Looking over Dillard's Shoulder

Michael Talis '02, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

Annie Dillard does a lot of seeing in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, yet it is not until her chapter "Present" that she explicitly unravels that process for the reader. Through her discussion of the present and its various components, we understand that seeing is a complicated thing. Dillard manages to explain it in quite a lucid and engrossing way; however, after reading her explanation, I walk away with a number of questions as to how she actually went about constructing this book.

Self-consciousness, however, does hinder the experience of the present. It is the one instrument that unplugs all the rest. So long as I lose myself in a tree, say, I can scent its leafy breath or estimate its board feet of lumber, I can draw its fruits or boil tea on its branches, and the tree stays tree. But the second I become aware of myself at any of these activities -- looking over my own shoulder, as it were -- the tree vanishes, uprooted from the spot and flung out of sight as if it had never grown. And time, which had flowed down into the tree bearing new revelations like floating leaves at every moment, ceases. It dams, stills, stagnates. [81]

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Last modified 1 May 2002