Representation is one of the most fundamental categories of art and literature. Re-presenting something no longer present, whether that be an object or action drawn from elsewhere in the world, or from the near or distant past, or entirely created from the imagination, is an action as old as humanity itself. Its basic aim, as Furetière suggested in the 17th century, is to ‘paint things as they are’. But as the history of modernity has taught us, when language intervenes – and especially when it becomes ‘text’ – the equation between the object and its mimetic representation is far from obvious. Furetière’s own observation that verbal representation has a rhetorical, psychological and rhythmic function in addition to the purely descriptive (or ‘pictorial’) suggests as much. And from Mallarmé to Pessoa to Rilke, from Kafka to Lispector, from Borges to Beckett, writers of the 19th and 20th centuries have shifted their attention away from transitive depictions of the ‘absent object' to argue for a focus on the intransitive potentialities of literary language itself.
Although loosely mapping onto traditional literary studies in all their variety and breadth, the nucleus of this research cluster is (literary) language in both its transitive and intransitive incarnations, insofar as it brings together scholars working on different aspects of textual representation, whether this be from a poetic, fictional, rhetorical or indeed theoretical perspective. Of course, each of these starting points has its own history and logic, but each will offer access to new ways of understanding what Henri Meschonnic called ‘a form of language that transforms a form of life’.
- Representation, an Image that brings to mind or memory absent objects, & paints them as they are.
Representation, is also painting an action, or a true or false history, through speech. […] In their tragedies, poets make lively representations of the events of history, of the passions of heroes. Poetry is a speaking painting.
To represent, means to remonstrate, to attempt to persuade. […] A defendant represents his innocence to the judge.
Antoine Furetière, Dictionnaire universel (1690)
- The question is whether language’s role is to represent an unchanging world through unchanging means, varying only epithets and verbs in its description. Or if we can envision other means of expression which are non-descriptive and whether there is another type of signification born of that rupture.
Émile Benveniste, ‘Ce langage qui fait l’histoire' (1968)
- What I call poetry is a form of life that transforms a form of language and, reciprocally, a form of language that transforms a form of life. A poem therefore transforms the writer, but it also transforms the reader.
Henri Meschonnic, ‘Des voix dans la poésie' (2007)