In “Narrate or Describe?” (1936), Georg Lukács codified the aesthetic superiority of narration to description. Current debates around descriptive approaches in literary studies reprise this binary in a critical register, valorizing interpretation over description (or, less frequently, vice versa). Beginning with a reconsideration of Lukács’s essay, I propose the inevitable interdependence of interpretation and description. Brief readings of technical language in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2006) and intertextuality in Alison Bechdel’s Are You My Mother? (2012) exemplify that interdependence.
Interpret or Describe?
Cannon Schmitt, Professor of English and Associate Director of the PhD program in English at the University of Toronto, is the author of two books, Darwin and the Memory of the Human: Evolution, Savages, and South America (2009; paperback reprint 2013) and Alien Nation: Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fictions and English Nationality (1997), and co-editor of Victorian Investments: New Perspectives on Finance and Culture (2008). His essays have appeared in Representations, Victorian Studies, ELH, Genre, and elsewhere. He is now at work on the sea in Victorian fiction and the possibility of literal reading.
Cannon Schmitt; Interpret or Describe?. Representations 1 August 2016; 135 (1): 102–118. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2016.135.1.102
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