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Noticer:
The
Visionary
Art
of
Annie
Dillard



And
she
wrote,
when
I
let
this
bird
fly
to
her
own
purpose,
when
this

bird
flies
in
the
path
of
his
own
will,
the
light
from
this
bird
enters
my

body,
and
when
I
see
this
beautiful
arc
of
her
flight,
I
love
this
bird,

when
I
see,
the
arc
of
her
flight,
I
fly
with
her,
enter
her
with
my
mind,

leave
myself,
die
for
an
instant,
live
in
the
body
of
this
bird
whom
I

cannot
live
without
.
.
.
because
I
know
I
am
made
from
this
earth
.
.
.

and
all
that
I
know,
I
know
in
this
earth,
the
body
of
the
bird,
this
pen,

this
paper,
these
hands,
this
tongue
speaking,
all
that
I
know
speaks
to

me
through
this
earth
and
I
long
to
tell
you,
you
who
are
earth
too,

and
listen
as
we
speak
to
each
other
of
what
we
know:
the
light
is
in

us.

Susan
Griffin,
Woman
and
Nature:
The
Roaring
Inside
Her


The
impressionist
Claude
Monet
wanted
to
paint
each
of
his
subjects
without

knowing
what
it
was:
he
hoped
evidently
that
his
ignorance
would
de‐gloss
things,

subverting
the
tendency
of
the
eye—in
conjunction
with
human
memory—to

stereotype
the
visible
world
and
rob
it
of
its
uniqueness.
Although
a
writer,
a
creator

of
verbal
imagery
alone,
Annie
Dillard
nonetheless
shares
with
Monet
the
hope
of

seeing
the
world
raw.

It
is
her
project
as
a
writer,
in
Pilgrim
at
Tinker

Creek,
Tickets
for
a
Prayer
Wheel,
and
Holy
the
Firm
,

to
attain
the
secret
of
vision—the
“pearl
of
great

price”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
34)—and
thereby
to
be

able
“to
look
spring
in
the
eye”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker

Creek
124).
It
is
through
vision
that
she
hopes
to

enact
the
most
difficult
of
tasks:
learning
the

neighborhood
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
130).
All
that

she
has
been
and
all
that
she
does—from
her

experiences
as
a
big
city
child
to
her
own
wide

reading—it
is
all
in
order
to
enable
her
“to
look
at
the

creek”
beside
which
she
lives
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
104).
Twice,
in
both
Pilgrim

and
Ticket,
she
quotes
the
unfathomable
question,
first
proposed
by
Thoreau,
“With

all
your
science
can
you
tell
how
it
is
and
whence
it
is,
that
light
comes
into
our

The Collected Works of David Lavery 2

soul?”
The
search
for
an
answer
to
this
question
constitutes
nothing
less
than
the

intrinsic
movement
of
her
books.

She
senses
in
advance
that
attainment
of
such
a
secret
will
grant
to
her

special
powers:
when
the
scales
drop
from
her
eyes,
in
fact,
she
hopes
to
“see
trees

like
men
walking”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
32).
Yet
the
“uncertainty
of
vision
(Pilgrim

at
Tinker
Creek
3)
troubles
her
deeply.
The
‘pearl
of
great
price”
is
no
simple

acquisition.
Above
all,
she
knows,
it
is
not
to
be
secured
through
the
Faustian

pursuits
which
usually
characterize
the
intellectual
quests
of
western
man.”

Nor
can
it
be
discovered
in
the
ecstasy
of
a
Dionysian
frenzy.
As
May
Sarton

sagaciously
observes
in
Mrs.
Stevens
Hears
the
Mermaids
Singing,
there
can
be
no

such
thing
as
a
Dionysian
woman,
a
female
Dylan
Thomas,
for

such
a
woman
would
be
mad.
As
a
woman
writer,
Dillard
likewise

senses
that
her
art
must
be
in
keeping
with
natural
process
and

earthly
rhythms.
The
woman
writer,
Anais
Nin
once
observed
in

her
diaries,
must
never
forget


that
everything
that
is
born
of
her
is
planted
in
her
.
.
.

she
was
born
to
represent
union,
communion,

communication,
she
was
born
to
give
birth
to
life,
and
not
to
insanity.
.
.
.
The

art
of
woman
must
be
born
in
the
womb‐cells
of
the
mind.
She
must
be
the

link
between
the
synthetic
products
of
man’s
mind
and
the
elements.
(My

italics.)


Because
Annie
Dillard
knows
this,
she
understands
that
“although
the
pearl
may
be

found,
it
may
not
be
sought”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
34).
It
will
be
discovered,
she

intuits,
only
by
not
trying
to
secure
it.

