A Brief Introduction to the Representational Framework

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The representational framework, generally speaking, postulates that the extratextual author gains representation in the form of the (an) intratextual author or the lyrical I, and that the original experience of the extratextual author gains representation in the text in a visual model centred around subjects, or, as I shall refer to them, exhibits. Such a segregation of extratextual and intratextual layers—along with certain categories I shall introduce—may well strike one as outmoded from a Post-Structuralist point of view. However, as I hope to demonstrate, these concepts and categories are flexible enough to incorporate suggestions that have been used to criticise Structuralist approaches to literature.

Parts of the framework have been influenced by the theory of Alexander A. Potebnja on the threefold structure of literary works, which has been presented and meticulously analysed in a monograph by John Fizer. Alexander A. Potebnja (1835–1891) was a Ukrainian intellectual. While René Wellek does mention him in his A History of Modern Criticism, and perceives him as one anticipating Croce and Vossler, his theory has remained virtually unknown to the Western world. This, according to Fizer, is due to the fact that Potebnja himself “did not regard criticism as his main intellectual concern,” focusing, instead, on linguistics. The reception of his work in the Russian Empire was, at the beginning, similarly limited. Later, however, it seems to have raised widespread interest, which was terminated by Socialist Realism in the 1930s. I shall present relevant elements from Potebnja’s theory alongside with the concepts I wish to introduce.

This framework postulates the existence of three layers both in the process of composition and that of reception of a work of art; the processes are regarded symmetric.

Layer III is, on the first level of approximation, situated outside the work. In the compositional process, it is the original experience, problem, etc. experienced by the author which becomes represented—according to this model—in the work of art. In reception, layer III is the interpretation created by a reader. Generally, it is supposed that the original experience of the biographical author is irrecoverable from the text and that interpretation differs among readers. Recurring to the subjective–objective dichotomy it could be suggested that whereas the text might be regarded as existing objectively, layer III is classified as subjective.

Layer I is the textual level. It is the message transmitted during the artistic communication, but it can be argued that it also contains connotations and associative elements generally available to members of the interpretative community the artistic discourse is taking place in. Let me point out that I have disregarded the case of deferred communication, in which the interpretative community in which a work emerged is considerably different from the interpretative community the reader belongs to. Let me add that, according to Potebnja, no meaning can be generated outside a particular time and place, that is, outside a particular interpretative community. “External forms that are either ‘ahead of time’ or ‘behind time’ rather than ‘in time’ are, in Potebnja’s view, hardly aesthetically significant.”

Layer II can be defined as the structures generated by the text in the reader during the act of reading. Theoretically, it is supposed to contain all possible structures; I would suggest that it is during interpretation (generation of layer III) that readers emphasize certain structures in line with their interpretations and suppress others. This suggestion could be complemented by the idea that the generation of layer III might be optional at least in the sense of formulating a conscious and verbalised interpretation of an artwork. In line with the above, I suggest that such a formulation results in a necessarily abstracted version of the internalized work of art (see theme).

Layer II, therefore, has a dual nature. On the one hand, strictly speaking, it exists only in the reader and is a result of reading; on the other, during its generation, in theory, no inter-reader differences have yet been introduced. It is supposed, in other words, that layer II is identical across readers.

In Potebnja’s theory, similar three layers can be found: the external form (layer I), the internal form (layer II) and signification, content or idea (layer III). His views agree with mine in suggesting that signification “changes markedly in every new perception;” in that the internal form tends to expire, reducing the structure of literary (Potebnja talks of poetic) works “to two constituents—external form and signification—and its potential polysemy to a referential monosemy;” and in that one of the main differences between poetic and non-poetic (scientific, in the extreme) texts is that the latter lack internal form.

Despite these similarities, there are also a number of differences between my framework and Potebnja’s theory. Most importantly, Potebnja appears to have embedded the above cited ideas in an inherently Romantic and 19th-century view of language suggesting, for example, that language itself mirrors and originates from perception. Regarding his ideas influencing the representational framework, it should be noted that in his view, the poetic work contains its internal form, which, like the external one, is internalised during the act of reading. Fizer even suggests that Potebnja treats these two forms as “linguistic givens.” Opposed to this view, I hold that it is only the external form (layer I) that is transmitted and internalised in the strict sense. The linguistically coded nature of layer II in Potebnja’s theory possibly makes more sense if one considers his suggestion that the word has a threefold structure identical to that of literary texts—a notion entirely missing from the framework I am presenting.

Similarly to Potebnja, I regard one of the central structural building-blocks of layer II the image. In the present framework, it functions as a sample structure with which it is attempted to analyse and describe structures on layer II. Potebnja goes as far as equating image with the internal form (layer II). Describing the threefold structure of the word and the work, however,

while it was relatively simple to define the internal form of the word, inasmuch as Potebnja equated it with its etymon, the image of the work of poetic art eluded an easy definition. His theory, in spite of the central importance of internal form, gave no definition of the image.

My definition of the image is relatively simple and flexible. It is a set of related textual elements which describe—that is, create a visualizable model of—the element at the centre of the image, the exhibit. The image and its exhibit are said to be motivated by elements related to it. The elements that I consider capable of motivating images are those which are able to trigger immediate (usually visual) associations. I shall use concreteness in the sense that a concrete element triggers more associations than a conceptual or abstract one. Let me consider a few examples in order to clarify this definition. I would argue that “swallow” is more concrete than “bird” as a swallow has a more specific size, outline and plumage than a generalized bird. It may also be associated with “summer” based on the idiom. Concepts (e.g. “love”) are not, in my view, generally capable of motivating images. Regarding grammatical categories, I found that elements motivating images are most often nouns or short noun phrases; however, certain verbs (consider “fighting” or “plucking,” for example) or other content words may also be regarded as visual enough to be included in this class.

