Embedded in most descriptions is a prescription, instructions for viewing, boundaries stipulated and promoted. What might look at first glance objective enough turns around and around on an axis of theory.
Qualifications: from a distance; in the waning light of a neon-like moon; on a particularly hot, steamy day, out of season. Adjectives and adverbs cloud the way. References.
How do we describe description, the process we use to describe, carry across? And why bother? Why describe something others are free to experience for themselves?In any review, isn’t there an implicit recommendation based on a prescription of what is being described, how it ought to have been done, or at least how otherwise it might have been carried out?
A description of a painting, a Rothko: What is blue, size, warp; from what distance, in what light? Does our description of the Rothko change if others come into the room? The paintings are on the move, constantly changing, even as the museum makes every effort to still them. Description is a distillation of a sensory happening. McLuhan advised touch is the most involving of the five senses. When we paint, we use all five senses at once: paint odors; the brush splash sounds as we touch bristles to canvas. We take a break for lunch and taste oil in our bread. But are all descriptions sensory? What happens when we describe a process, an idea. Must description use words? What does a cat’s purr describe? Can we describe a cat’s purr in a painting?
We come, then, naturally enough, to the egg. We are reminded of Duchamp, his hidden object, if it is an object, which gets us nowhere. We need to get inside the egg for a full description, but once we crack the egg open, it’s not the same egg. We decorate our description.
It’s easy enough to say that descriptive writing is language that appeals to one or more of the five senses. But words can’t capture experience. Where is the description that activates our taste buds, such that we taste the bread and wine even as our fast continues? Is all description vicarious? We write down, distil, drop away. Description is at the distal end of experience.