But
how
then
is
she
to
act?
How
is
the
search
to
be
conducted?
Dillard
senses

at
first
that
she
need
do
nothing
of
her
own
will.
Vision,
she
thinks,
“is
a
deliberate

gift,
the
revelation
of
a
dancer
who
for
my
eyes
only
flings
away
her
seven
veils”

(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
17);
its
“payoffs
suddenly
arrive
in
a
blast
of
light”
(Pilgrim

at
Tinker
Creek
12‐13),
as
a
satori,
not
as
the
result
of
cogitation.
The
individual’s

responsibility,
it
would
seem,
is
only
“to
be
there”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
8)
when

vision
reveals
itself;
she
need
only
place
herself
“in
the
path
of
its
beam”
(Pilgrim
at

Tinker
Creek
35)
and
revelation
will
come.
She
has
heard,
it
would
seem,
the

reprimand
delivered
to
mankind’s
egotism
by
Emerson’s
Sphinx
and
knows
that
to

The Collected Works of David Lavery 3

the
mystery
of
the
visible
creation
in
which
she
moves
is
by
a
“yoke‐fellow,”
an
eye

to
the
eyebeam,
inseparably
part
of
its
mystery.
And
though
she
understand
that

such
revelatory
vision
“comes
and
goes,
mostly
goes,”
she
lives
for
its
coming,
“for

the
moment
when
the
mountains
open
and
a
new
light
roars
in
spate
through
the

crack,
and
the
mountains
slam”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
35);
she
watches
the

“magician”
of
the
visible
in
hopes
that
he
may
reveal
that
“fold
in
the
curtain
you

never
dreamed
was
an
opening”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
12).
Her
art
is,
as
a
result,

an
art
of
waiting:
“The
waiting
itself
is
the
thing”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
265).
But

she
knows
that
such
waiting
is
a
kind
of
purposive
purposelessness,
for,
she
asks,

“isn’t
waiting
itself
and
longing
a
wonder,
being
played
n
by
wind,
sun,
and
shade?”

(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
222).
Her
books
are
a
record
of
this
waiting.

Her
goal,
she
explains,
is
in
the
meantime
to
produce
what
Thoreau
called
a

“meteorological
journal
of
the
mind”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
12).
But
she
seeks
no

ordinary
acclimation;
she
hopes
through
her
work
of
days
to
find
a
home
in
the
midst

of
what
Wallace
Stevens
liked
to
call
“major
weather.”
Like
Stevens,
with
whom
she

shares
a
passion
for
vision,
she
knows
the
great
longing
(described
in
“Notes
Toward

a
Supreme
Fiction”):










To
discover
an
order
as
of

a
season,
to
discover
summer
and
know
it,


To
discover
winter
and
know
it
well,
to
find,,

Not
to
impose,
not
to
have
reasoned
at
all,

Out
of
nothing
to
have
come
on
major
weather.


Like
him,
she
is
guided
by
a
faith
that


It
is
possible.
It
must

be
possible.
It
must
be
that
in
time

The
real
will
from
its
crude
compoundings
come,


Seeming
at
first,
a
beast
disgorged,
unlike

Warmed
by
a
desperate
milk
(my
italics)


The Collected Works of David Lavery 4

The
real,
finally,
does
disclose
itself
to
her,
discloses
itself
so
fully
in
fact
that

reality
comes
to
seem
to
her
to
encircle
the
“mind
like
rings
in
a
tree”
(Tickets
for
a

Prayer
Wheel
22).
But
when
it
first
appears
it
seems,
as
Stevens
understood
it
would,

like
a
“beast
disgorged”;
it
seems,
in
fact,
grotesque.


Because
the
visible
world
appears
to
her
a
kind
of
a
muse,
initially
Annie
Dillard

feels
herself
very
close
to
attaining
the
secret
of
wisdom.
But
her
very
manner
of

assimilating
its
inspirational
gifts
bring
her
close
as
well;
she
ingests
the
visible

through
a
physiological,
not
a
conscious
mental
process.
The
light
which
she
seeks,

she
explains,
“prints
on
my
own
silver
gut”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
33);
she
is
a

camera.
Her
sensitivity
to
light
is
extraordinary,
almost
hallucinogenic,
or,
to
be

more
precise,
it
is
literally
“photogenic”—”light
born.”
She
lives
in
a
world
of

brightness,
in
which
she
is
familiar
with
the
“long
slant
of
light
that
means
good

walking”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
3);
recalls
how
for
her
a
“cloud
in
the
sky
suddenly

lighted
as
if
turned
on
by
a
switch
.
.
.
“
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
21);
and
watches
a

scene
in
which
“running
sheets
of
light
raised
on
the
creek’s
surface
.
.
.
like
the

racing
of
light
under
clouds
on
a
field”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
14).
It
is
along
Tinker

Creek
that
her
experience
with
light
is
strongest.
The
creek
mediates
between
her

worldly
eyes
and
the
light
of
eternity.

The Collected Works of David Lavery 5


The
future
is
the
light
on
the
water;
it
comes,
mediated
only
on
the
skin
of

the
real
and
present
creek.
My
eyes
can
stand
no
brighter
light
than
this;
nor

can
they
see
without
it.
.
.
.
We
can’t
take
the
lightning.
But
we
can
take
the

light,
the
reflected
light
that
shines
up
the
valleys
on
the
creeks.
(Pilgrim
at

Tinker
Creek
103)


The
creek
even
passes
on
the
light
which
it
absorbs
to
everything
it
touches:

“It
waters
an
undeserving
world,
saturating
cells
with
lodes
of
light”
(Pilgrim
at

Tinker
Creek
104).
But
water
is
not
the
only
element
filled
with
light:
“I
breathed
an

air
like
light”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
33),
se
announces,
and
it
does
not
appear
to
be

either
an
exaggeration
or
a
mere
metaphor.
It
is
within
this
world
that
the
very
day

itself
becomes
for
the
movements
of
God’s
“long
eyes”
(Holy
the
Firm
4);
it
is
here

that
she
sees
the
“tree
with
the
lights
in
it”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
81)
which

becomes
for
her
a
kind
of
search
image
behind
her
quest
for
the
secret
of
vision.

