at first appears to be a regrettable ambiguity of the term› representation ‹, which, depending on the context, describes the object of the historical discourse as the recalcitrant legacy of the mentality idea or, as a phase of historiography, the representation as an operation. [...] Here a hypothesis comes to mind: Should the historian telling the story not mimic the interpretive gesture through which those who make the story make themselves in a creative way, raising it to the level of the learned discourse and try to understand their world? The hypothesis is particularly plausible within a pragmatic conception of historiography, which takes care not to separate the representations from the forms of practice through which the social actors establish the social bond and provide them with multiple identities. There would then be a mimetic relationship between the representation as an operation, which is a moment of story-telling, and the representation as an object, which is a moment of story-making. «13

The latter is always presented in the form of a narrative. But does one have to conclude from this that it is just one fiction among many? Several reasons have led to such a conclusion: First, the fact that the same rhetorical tropes and narrative structures are used in both the historiography and the novel has led to the fact that the capacity for knowledge inherent in history dissolves into a narrative that epistemologically nothing can be distinguished from the truth of the fable. Furthermore, the historical representation of the past is always threatened by the referential illusion. Of course, the power of such an illusion, which represents a referent without objective reality as real, as Barthes affirmed, in the novel, which, abandoning the category of credibility, has produced realistic spellings that are supposed to give fiction truth, is not the same as in the historical one Discourse in which "the presence of things is a sufficient principle for speaking" .14 Indeed, the historian inserts in his narrative the evidence - quotations from sources, reproductions of documents, photographs - for that "presence of things". In this context, Michel de Certeau speaks of a duplicated, split or even layered structure of the historical discourse, which in the historical analysis includes the traces of the past, to the understanding of which he would like to contribute.

However, as all historical falsifications and fictions that masquerade as historical narratives show, the truthful representation of the past is never completely immune to the temptation of referential illusion. To prove it as true knowledge is as necessary as it is difficult. In a time like today, in which imagined stories emanate a strong temptation, this task is, however, very fundamental, since it defines the criteria on the basis of which a distance can be taken into account that the historical discourse as an adequate representation of the Separates the past or, more precisely, from the past which the historian has constructed as his subject.

Once again, Ricoeur shows a possible way by affirming that it is only by going back from historiography (related to fiction) to the critical research methods and procedures on which the documentary evidence and historical construction is based that the claim to truth is made can accredit their discourse:

Once the representative modes that are supposed to give literary form to historical intentionality have been questioned, then the only responsible way of strengthening the evidence of reality against suspicion of irrelevance is to contrast the scriptural phase with the previous phases of the with understanding explanation and the taking of documentary evidence to re-assign the place due to her. In other words, only all together are scripturality, understanding explanation and documentary evidence capable of accrediting the historical discourse's claim to truth. Only when the art of writing refers back to the ›techniques of research‹ and to the ›critical procedures‹ is it capable of transforming the protest into a confirmation that has become criticism. «15

The historical application of the concept of representation has been criticized twice. The term is doubly harmful: it removes history from the objective realities that make up the past because it gives priority to the study of illusions, dreams and fantasies and, worse, it undermines the status of knowledge in favor of a fable about fables or in favor of an uncritical passing on of myths that were constructed by the historical actors themselves. In my opinion, this is by no means the case. The concept of representation in its multiple meanings is one of those concepts that help to understand with the greatest clarity how the dividing lines and hierarchies of the social world are formed. Accepting that the historical discourse itself is and can only be a representation of the past does not in any way mean depriving it of any scientific nature, but on the contrary, laying its foundations.

The representations on which perceptions and judgments are based and which guide the various ways of speaking and actions are just as "real" as the processes, behaviors or conflicts that are considered to be "concrete". This insistence on the "concrete" as opposed to the supposedly abstract representation exhibited by some advocates of social history is quite unsettling. One can, recalling Foucault, ask oneself whether a “very meager idea of ​​reality” is not present where it is equated solely with “concrete” situations. Foucault wrote:

“There is no 'the' real that one could achieve if one spoke of everything, or of certain things that are 'more real' than others, and which one would miss if one limited oneself to other elements in the interests of unfounded abstractions and make other relationships visible. [...] A certain type of rationality, a way of thinking, a program, a technique, a set of rational and coordinated efforts, defined and pursued goals, the instruments for their achievement, etc., all of this is real, even if it does not claim to To be 'the reality' or 'the' society as a whole. «16

This warning should suffice to free the intellectual discussion from the false contradictions that sometimes block it.

Certainly the practices at which the representations are directed in various ways cannot be traced back to the discourses which they describe, regulate, prescribe, or forbid. They are neither subsumed nor absorbed by the representations they designate. So the question arises: How can the historian grasp silent practices whose specific logic is not that of the - whatever - discourses that make them read? In his commentary on Foucaults Monitor and punish Michel de Certeau highlighted the tension (and risk) inherent in any attempt to report on the execution of the practices:

»If the theory no longer wants to be a discourse about other previous discourses and ventures into non- or pre-linguistic regions where there are only practices without discourse, then certain problems arise. At first there is a sudden change through which the reliable basis of language disappears. The theoretical procedure suddenly finds itself at the extreme limit of its usual range, like a car on the edge of a cliff. Beyond that there is only the sea. Foucault works on the edge of this cliff if he wants to invent a discourse that can speak of non-discursive practices. ”17

Any history of practices necessarily works on the brink of this abyss and has to accept the compelling mediation of the representations, not without keeping it under control with the help of the techniques of documentary criticism.

Haut de page