Holy the Firm

This week’s entry analyzes two different works: the last of Annie Dillard’s essays, Holy the Firm, and the first half of the 2011 documentary, Project Nim.

Project Nim is a documentary about a Columbia University research project focused on raising an ape as if it were a human and teaching it to communicate with humans through sign language. The ape in question, Nim, begins life in a carefree home environment. He lives a lawless, exploratory, and care-free lifestyle. Nim seems to be having fun, but it is not long before he is moved into a more structured environment.

Once Nim is settled down into a routine he begins to make rapid gains in communication and language acquisition. The head researcher is happy, but is Nim? Personally I think that Nim is happy. Nim’s life is by no means perfect, yet he still takes to appreciate life’s small pleasures: snuggling with cats, venturing outdoors with his human friends, and manipulating experimenters to escape from his boring language tests. True, Nim is susceptible to monstrously violent outbursts, but does that necessarily mean that he is miserable?

I’m not sure if Nim’s ingratiation into humanity is so much a matter of happiness as it is a matter of proper placement. Does Nim truly belong with humans? Can he, an ape, be brought up as a human child? I’ll wait to see the rest of the movie before I attempt to answer that one.

Of Annie Dillard’s piece, my analysis is short. The most interesting part of her text this week, at least to me, is her exploration of the holy- or, as it turns out, the deceptively unholy. Dillard’s reflection into holiness begins with her expedition to purchase wine for communion. As she is going to the supermarket, Dillard critically examines what exactly what it is that she’s buying at the store. In typical Annie Dillard fashion, she radically concludes that she is, in essence, purchasing nothing less than a bottle of Jesus from a mundane supermarket.

Given her conclusion, Dillard can’t help but wonder, “What is sacred? Where is sacred? Is there even such a thing as sacred on this earth?” Annie Dillard’s questions are captivating. Is there such thing as sacred? If there is, what makes it sacred? Is everything sacred?

Again, I don’t have answers to mine, or Dillard’s, questions, but I do intend to discover what ‘sacred’ means to me.


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