In Christianity, the cross represents the suffering and crucifixion of Christ.’ The figures in the painting stand in the place of, and at the same time, stand for the story of Cain and Abel. Likewise, the cross simply consists of two wooden planks nailed together; but in the context of Christian belief and teaching, it takes on, symbolizes or comes to stand for a wider set of meanings about the crucifixion of the Son of God, and this is a concept we can put into words and pictures. ACTIVITY 1 Here is a simple exercise about representation. Look at any familiar object in the room. You will immediately recognize what it is. But how do you know what the object is? What does ‘recognize’ mean? Now try to make yourself conscious of what you are doing – observe what is going on as you do it. You recognize what it is because your thought processes decode your visual perception of the object in terms of a concept of it which you have in your head. This must be so because, if you look away from the object, you can still think about it by conjuring it up, as we say, ‘in your mind’s eye’. Go on – try to follow the process as it happens: there is the object … and there is the concept in your head which tells you what it is, what your visual image of it means. Now, tell me what it is. Say it aloud: ‘It’s a lamp’ – or a table or a book or the phone or whatever. The concept of the object has passed through your mental representation of it to me via the word for it which 2 01-Hall_Ch-01.indd 2 18/04/2013 12:23:49 PM The Work of Representation you have just used. The word stands for or represents the concept, and can be used to reference or designate either a ‘real’ object in the world or indeed even some imaginary object, like angels dancing on the head of a pin, which no one has ever actually seen. This is how you give meaning to things through language. This is how you ‘make sense of’ the world of people, objects and events, and how you are able to express a complex thought about those things to other people, or communicate about them through language in ways which other people are able to understand. Why do we have to go through this complex process to represent our thoughts? If you put down a glass you are holding and walk out of the room, you can still think about the glass, even though it is no longer physically there. Actually, you can’t think with a glass. You can only think with the concept of the glass. As the linguists are fond of saying, ‘Dogs bark. But the concept of “dog” cannot bark or bite.’ You can’t speak with the actual glass, either. You can only speak with the word for glass – GLASS – which is the linguistic sign which we use in English to refer to objects out of which you drink water. This is where representation comes in. Representation is the production of the meaning of the concepts in our minds through language. It is the link between concepts and language which enables us to refer to either the ‘real’ world of objects, people or events, or indeed to imaginary worlds of fictional objects, people and events. So there are two processes, two systems of representation, involved. First, there is the ‘system’ by which all sorts of objects, people and events are correlated with a set of concepts or mental representations which we carry around in our heads. Without them, we could not interpret the world meaningfully at all.

 

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