Dillard
has
yet
another
physiological
way
of
understanding
her
body’s

receptivity
to
vision:


When
I
was
young
I
thought
that
all
human
beings
had
an
organ
inside
each

lower
eyelid
which
caught
things
that
got
in
the
eye.
I
don't
know
where
I

imagined
I'd
learned
this
piece
of
anatomy.
Things
got
in
my
eye,
and
then

they
went
away,
so
I
supposed
that
they
had
fallen
into
my
eye‐pouch.
This

eye‐pouch
was
a
slender,
thin‐walled
purse,
equipped
with
frail
digestive

powers
that
enabled
it
eventually
to
absorb
eyelashes,
strands
of
fabric,
bits

of
grit,
anything
else
that
might
stray
into
the
eye.
Well,
the
existence
of
this

eye‐pouch,
it
turned
out,
was
all
in
my
mind,
and,
it
turns
out,
it
is
apparently

there
still,
a
brain‐pouch,
catching
and
absorbing
small
bits
that
fall
deeply

into
my
open
eye.


Her
eye
and
brain
have
always
worked
together,
she
is
telling
us,
in
their
unity
taking

note
of
the
revelations
of
every
day.
Her
role
as
an
artist,
she
believes,
is
to
be
a

note‐taker,
or,
to
put
it
more
precisely,
her
concept
of
inspiration
leads
her
to

believe
rather
that
“There
is
no
such
things
as
an
artist;
there
is
only
the
world
lit
or

unlit
as
the
light
allows”
(Holy
the
Firm
76)

The Collected Works of David Lavery 6

This
understanding
of
her
function
allows
her
to
dwell
momentarily
at
peace

within
her
world,
almost
indistinguishable
from
it:


Since
I
live
in
one
room,
one
long
wall
of
which
is
glass,
I
am
myself,
at

everything
I
do,
a
backdrop
to
all
the
landscape’s
occasions,
to
all
its

wanderers,
colors,
and
lights.
From
the
kitchen
sink,
and
from
my
bed,
and

from
the
table,
the
coach,
the
hearth,
and
the
desk,
I
see
land
and
water,

islands,
sky.
(Holy
the
Firm
17)


To
assume
such
a
stance
is
to
return
to
a
being‐in‐the‐world,
characteristic,
to
her

own
mind
at
least,
of
the
instinctual
world.
Her
ability
to
“reflect”
her
world
instead

of
reflecting
upon
it,
is
the
genius
of
the
animal:


No
one
has
ever
seen
fish.

Fish
secrete
highly
reflective
compounds

That
act
as
a
skin
of
mirror.

It
is
thought
the
fishes’
sides

are
painted
in
landscapes,

mountainous.
(Tickets
for
a
Prayer
Wheel
28)


Annie
Dillard’s
art
is
an
art
of
noticing,
and
to
be
a
good

noticer,
as
Hugh
Lofting
parrot
philosopher
Polynesia
observes
in

The
Voyages
of
Doctor
Doolittle,
is
no
mean
feat.
In
noticing
lies

the
key
to
learning
the
secret
ways
of
nature
and
mastering
the

languages
of
animals.


"Well
that,"
said
Polynesia
.
.
.
"is
what
you
call
powers
of

observation—noticing
the
small
things
about
birds
and

animals:
the
way
they
walk
and
move
their
heads
and
flip

their
wings;
the
way
they
sniff
the
air
and
twitch
their

whiskers
and
wiggle
their
tails.
You
have
to
notice
all

those
little
things
if
you
want
to
learn
animal
language.
For
you
see,
lots
of

animals
hardly
talk
at
all
with
their
tongues;
they
use
their
breath
or
their

tails
or
their
feet
instead.
That
is
because
many
of
them,
in
the
olden
days

when
lions
and
tigers
were
more
plentiful,
were
afraid
to
make
a
noise
for

The Collected Works of David Lavery 7

fear
the
savage
creatures
heard
them.
Birds,
of
course,
didn't
care;
for
they

always
had
wings
to
fly
with.
But
that
is
the
first
thing
to
remember;
being
a

good
noticer
is
terribly
important
in
learning
animal
language.


