Annie Dillard’s view of nature is simply stated in ‘Teaching a Stone to Talk’: “We are here to witness.” (90) We are not here to analyze, conquer, tame or understand and she does not use any of these themes in her writing like so many other nature writers. In ‘Very Like a Whale’, Robert Finch is obsessed with the question of why so many people came to observe the whale, and in analyzing this question concludes that they come to confirm their ‘otherness’. In some ways, this does not seem like a nature essay at all, but an essay about human nature, with the whale playing the role of object lesson. In ‘The Face of a Spider’, David Quammen writes about a very human, moral dilemma, “How should a human behave toward the members of other living species?” (33).
This essay seems to be more about humans and less about spiders than the other way around. Again, the theme is “otherness.” Are humans ‘other’ than spiders? Should humans behave in the same way toward spiders as they do towards members of their own species? What is the high moral ground and is it practical? In Robert Finch’s essay, he asks a question and then provides an answer.
His descriptions of the whale and the beach are complete, but you never feel connected to the whale, you feel connected to the human question. In David Quammen’s essay, his descriptions of the spiders face make you feel completely separate from the spider. The subject is humanity, not nature. If Annie Dillard, on the other hand, had come upon the dead or dying whale, I believe the essay would have been very different. There would have been no effort to analyze the role of the whale in her own human experience. Instead, I think we would have gotten a gut-wrenching essay on exactly what was happening to the whale, and maybe what it felt like to be the whale dying in public.
After reading the article in our text book Is weather getting worse, I learn that despite of the increased disasters brought about by bad weather, scientists are hesitant to say the weather is getting worse for lack of strong data to prove the statement. As harsh weather happens infrequently, it is difficult for scientists to come up with enough scientifically sound statistics. Besides, even if ...
If Ms. Dillard had come upon a family of spiders in her office, I think she would have written about what it was like to be the baby spider discovering what its body could do, and where it could go. I think she would have killed the spiders too, but I doubt she would have written about it, because that is not where the connection is. The connection is in the observation of the behavior and in feeling what the spiders were feeling from their point of view. The challenge then is to take this feeling and translate it into words.
Annie Dillard’s observations tend to be more primeval than other writers are. Her talent, the thing that makes her writing different to me, is how she seems not just to observe natural things, but also to connect with them. This is most clear in her essay ‘Living Like Weasels’ where she describes a sudden encounter with a weasel as “a sudden beating of brains.” (67) Her sentences do not just describe, they make you feel, and they grab hold of your insides and shake you. John Tallmadge says that Annie Dillard sees nature as “visceral, overpowering and possibly dangerous.” I agree, although I would say it is definitely dangerous. When she came face to face with the weasel, she emphasized its attack-and-never-release behavior, even though she was never in any actual danger from the encounter.
Still, it is those most basic survival behaviors, instinctual behaviors that are so often emphasized in her writing. Although she describes the physical appearance of the weasel in her essay, you are never encouraged to see it as a cuddly, harmless creature. Mr. Tallmadge describes a certain mysticism in Annie Dillard’s approach to writing. He describes this as a “direct, unmediated communion with the divine.” For Annie Dillard nature is the divine.
ADMN 233 Assignment 2 Template Assignment 2 Instructions Assignment 2 is worth 15% of your final mark. It should be completed and submitted after you finish Chapter 7 in your textbook. This assignment is divided into three parts, corresponding to the 3-x-3 writing process described in Unit 2 (Chapters 5 to 7) of your textbook. You will complete three activities in each part of this assignment. ...
Richard Speaker thinks that Annie Dillard believes the “world is revealing, constantly, all one needs revealed if one would pay attention and participate.” Or, as Ms. Dillard would say, if one would quit participating in our own play and take the time to witness. As she says, “wherever there is stillness there is the still small voice, God’s speaking from the whirlwind” (Stones 88).
When Annie Dillard can achieve that stillness, she can hear God in the wind, in a stone, and in the emptiness of the weasel’s mind. Through her writing, she can help us hear Him too.