This was my first experience reading Dillard’s work, so here it goes-
First impressions? The chapter is beautifully written yet, at times, guilty of shamelessly flirting with the grotesque. The following passage perfectly captures this sentiment:
“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you… Seize it and let it seize you aloft even, till your eyes burn out and drop; let your musky flesh fall off in shreds, and let your very bones unhinge and scatter… from any height at all, from as high as eagles.” (Dillard, 70)
Dillard’s lesson is simple enough- discern a ‘necessity’ and pursue it relentlessly down whichever path it leads you- but her language is far from rosy . My question is this, “Does Annie Dillard have to go into such vile detail to get her point across?” Now, it’s important to note that Dillard isn’t being needlessly morbid here; she’s drawing on an earlier anecdote in which she outlines the tenacity of a weasel who mauls the neck of an attacking eagle in a desperate attempt to avoid becoming lunch. The eagle won, but it was left with a little souvenir- a weasel’s head lodged inextricably on its neck. So what is the passage I quoted earlier saying anyway? It’s saying, “Be the Weasel.” The weasel has one necessity, to live, and its entire being rallies to fulfill that need.
Before I get too bogged down in the details, I want to get back to my original question, “Does Annie Dillard need to use such gross language to convey a lesson that is otherwise fortune cookie-appropriate?” To answer that question, “Yes!” You see, the beautiful thing about Dillard’s lesson isn’t the lesson itself; it’s the inspiration behind the lesson. There is profound truth behind even the most commonplace occurrences. The important thing is to take a moment and truly appreciate the surrounding world. That’s what Annie Dillard did. She didn’t go into that passage with an insatiable desire to impress upon her audiences the value of persistence. No, Annie Dillard wanted to write about weasels. All that life lesson nonsense? A gift from the weasels.