Annie
Dillard’s
art
of
noticing
brings
her
close
to
this
private
realm,
and
within
the

contents
of
her
“brain‐pouch”
at
least,
she
seems
to
approach
fluency
in
such

language.
All
of
nature,
in
fact,
begins
to
seem
to
her
an
“illuminated
manuscript,

whose
leaves
the
wind
takes
.
.
.”
(Holy
the
Firm
19).
She
even
begins
to
feel
herself

in
touch
with
all
the
secrets
of
nature,
knowing,
for
example,
how
“At
night
in
the

ocean/the
sponges
are
secretly
growing”
(Tickets
for
a
Prayer
Wheel
18).
And
she

comes,
too,
to
know
that
topos
within
her
exchanges
with
her
world
where
she
can

see
how
the
very
ground
itself
“speaks/its
one
word:
tree”
(Tickets
for
a
Prayer

Wheel
70).


But
merely
to
gaze
upon
the
twentieth
century
reincarnation
of
“the
book
of

nature”
finally
does
not
satisfy
her;
she
wants
to
read
it
with
understanding,
to
gain

knowledge
of
it,
even
though
the
words
are
‘halting.”
A
loss
of
innocence
thus

ensues,
an
expulsion
from
what
had
been
a
garden
of
light,
and
amidst
those
days

which
hard
previously
“dazzled”
her
vision,
she
soon
finds
herself
almost

irretrievably
“lost”
(Holy
the
Firm
19).

Her
mood
turns
to
despair;
her
vision
of
immanence
evaporates
in
the
face
of

overwhelming
odds
against
its
difficult
maintenance.
“What
use
has
eternity
for

light?”
she
begins
to
ask
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
81),
and
the
God
she
had
once
felt

in
the
very
presence
of
the
day
becomes
“deus
absconditus”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek

7).
Nature
itself
even
begins
to
disappear,
receding
somewhere
beyond
the
reach
of

vision,
a
reclusive
“Shane”
to
whom
her
cries
of
“Come
back”
are
in
vain
(Pilgrim
at

Tinker
Creek
205);
nature
becomes
for
her
no
longer
intimate,
no
longer
a
female

presence,
but
the
mysterious
male
strange
of
American
western
myth.
Her
vision
of

her
art
disappears
as
well.
In
Holy
the
Firm,
she
describes
herself
lying
about
the

house
reading
which
had,
at
the
age
of
sixteen,
first
inspired
her
to
be
a
writer,
as
if

she
needs
to
recapitulate
her
own
artistic
genesis.
The
time
when
light
itself
was
her

daemon
has
passed.

At
such
times
she
turns
to
books
as
a
substitute
for
the
revelations
provided

by
the
“illuminated
manuscript”
of
the
natural
world.
Her
reading
is
both
eclectic

and
abstruse.
She
seeks
insights
into
her
malaise
in
the
writings
of
esoteric

The Collected Works of David Lavery 8

Christianity,
the
Koran,
Thoreau,
and,
above
all,
in
the
investigations
of
natural

science.
The
poet
Rilke
once
lamented
his
ignorance
about
nature
work,
about
how
it

is
“with
flowers,
with
animals,
with
the
simplest
laws
operative
here
and
there.
.
.

.”He
longed
to
know
how
“life
comes
into
being,
how
it
functions
in
lower
animals,

how
it
branches
and
unfolds,
how
life
blossoms,
how
it
bears.
.
.
.In
order
to
fill
this

void,
he
toyed
with
returning
to
school
for
scientific
training
(he
never
did
so).
Annie

Dillard,
however,
knows
these
things.
Her
reading
brings
her
such
knowledge,
and

her
art
is
made
out
of
it
as
much
as
from
the
promptings
of
the
light.
In
her
reading

she
is
a
noticer
as
well.
Every
fact
she
discovers
about
the
natural
world—that,
for

example,
there
are
two
hundred
twenty‐eight
separate
muscles
in
the
head
of
a

caterpillar—seems
numinous
to
her,
and
she
suffers,
as
a
result
of
her
note‐taking,

an
Ancient
Mariner
complex:
the
desire
to
rush
into
the
street
with
news
of
her

discoveries
in
order
to
change
people’s
lives
with
her
wonder.

But
she
rests
uneasily
with
her
knowledge.
The
discoveries
of
her
reading—
about
such
things
as
the
fiendish
behavior
parasitic
insects
and
the
courtship
habits

of
the
female
preying
mantis
(she
eats
the
male
during
copulation)—unearth

another,
less
mystical
underside
of
her
vision
of
the
natural
world
and
bring
it
into

prominence.
Under
the
sway
of
their
coupled
negative
power,
nature
becomes
for

her
grotesque.
Whether
any
such
thing
as
the
‘natural
grotesque”
actually
exists
has,

of
course,
long
been
debated
by
the
likes
of
Sir
Thomas
Browne,
Hegel,
Ruskin,
and,

most
recently,
by
Wolfgang
Keyser.
That
it
exists,
at
least
for
a
time,
for
Annie

Dillard,
seems
beyond
question.
Both
Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
and
Holy
the
Firm
can

be
viewed
as
personal
encounters
with
the
grotesque
which
attempt
to
transmogrify,

to
redeem,
the
stultifying
pallor
it
casts
upon
her
visionary
eye,
in
order
to
return
to

a
vision
of
immanence.