Analysing the distribution of these elements has proved fruitful partly because they could be regarded as being unaltered during the translation from layer I to layer II in the perception process. In this respect, these elements behave like minimal, atomic building blocks, and based on this property, I will also refer to them as minemes. Furthermore, it can be suggested that the set of elements associated with a given mineme is more or less fixed in a given interpretative community, and that—under the same condition—the aesthetic quality of a mineme can be approximated on a one-dimensional scale ranging from the positive to the negative. At the same time, associations and the aesthetic quality of a given element will, naturally, be altered by the context, by other minemes in the same image. To use a simile, I imagine these qualities of minemes to be like the warmth or coldness of colours: while a given colour can be said to be warm or cold in isolation based on a general agreement in a community, the context of the colour will highly determine whether this warmth or coldness is suppressed or made salient.

This framework goes further, however, in forcing a prescribed structural set-up on layer II. It postulates that images themselves are ordered hierarchically allowing images to be part of, or to motivate, superordinate images like minemes do. Images at the centres of these hierarchies are base images. Sometimes it is possible to select one base image for a whole work, the global base image, the exhibit of which is the global exhibit of the text.

Potebnja’s “main image” might be related to my “base image.” However, as the following excerpts show, main image, for Potebnja, may precede the work, or be an idea:

A complex artistic work is exactly the same kind of development of the main image as the complex sentence is the development of one emotional image.
Individual images, in order to yield content, are to be arranged in some relation of subordination and interdependence. The main image is either a complex that consists of subordinates or an idea of the intended object, graspable in the sensibly perceptible form.

While I agree with Potebnja that inter-image relations are necessary, in my framework, the base image remains an image. It is not lifted out of the hierarchy and out of layer II, as an emotional image is lifted out of a sentence or an idea of an object from the set of images.

It is also worth noting that while Potebnja himself did not define image, Fizer attempted to abstract a definition from his arguments. According to him, Potebnja regarded the construction of images as happening either step by step, combining representations in words (a mode, according to Potebnja, preferred by narrative), or suddenly, at certain points in the text, where the internal form of a word dominates those around it (a mode preferred by lyrical texts). My definition of the image appears to be a combination of these two modes inasmuch as every image is postulated to have a centre while is enriched by a series of other elements at the same time.

I define the theme of a work of art as its experience or interpretation abstracted to a level which is common to all interpretations and the experience. (In this framework it is supposed that it is possible to do so based on the similarity of readers in an interpretative group. However, in a less simplistic model of composition and reception of artistic works this postulate should be refined or done away with.) Metathesis refers to the relationship between the represented theme / experience / interpretation on layer III and the representer layers II & I. In other words, it relates the experience centred around the theme to the representation centred around the global exhibit of a work. If there is no metathesis, that is, if layer III is rendered directly into layer I, and layer II is missing, the text is considered to become non-artistic, as suggested above.

The lyrical I is the intratextual author, the intratextual addresser of the artistic communication. I termed the relationship between the author and its representation, the lyrical I alienation, mainly because I generally suppose them to be distinct and connected by nothing else than the representational relationship. I regard metathesis and alienation parallel and hardly separable processes, as one describes rendering the object, the other the subject of an experience into the object and the subject of a representation. Thus, as far as the scope of the present framework reaches, alienation, similarly to metathesis, is required for artistic texts. This requirement echoes the notion of the death of the author as a necessary step (technique) in writing. T. S. Eliot and Mark Schorer, among others, refer to the alienation of the experience from the original experiencer, the author as essential in artistic creation.

Equalling alienation and metathesis has the important consequence that—as far as theme can be regarded “objectively” derivable from a text, and therefore regarded, in a limited sense, intratextual—general authorial presence, that is, the extent of alienation manifests itself in the internal structure of an artwork, in the extent of metathesis, in the span between theme and exhibit.

* * *

Images, however, are not the only tools with which the distribution of minemes on layer II can be investigated. A distinction can be drawn between elements that are present in the reality created by the text (view) and elements which are merely conjured up by it (vision).

I use layer A and layer B to denote view and vision, respectively. Thus, layer A consists of all elements in a text that can be physically present in its “reality,” while layer B hosts all elements that point outside the images accepted as the “world” created by the text at the actual point of reading. This paper will follow Éva Babits’s views in suggesting that rhetorical figures like similes and metaphors usually connect elements from both layers. For example, in the simile his hand was as dry as a camel’s back after a week’s journey in the Sahara, “his hand,” present in the reality of the text, is on layer A, while “camel’s back,” “journey,” “Sahara,” etc. most probably reside on layer B. This example also shows that elements on layer B might generally be said to describe elements on layer A.

As I attempted to show in my paper titled “Incorporation and Dissociation: Changes in the A/B Structure between Realism and Modernism,” the figure of the symbol can be analysed as an element originally belonging to layer B but moving to layer A. This proposed analysis is not without parallels. It is, among others, closely related to Roman Ingarden’s remarks on symbolization:

It is part of the essence of the symbolizing function that (1) what is symbolized and that which symbolizes it belong to different worlds […] (2) what is symbolized is in fact only ‘symbolized’ and cannot attain self-presentation. As something symbolized, it is, according to its essence directly inaccessible, it is that which does not show itself.

In the same paper, I also argued that myths essentially have a similar internal structure, which suggestion, in turn, can be related to the observation on the nature of myths by S. A. Tokarev and Y. M. Meletinsky:

Symbolism is the most important feature of myths, [which] manifests itself in the unclear distinction between subject and object, between object and sign [...]. Concrete objects, without losing their tangibility, may become signs of other objects or phenomena, that is, they may replace [represent] them symbolically.

The following works are examples of practical applications of this framework: