The problem of representation - that the representation of a concept can never be that concept - is a version of the enduring philosophical problem of the difference between appearance and its underlying reality. Examining how the limitations of representation have been discussed from Kant up through Marxist theorists of postmodernism, The Abyss of Representation illuminates the epistemological, political, aesthetic, ideological, and cultural issues hinging on the inevitable failures of representation. Drawing on the work of Althusser, Zizek, and Lacan, George Hartley argues that while ideology is a representation of the relationship of individual subjects to their real conditions of existence, this relationship is an imaginary one. He demonstrates why hysteria (hysterical conversion) is the necessary condition for acceptance of that ideology which constitutes us as selves and subjects within society. This hysterical conversion also generates the Lacanian symptom of social symbolic order, which, Hartley posits, in contemporary Western society is the subaltern subject described by Gayatri Spivak. This subaltern is the postmodern sublime object continuously effaced from view - a central part of the social order paradoxically relegated to the extreme periphery. Hartley contends that in the United States the subaltern is exemplified by the Chica, an American who can never be American eugh. By looking at the history of the term representation in philosophical discourse, Hartley provides a deep understanding of the problems that hinge on representations' failures.
George Hartley is Associate Professor of English at Ohio University. He is author of Textual Politics and the Language Poets.