In
Pilgrim,
early
in
the
book’s
first
chapter,
Dillard
describes
the
book’s
genetic

moment,
an
encounter
with
the
grotesque:


A
couple
of
summers
ago
I
was
walking
along
the
edge
of
the
island
to
see

what
I
could
see
in
the
water,
and
mainly
to
see
frogs.
.
.
.
At
the
end
of
the

island
I
noticed
a
small
green
frog.
He
was
exactly
half
in
and
half
out
of
the

water,
looking
like
a
schematic
diagram
of
an
amphibian,
and
he
didn’t
jump.
.

.
I
crept
closer.
At
last
I
knelt
on
the
island’s
winterkilled
grass,
lost,

dumbstruck,
staring
at
the
frog
in
the
creek
just
four
feet
away
He
was
a
very

The Collected Works of David Lavery 9

small
frog
with
wide,
dull
eyes.
And
just
as
I
looked
at
him,
he
slowly

crumpled
and
begn
to
sag.
The
spirit
vanished
from
his
eyes
as
if
snuffed.
His

skin
emptied
and
drooped;
his
very
skull
seemed
to
collapse
and
settle
like
a

kicked
tent.
(5‐6)


The
frog,
she
discovers,
had
been
destroyed
by
a
giant
water
bug,
which,
after
having

injected
into
the
frog
enzymes
which
turned
its
inner
organs
to
liquid,
proceeded
to

suck
them
out,
as
if
through
a
straw.
This
moment,
after
which
she
“couldn’t
catch

her
breath,”
sends
shock‐waves
through
the
entire
book
and
through
her
life.
To
the

location
of
the
incident,
Dillard
explains,
she
returns
again
and
again,
“as
a
man

years
later
will
seek
out
the
battlefield
where
he
lost
a
leg
or
an
arm”
(5).
Though

she
lost
no
appendage
in
the
incident,
she
was
nevertheless
dis‐membered:
there
she

had
lost
the
unity
of
eye
and
world
she
had
once
possessed;
there
had
begun
a
rift

between
them
and
her
own
estrangement
from
the
natural.
Yet
from
this
scene
she

does,
will
not,
flee.
The
grotesque
is
to
her
an
“oracle”
in
which
she
hopes
to
find

the
means
of
revelation
to
enact
her
“re‐membrance”
as
well.

Her
perception
of
nature
as
grotesque
initially,
however,
obscures
even
her

vision
of
the
light.
She
had,
of
course,
always
been
aware
that
even
the
light
which

had
once
highlighted
“in
gilt”
“an
unexpected
part
of
the
landscape”
for
her
art
of

noticing,
at
least
momentarily,
succumbs
to
those
shadows
that
sweep
it
away
(3‐4).

But
the
shadows
cast
upon
her
vision
by
the
grotesque
are
unnatural.
Watching
the

movement
of
clouds,
for
instance,
she
sees
it
with
eyes
shaped
by
her
encounter

with
the
giant
water
bug:


At
four‐thirty
the
sky
in
the
east
is
clear;
how
could
that
big
blackness
be

blown?
Fifteen
minutes
later
another
darkness
is
coming
overhead
from
the

northwest;
and
it’s
here.
Everything
is
drained
of
its
light
as
if
sucked.
(11;

my
italics)


Deprived
of
light,
she
feels
the
encroachment
of
another
darkness
which
is,
however,

no
mere
play
of
light
and
shadow,
a
more
than
grotesque
darkness:
death
itself.


Yesterday
I
watched
a
curious
nightfall.
The
cloud
ceiling
took
on
a
warm

tone,
deepened,
and
departed
as
if
drawn
on
a
leash,
I
could
no
longer
see

the
fat
snow
flying
against
the
sky;
I
could
see
it
only
as
it
fell
before
dark

T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 10

objects.
Any
object
at
a
distance—like
the
dead,
ivy‐covered
walnut
I
see
from

the
bay
window—looked
like
a
black‐and‐white
frontispiece
sheet
through
the

sheet
of
white
time.
It
was
like
dying,
this
watching
the
world
recede
into

deeper
and
deeper
blues
while
the
snow
piled;
silence
swelled
and
extended,

distance
dissolved,
and
soon
only
concentration
at
the
largest
shadows
let
me

make
out
the
movement
of
falling
snow,
and
that
too
failed.
.
.
.
It
was
like

dying
growing
dimmer
and
deeper
and
deeper
and
then
going
out.
(44‐45)


This
is
a
vision
of
growing
alienation
like
that
Conrad
Aiken
once
portrayed
in
Paul

Ableman’s
descent
into
madness
in
“Silent
Snow,
Secret
Snow.”
Here
her
project
as
a

woman
writer
stands
far
removed
from
the
ideal
set
forth
by
Anais
Nin
to
“represent

union
.
.
.
to
give
birth
to
life,
and
not
to
insanity.”

