In Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Dillard treats the eye that controls the word-painting in a manner that can be contrasted to Ruskin's. She persistently makes her subjective presence known to the reader. She will often describe an element‹the lines of a leaf, the swell of the wind or the change in light‹and then let us know how she feels with a quick remark or mental ramble. In this way, what is seen and what Dillard feels becomes closely associated. It is significant that the "I" increases in number, until it literally begins every sentence, through the passage, from the chapter called "Seeing" where Dillard demonstrates what she believes is a way to see things "truly," and that the reader is very aware that she or is reading the author's subjective experience in this passage:
I saw the pale white circles roll up, roll up, like the world's turning, mute and perfect, and I saw the linear flashes, gleaming silver, like stars being born at random down a rolling scroll of time. Something broke and something opened. I filled up like a new wineskin. I breathed an air like light; I saw a light like water. I was the lip of a fountain the creek filled forever; I was ether, the leaf in the zephyr; I was flesh-flake, feather, bone. (32)
The above passage is not an example of word-painting, but we can find the same attitude reflected in the word-painting that Dillard uses to create the Lucas place. Each section of the passage that adds up to create a sense of the total physical space of the Lucas place, is entered by relation to Dillard's position: "Now to my right...," "I stood ringed and rimmed in heights...," "Ahead of me in the distance..." and "once I was in the thick of it..." (213-14).
Other examples of Dillard's word-painting which play down her presence appear, such as the reader's introduction to the tear-shaped island in the middle of Tinker Creek and the description of the land on the "most beautiful day of the year" (p 4,10). However, for the most part, her subjective experience remains very present, and this persistent presence may be due to the nature of her project: to closely examine the ways we individually see the world and find beauty in it.
This difference between Dillard and Ruskin may also be due to the change in attitudes toward presenting reality. As the editor's introduction to Unto this Last and Other Writings tells us, Ruskin believed in reading nature for the word or signs of God, and he also believed that the ultimate purpose of description was to capture the greater "essence and meaning" of particular objects (10-11). Dillard seems to believe in some shared or common level of humanity: "If these tremendous events are random combinations of matter run amok, the yield of millions of monkeys at millions of typewriters, then what is it in us...that they ignite?" However, she admits that such essential elements, if they exist, remain a mystery to her and her endeavor becomes to "look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what's going on here" (9).
Taking these different perspectives into account, we may better understand why Ruskin would make his subjective eye in word-painting passages more discrete than does Dillard; for the former has faith in the possibility of conveying an essential, and objective, meaning, while the latter believes more in the possibility of conveying an authenticity of individual experience.
Last modified 1993