Dillard Crosses The Paper Divide

J.D. Nasaw '08, English 171, Sages, Satirists, and New Journalists, Brown University, 2005

I am sitting here, you are sitting there. Say even that you are sitting across this kitchen table from me right now. Our eyes meet; a consciousness snaps back and forth. What we know, at least for starters, is: here we—so incontrovertibly—are. This is our life, these are our lighted seasons, and then we die. (You, die, you die; first you go wet, and then you go dry.) In the meantime, in between time, we can see. [page 129]

In this passage from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard engages the reader in a uniquely direct way. For nearly half the book, Dillard talks of herself and the grand community of nature with only the occasional mention of the reader as part of the general "we." Suddenly, as if a new world has been revealed to her, Dillard both acknowledges our presence as readers and includes us in the discussion in second tense commands. She tells us to imagine things: "You are a starling. I've seen you fly through a longleaf pine without missing a beat" (131). "You are a chloroplast moving in water . . . You are evolution" (132). Instead of sitting passively and accepting the onrush of Dillard's thoughts, she leads us through the journey she has already taken. By engaging the reader in this way, Dillard has adopted a powerful tool for weaving her thoughts and arguments.

Questions

What is the effect of addressing the reader directly? How would the book be different if Dillard did not cross the divide?

Dillard has us imagine that we are a retired railroad worker or a sculptor, but most often she tells us to become non-human animals, inanimate objects, God and even complex processes such as evolution. Why? Can we really imagine ourselves as evolution? What is the effect?

What are some other uses of the second tense and how are they different from Dillard's use in the above passage?

Why do most writers seem to shun the use of the second person? How would their writing be different if Didion, Wolfe, or Chatwin addressed the reader in such a direct way?


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Last modified 27 April 2005