In
Holy
the
Firm
the
same
intrinsic
movement
away
from
immanence
is

precipitated
by
her
fierce
grappling
with
the
grotesque
fate
of
a
young
girl,
Julie

Norwich,
a
mysterious
namesake
of
the
medieval
Christian
mystic
Julian
of
Norwich,

whom
Dillard
on
occasion
quotes),
whose
face
has
been
burned
away
by
flaming
oil

in
a
plane
crash/
Unable
to
accept
such
senseless
cruelty
into
a
world
of
light,
she

finds
herself
again
on
the
far
side
of
a
widening
gulf
which
separates
her
from
her

world,
a
world
in
which


Thought
itself
is
impossible,
for
subject
can
have
no
guaranteed
connection

with
object,
nor
any
object
with
God.
Knowledgeable
is
impossible.
We
are

precisely
nowhere,
sinking
on
an
imaginary
seas
themselves
adrift.
Then
we

reel
out
love’s
long
line
toward
a
God
less
lovable
than
a
grasshead,
who

treats
us
less
well
than
we
treat
our
lawns.
(44‐55)


But
love
does
not
reestablish
contact,
and
the
very
universe
itself
begins
to
seem
to

her
neither
“contingent
upon
nor
participant
in
the
holy,
in
being
itself,
the
real,
the

power
play
of
fire.”
Rather,
it
is
“illusion
merely,
not
one
speck
of
it
real,
and
we
are

only
its
victims,
falling
always
into
or
smashed
by
a
planet
slung
by
its
sun
.
.
.
(48).

At
such
times,
even
the
sun
appears
to
her
“looming
low
like
the
mouth/or
a
tunnel

to
hell”
(Tickets
for
a
Prayer
Wheel
56).


But
even
as
she
feels
herself
“stumble
in
darkness
.
.
.
blind
as
a
bat,”
having

surrendered
almost
entirely
to
Cartesian
dualism,
she
steers
her
way
back
toward
the

T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 11

light
by
“the
echo
of
[her]
own
thin
cries”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
26).
Her
words
are

these
cries:
it
is
by
means
of
her
verbal
powers
that
she
hopes
to
reestablish
her

vision.
But
those
words,
in
Pilgrim,
Tickets,
and
Holy,
are
themselves
notes,

retrievals
from
her
brain‐pouch
of
light
which
had
once
fallen
into
her
open
eyes;

they
are
“uncreated
light.”
The
opposition
of
the
word
and
the
light,
which
has
been

with
western
man
since
John,
begins
to
dissolve.

“We
are
most
deeply
asleep
at
the
switch,”
Dillard
realizes,


when
we
fancy
we
control
any
switches
at
all.
We

sleep
to
time’s
hurdy‐gurdy;
we
wake,
if
we
ever

wake,
to
the
silence
of
God.
And
then
we
wake
to

the
deep
shores
of
light
uncreated,
then
when
the

dazzling
dark
breaks
over
the
far
slopes
of
time,

when
it’s
time
to
toss
things,
like
our
reason,
and

our
will;
then
it’s
time
to
break
our
necks
for

home.
(Holy
the
Firm
64)


The
jettisoning
of
reason
and
will
is
not,
however,

a
rejection
of
language;
it
marks,
rather,
the
search
for
a
logos
beyond
the

limitations
of
logic,
the
attempt
to
discover
a
‘Rosetta
stone”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker

Creek
108)
which
will
enable
her
to
learn
the
“sensual
speech”
which
Jacob
Boehme

(and
Lofting’s
Polynesia)
claimed
once
existed
before
the
fall
of
man.
it
is
this

language
which
will
bring
her
knowledge
of
the
neighborhood
in
which
she
lives,
a

knowledge
and
a
praxis,
the
absence
of
which
is
her
grief:
“Have
I
once
turned
my

head
in
this
circus,
have
I
ever
called
it
home”
(Holy
the
Firm
45).

In
Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek’s
dialectical
movement
between
lament
and
praise,

a
movement
reminiscent
of
Rilke’s
Duino
Elegies,
the
encounter
with
the
giant
water

bug
and
discovery
of
the
grotesque
with
its
opposite
pole;
an
encounter
with

“sensual
speech”
in
which
Annie
Dillard’s
turn
toward
home
is
begun.
At
a
point
in

her
separation
from
nature
at
which
she
feels
“the
earth
reel
down”
around
her,
she

sees
a
sign
and
take
note
of
it:


I
was
standing
lost,
sunk,
my
hands
in
my
pockets,
gazing
toward
Tinker

Mountain.
.
.
.
All
at
once
I
saw
what
looked
like
a
Martian
spaceship
whirling

towards
me
in
the
air.
It
flashed
borrowed
light
like
a
propeller.
Its
forward

T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 12

motion
greatly
outran
its
fall.
as
I
watched,
transfixed,
it
rose,
just
before
it

would
have
touched
a
thistle,
and
hovered
pirouetting
in
one
spot,
then

twirled
on
and
finally
came
to
rest.
I
found
it
one
spot,
then
twirled
on
and

finally
came
to
rest.
I
found
it
in
the
grass;
it
was
a
maple
key,
a
single

winged
seed
from
a
pair.
Hullo.
.
.
.
O
maple
key,
I
thought,
I
must
confess
I

thought,
O
welcome,
cheers.
(274)


She
greets
the
seed
as
a
“thou,”
not
an
“it,”
for
it
is
“bristling
with
animate
purpose,

not
like
a
thing
dropped
or
windblown,
pushed
by
witless
winds
of
convection

currents
hauling
round
the
world’s
rondure
where
they
must,
but
like
a
creature

muscled
and
vigorous.
.
.
.”
The
maple
key
is
“creature
spread
thin
to
that
other

wind,
the
wind
of
the
spirit
which
bloweth
where
it
listeth,
lighting
and
raising
up,

and
easing
down.”
In
its
presence
she
hears
a
“bell”
within
her
ring
a
“true
note”
(my

italics)
that
makes
“a
long
dim
sense”
which
she
tries
to
explain:


Flung
is
too
harsh
a
word
for
the
rush
of
the
world.
Blown
is
more
like
it,
but

blown
by
a
generous,
unending
breath.
That
breath
never
ceases
to
kindle,

exuberant,
abandoned;
frayed
splinters
in
every
direction
and
burgeon
into

flame.


