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Philosophy of the Arts


How the real precedes the represented

I simply love Currie’s assumption that the real precedes the represented, but object to his use of it. In Image and Mind, he argues that fictional entities because they are non-existent cannot be represented photographically. “A fiction does not have the kinds of properties—shape, size, colour—that could be represented pictorially.” (p. 12).
I have called that an ontological fallacy, and I stick with that assessment. So what about the assumption that the real precedes over the represented?
It is, really, quite simple. The assumption must be rephrased as the priority of the present over the absent, and all’s well. What is present and what is absent when we are in the cinema? One finds oneself in the presence of other members of the audience, and chairs, etc. and the screen. And one finds oneself in the presence of a projection on the screen. Therein one sees things absent. The represented is present only in as far as represented, i.e. as an aspect of the representation which itself is present. Therefore, all understanding of what is represented must be due to an understanding of the representation. To see whether something can or can not be represented one merely has to watch the representation. We should never be naive about what we see in a representation.
Fictional entities can be represented, much like real entities can. In the latter sentence “real” is used in a secondary sense: as something which might have been present to a perceiver, or was present to a perceiver, or might be present to this perceiver (if only he would leave the theatre and travel there).

By the way, I am not bashing the distinction between real and fictional represented worlds. I am merely urging that our analysis start on the right footing.

Currie, Gregory. 1998. Image and Mind. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press.
van Gerwen, Rob. 2002. “De ontologische drogreden in de analytische esthetica.” Algemeen Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Wijsbegeerte 94:109–123.
____________. submitted. “An Ontological Fallacy in Analytic Aesthetics.”

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