04 May 2005

In praise of the pilgrim

Robert Macfarlane on Annie Dillard:
Moments such as this happen all the time in Dillard's writing: moments where the natural world streams through her, and she through it. There is a continual process of exchange; or, to use John Donne's word, interinanimation. And this is the greatest lesson of Dillard's prose: that we do not live separately from the natural world, but are part of it. She writes against the heresy of aloofness; what John Gray has called "the humanist belief in human difference" - the idea that humans are a separate, unnatural order of life, the sub-Sartrean belief that we are self-created individuals.

It's for this reason that Dillard speaks unashamedly, comfortably, of the spirit, and how it is accommodated by, extended by, animated in, landscape. "You can heave your spirit into a mountain, and the mountain will keep it, folded, and not throw it back as some creeks will." "What I call innocence is the spirit's unself-conscious state at any moment of pure devotion to any object."

Dillard's is a naïve vision, of course, and deeply beguiling for it. The best thing is her glee, a pied-piperish glee at being in the world, which she evokes better than anyone else: "I go my way, and my left foot says Glory and my right foot says Amen: in and out of Shadow Creek, upstream and down, exultant, in a daze, dancing, to the twin silver trumpets of praise." When Dillard is in such a mood, it's hard not to follow her recommendation that, on an "excellent" day, you go out for a walk, and "take huge steps, trying to feel the planet's roundness arc between your feet".
(Via Arts & Letters Daily)

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