The
message,
the
note,
which
the
maple
key
leaves
with
her
“brain‐pouch”
remains

with
her,
bringing
back
into
her
world
the
immanence
of
earth’s
regenerative

powers:


And
now
when
I
sway
to
a
fitful
wind,
alone
and
listing,
I
will
think,
maple

key.
When
I
see
a
photograph
of
earth
from
space,
he
planet
so
painterly
and

hung,
I
will
think,
maple
key.
When
I
shakes
your
hand
or
meet
your
eyes
I

will
think,
two
maple
keys.
if
am
a
maple
key
falling,
at
least
I
can
twirl.
(275‐
76)


Her
world
has
become
a
vast
regeneration,
in
all
its
elements
and
as
a
whole.

The
earth
itself
had
earlier
in
the
book,
in
a
dream,
presented
itself
to
her,
as
if

through
a
Borgesian
“aleph,”
in
which
she
saw
its
whole
history
unfold
before
her

eyes
like
a
gigantic
fabric,
a
“never‐ending
cloth”
in
which
her
own
time
was
hardly

discernible
and
her
own
concerns
seemed
petty
(143‐44).
Its
immensity,
its
intricacy,

T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 13

seemed
to
her
even
then
beyond
human
fathoming;
the
vision
seemed
to
offered
her

no
real
alternative
but
acceptance
of
the
earth
and
its
ways,
including
the
grotesque.

But
it
is
not
until
her
call
back
to
the
world
of
death
and
regeneration
by
the
maple

key
that
she
finds
the
words
to
express
her
acceptance;
she
finds
them
in
her

reading,
in
the
words
of
Ralph
Waldo
Emerson:


“I
dreamed
that
I
floated
at
will
in
the
great
Ether,
and
I
saw
this
world

floating
also
not
far
off
but
diminished
to
the
size
of
an
apple.
Then
an
angel

took
it
in
his
hand
and
brought
it
to
me
and
said,
‘This
must
thought
eat.’
And

I
ate
the
world.”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
278)


But
it
is
not
just
Emerson
who
has
eaten
the
world,
accepting
thereby
its

incarnation:
“The
giant
water
bug
ate
the
world”
(279).
Its
action,
she
has
realized,

indeed
the
whole
of
the
“natural
grotesque,”
are
not
be
questioned,
for
the

“grotesques
and
horrors
bloom
from
[the]
the
same
free
growth”
as
the
beauty
she

sought
alone,
as
if
it
were
the
light’s
one
desirable
revelations;
all
springs
from
“that

intricate
scramble
up
and
down
the
conditions
of
time”
which
generates
all
that
is

(149).
She
realizes
that
is
interfering
human
consciousness
which
creates
the

grotesque
and
invents
evil.
The
“thorns
and
thistles”
which
had
been
part
of
Adam’s

curse
are
no
curse
to
the
animal
world
(“But
does
the
goldfinch
eat
thorny
sorrow

with
the
thistle,
or
do
I?”
[Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
221].)
To
Annie
Dillard,
finally,

there
has
been
no
fall
of
man,
either
historically
or
in
her
own
momentary

aberrations
from
the
guidance
of
the
light.
Only
the
male
mind’s
Platonizing

disposition
could
have
ever
produced
such
an
illusion;
there
is
no
perfect
realm
of

forms.
There
is
only
the
incarnation:
“creation
itself
was
the
fall,
a
burst
into
the

thorny
beauty
of
the
real”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
221).
Amidst
that
thorny
beauty,

resigned
to
“the
flawed
nature
of
perfection”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
3),
she
finds
a

home,
at
least
until
the
time
when
her
doubts
begin
to
sever
her
from
it
again.
But

the
means
of
her
healing
then,
she
knows,
will
still
be
the
same.


Tinker
Creek,
indeed
the
whole
of
the
natural
world
she
loves,
is
“a
place
even
my

faithfulness
hasn’t
offended
.
.
.”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
103).
The
creek
is
the

incarnation,
“Christmas,”
in
which
“This
old
rock
planet
gets
the
present
for
a

present
on
its
birthday
every
day”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
104).
But
the
creek
is

filled
with
light
as
well
as
matter:
“it
waters
an
undeserving
world,
saturating
cells

T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 14

with
light.”
Light
is
in
everything
that
is
embodied;
it
is
not
ethereal,
not
a
thing
of

the
spirit.
It
is
in
the
“tree
with
the
lights
in
it,”
which
has
served
as
a
search
image

throughout
her
search
for
the
secret
of
vision,
as
Dillard
suddenly
realizes.
When
she

first
saw
it
in
all
its
radiance,
she
taken
the
light
to
be
a
mere
reflection.
But
no,
she

finally
understands,
it
was
an
emanation:
“I
know
what
happened
to
the
cedar
tree.
I

saw
the
cells
in
the
cedar
tree
pulse
charge
like
wings
beating
praise”
(Pilgrim
at

Tinker
Creek
247).
Light
is
within
the
creation,
and
so,
then
must
be
“the
pearl
of

great
price.’

