Category Archives: Philosophy
Works like this have always intimidated me. I think pretty linearly and will usually take what I read literally before thinking about it much, or having it explained to me. Also, I’m not a believer so it was guaranteed I would miss many of the allusions in this. However I am happy to say while I did not really catch on to all of it, I was able to grasp the meaning of most of it…and I have to say I kind of enjoyed it. It helped a lot having the translators summary and notes to guide me along. So while I am not going to become an avid reader of poetry for now at least, I am not quite as intimidated as I was!
Bucket Source (World Library list of 100 greatest books of all time)
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This was one of those books that made me wish I had taken a much earlier interest in literature and creative writing. I am absolutely sure I would have gotten more enjoyment from this book than I did had that been the case. Commentary I’ve read about it compares Annie Dillard’s work to Thoreau and the other transcendentalists. Of course, I had precious little exposure to them in school so the comparison is largely lost on me. I did not pursue creative writing beyond the minimum requirements imposed on me as part of my course of study, so the style, rhythm and cadence of this work didn’t resonate with me at anything but a superficial level. So, my opinion of it will necessarily be based on my experiences and education.
I kind of view this book the way I would look at an abstract painting; like an artist trying to portray their feeling about a physical place or object through their art, the author here is trying to do the same with words. The book I think employs a narrative form and consists of several reflections and internal monologues on nature, existence, life, death and religion. It all revolves around the environment near the authors home adjacent to Tinker Creek in Virginia. The book is divided into four sections representing the seasons, and within each section chapters that enhance and amplify the larger theme.
I really enjoyed much of this, particularly sections in which Dillard would focus her observations on a particular animal or event. Monologues describing her efforts to get close to the muskrats living in the creek, her fleeting attempts to observe fish and insects were very enjoyable. She also did a wonderful, almost mystical, job of incorporating the latest (at the time) discoveries in the fields of physics, astronomy and chemistry into the narrative as though those aspects of the physical world were as much a part of her immediate surroundings as were the insects, birds and reptiles she was observing.
Some parts I didn’t buy, particularly the overall theological theme. Dillard describes her work as a theodicy – the study of why a benevolent God would allow manifestations of evil in the world. The cut throat existence most living beings endure in nature are used as examples. The often cruel and gruesome ways many of “Gods” creatures meet their ends is used as the anchor point for this exploration. Being an atheist I don’t believe there is any deeper meaning other than that evolution provides for. Creatures exist and evolve as a consequence of the environment they live it, not because some benevolent God has allowed it. So these themes had no resonance with me.
She uses the concepts of via positiva and the via negativa, with the first half of the book being the former and the last half the latter. The first refers to the notion that God is present in nature and is in some way knowable. The second refers to a God which cannot be comprehended and therefore what happens in the world are only attributes of God’s will and not a knowable truth. Dillard finds the latter more attractive based on her observations of the natural world as represented at Tinker Creek. Of course from my perspective there is no will at work here as there is no supreme being to work that will. I understand things as part of a quantifiable and understandable process that doesn’t contain the mystery Dillard see around her.
Nevertheless I came away from reading this feeling closer to the nature Dillard describes than a dry recitation of fact could ever convey. I think there is something in all of us that wants the world around us and our place in it to have a higher meaning. I think that desire is a result of an evolutionary impulse. Yet, it is within me and works such as this satisfy some of that need.
Bucket Source (Pulitzer Prize Winner for General Non-Fiction)
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