The Abyss of Representation

Marxism and the Postmodern Sublime

The Abyss of Representation

Post-Contemporary Interventions

More about this series

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: 2 tables, 5 figures Published: July 2003

Author: George Hartley

Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Psychoanalytic Theory

From the Copernican revolution of Immanuel Kant to the cognitive mapping of Fredric Jameson to the postcolonial politics of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, representation has been posed as both indispensable and impossible. In his pathbreaking work, The Abyss of Representation, George Hartley traces the development of this impossible necessity from its German Idealist roots through Marxist theories of postmodernism, arguing that in this period of skepticism and globalization we are still grappling with issues brought forth during the age of romanticism and revolution. Hartley shows how the modern problem of representation—the inability of a figure to do justice to its object—still haunts today's postmodern philosophy and politics. He reveals the ways the sublime abyss that opened up in Idealist epistemology and aesthetics resurfaces in recent theories of ideology and subjectivity.

Hartley describes how modern theory from Kant through Lacan attempts to come to terms with the sublime limits of representation and how ideas developed with the Marxist tradition—such as Marx’s theory of value, Althusser’s theory of structural causality, or Zizek’s theory of ideological enjoyment—can be seen as variants of the sublime object. Representation, he argues, is ultimately a political problem. Whether that problem be a Marxist representation of global capitalism, a deconstructive representation of subaltern women, or a Chicano self-representation opposing Anglo-American images of Mexican Americans, it is only through this grappling with the negative, Hartley explains, that a Marxist theory of postmodernism can begin to address the challenges of global capitalism and resurgent imperialism.


“What is perhaps most admirable and valuable about The Abyss of Representation is focused attention, not to say the breadth of knowledge and the theoretical imagination, that Hartley brings to bear on his subject. . . . Hartley offers a comprehensive view of the thinkers in his purview, synthesizing a wide range of material with considerable insight.” — Sean Saraka, Politics and Culture

"[Hartley] poses some important questions for radical criticism. . . ." — Malcolm Miles , Leonardo Reviews

"Hartley exhibits a command of a wide range of literature relevant to contemporary critical studies. . . . Recommended." — J. M. Carvalho , Choice

"The Abyss of Representation is an ambitious and highly illuminating book." — Ernesto Laclau

The Abyss of Representation is an outstanding contribution to a theory of literature and aesthetic philosophy. It is a strong elaboration of the failure inherent in representation and that failure’s relevance to a cultural and political theory.” — Michael Bernard-Donals, coauthor of Between Witness and Testimony: The Holocaust and the Limits of Representation


Availability: In stock
Price: $28.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

George Hartley is Associate Professor of English at Ohio University. He is author of Textual Politics and the Language Poets.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Abbreviations for Works Cited xi

1. Representation and the Abyss of Subjectivity 1

2. Presentation beyond Representation: Kant and the Limits of Discursive Understanding 22

3. The Speculative Proposition: Hegel and the Drama of Presentation 53

4. Marx’s Key Concept? Althusser and the Darstellung Question 84

5. Figuration and the Sublime Logic of the Real: Jameson’s Libidinal Apparatuses 127

6. The Theater of Figural Space 182

7. Can the Symptom Speak? Hegemony and the Problem of Cultural Representation 235

Notes 295

Bibliography 319

Index 327
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3114-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3127-8
Publicity material