Daniel Arasse wrote about detail and referred to Karel van Mander describing the practice of cutting out especially successful fragments of 16th century paintings. For one foot of an apostle you could get larger amounts than for the whole painting. Until this day it happens that the attribution of the painting undergoes a complete metamorphosis thanks to fitting it to a fragment separated earlier which was stored on the other end of the world (Carpaccio's “Two Venetian Ladies”). Until the 18th century paintings were separated on the basis of two criteria: separating coherent wholeness and reducing overabundance, it was justified by the concept of “immediate impact of the artifact” and the idea of “painting accessible in one glance”.
Detail gains its inconsistence through separation from the whole (de taglio means separation). By contrasting the practical logic of the whole and the disinterested incompleteness, the detail makes reality unreal. It kills off the aim, so clearly visible in the functional whole. The detail breaks the relationship of sensation with function, it makes it autotelic, possessively directing our attention only to itself. By abolishing the physical relationship with reality, it cancels the legibility based on cause and effect relationships. Devoid of unambiguous relationships with the whole it becomes a self-sufficient phenomenon.
If a detail is to a painting what a syllable is to a word, the thing is that its fragments should only be syllables and not separate narrations. They should sound but they should not mean. “When a painting comes to life a murmur is heard”; when we recognize it, these murmurs become words. For that murmur to remain only a sound without narration, a picture has to be syllabicated.