Dillard
remembers
a
Polyphemous
moth
that
he
grade
school
class
in

Pittburgh
once
captured,
which,
upon
being
released,
walked
slowly,
pitifully
away,

its
wings
damaged,
back
toward
the
wild,
as
if
following
a
summons
which
the
young

Dillard
could
not
comprehend.
In
retrospect,
however,
wondering
what
it
was
that

drew
the
moth
on,
she
finds
a
hypothetical
answer:


Did
the
crawling
Polyphemous
have
in
its
watery
heart
one
cell,
and
in
that

cell
one
special
molecule,
and
in
that
molecule
one
hydrogen
atom,
and
round

that
atom’s
nucleus
one
wild,
distant
electron
that,
split,
showed
a
forest

swaying?
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
71)


All
things
have
eye‐pouches,
she
is
suggesting,
in
which
are
stored
nothing
less
than

the
earth
and
all
its
contents.
The
light
is
in
us;
is
“Holy
the
Firm.”
To
remember
this

is
to
be
re‐membered
back
into
nature.
Mankind’s
exchanges
with
nature,
including

his
self‐touted
capacity
for
creativity,
are
not
really
his
own;
they
are,
rather,

inextricably
a
part
of
the
vast
möbius
strip
of
creation


Since
Holy
the
Firm
is
in
touch
with
the
Absolute
at
base,
then
the
circle
is

unbroken.
And
it
is.
Thought
advances,
and
the
world
creates
itself,
by
the

gradual
positing
of,
and
belief
in,
a
series
of
bright
ideas.
.
.
.
Eternity
sockets

twice
into
time
and
space
curves,
bound
and
bound
by
ideas.
Matter
and

spirit
are
of
a
piece
but
distinguishable;
God
has
a
stake
guaranteed
in
all
the

world.
And
the
universe
is
real
and
not
a
dream,
not
a
manufacture
of
the

senses;
subject
may
know
object,
knowledge
may
proceed,
and
Holy
the
Firm

is
in
short
the
philosopher’s
stone
(Holy
the
Firm
75)


T h e C o l l e c t e d W o r k s o f D a v i d L a v e r y 15

This
intricate
pattern
is
a
mirror
of
the
seasons
themselves,
for
the
yearly
round
is
a

knot,
like
a
snakeskin,
which
cannot
be
untied
for
“there
are
no
edges
to
grasp”

(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
74‐75).
Reality
is
an
oroboros,
and,
standing
as
she
does
in

the
midst
of
this
knot,
Annie
Dillard
begins
to
see
the
search
for
the
“pearl
of
great

price”—the
secret
of
vision—as
an
act
of
outrageous
egotism;
vision
is
not,
and

never
has
been
our
own.
We
are
the
eyes
of
the
earth
itself;
we
do
not
see,
we
are

seen.
Dillard
feels
“some
enormous
power”
play
over
her
“like
a
pipe”
as
it
“brushes

her
with
its
clean
wing
.
.
.”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
13).
She
comes
to
know
that

moment
when
vision
seems
to
her
“less
like
seeing
than
like
being
for
the
first
time

seen”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek
35).

And
the
philosopher’s
stone,
the
matrix
from
which
the
whole
knot
of

creation
is
born
is,
in
turn
everything,
indistinguishable
from
the
quotidian.
Dillard’s

ends
Pilgrim
by
quoting
a
sixteenth
century
alchemist
on
the
nature
of
the
long‐
sought‐for
stone:


One
finds
it
in
the
open
country,
in
the
village
and

in
the
town.
It
is
everything
which
God
created.

Maids
throw
it
in
the
street.
Children
play
with
it.

(279)


Annie
Dillard’s
visionary
art
has,
to
date,
sought
to
learn

how
to
“choir
the
proper
praise”
(Pilgrim
at
Tinker
Creek

9)
of
this
everything,
but
the
discovery
still
remains,
in
a

sense,
unrealized,
cloistered.
At
the
end
of
Holy
the
Firm

it
is
Julie
Norwich,
the
victim
of
disfigurement,
who
re‐
enters
that
commonplace
world
transformed
by
the
philosopher’s
stone
into
a

luminous
ordinary
reality,
while
Annie
Dillard
remains
a
private
woman
of
the
spirit.


I’ll
be
the
nun
for
you.
I
am
now.
(83)


She
seems
to
speak,
however,
not
just
for
Julie
Norwich,
but,
as
a
writer,
for
her
age

as
well,
an
age
reluctant
to
accept
her
kind
of
distinctly
female
voice
and
visionary

naturalism.


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