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Las Meninas and the Search for Self-Representation

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Abstract:

The article will attempt to show that Velasquez's Las Meninas can be viewed as an allegorical enactment of some of the current debates and controversies in the philosophy of cognition and self-representation. I will focus on two very different philosophical trajectories, to which the allegory of the painting can be linked. The first, analytic, trajectory relates Las Meninas to the notion of representation and self-representation in the work of philosophers David Rosenthal, Robert Van Gulick, Uriah Kriegel and Bruce Mangan, and neurologists Bernie Baars and Rodolfo Llinas. The second, continental, trajectory begins by relating to the painting Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological 'embodied self-representation'. This trajectory, which can be further linked to John Ziman's 'second person view' of reality, proceeds to relate Las Meninas to Lacan's 'object gaze' and the 'unbearable fragility of representation', ending with Bataille's (non)concept of 'sovereignty' as essential yet non-representable losses in representation. I will conclude by suggesting that the evolution of the cognitive state experienced by an observer of Las Meninas can be viewed as an 'ontogenetic' recapitulation of the more 'phylogenic' progression of the philosophical history of representation and self-representation alluded to by the canvas.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Email: uawret@gmu.edu

Publication date: 2008-01-01

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