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An American’s mystical journey Dr. Elizabeth Giddens Professor of English Kennesaw State University 5 September 2014 (“We Gotta Get Out of This Place”

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Presentation on theme: "An American’s mystical journey Dr. Elizabeth Giddens Professor of English Kennesaw State University 5 September 2014 (“We Gotta Get Out of This Place”"— Presentation transcript:

1 An American’s mystical journey Dr. Elizabeth Giddens Professor of English Kennesaw State University 5 September 2014 (“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” by Eric Burdon & the Animals”)“We Gotta Get Out of This Place” ANNIE DILLARD’S PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK

2 Dillard’s Pilgrim first published in 1974 Age 29 in 1974, now 69 2014 is 40 th anniversary of Pilgrim’s publication 1975 Pulitzer Prize winner Poetry (2 books, 1974 & 1995) Harper’s contributor (1974-85) 6 nonfiction narratives & collected essays (1977-1999) 1 memoir, An American Childhood (1987) 2 Novels, The Living (1992) & The Maytrees (2007)

3 Remarkable talent as prose stylist Casts herself as a pilgrim, a seeker of truth and enlightenment Rhapsodic engagement in nature Attentive to inner life, weather, critters of all kinds First person narrative (Pilgrim called “nonfiction narrative”); no other “characters” Prose shifts from narrative to natural history to literary allusions to interpretations to vernacular exclamations and back to humble observation Serious, yet captivating tone: intense focus, detail, emotion Includes self-deprecating asides (to display modesty?) Uses recurring symbols as touchstones of revelation and wonder

4 “Ch. 1: Heaven & Earth in Jest”: A Guide

5 Tinker Creek, northwest of Roanoke, VA

6 Creek as oracle: Place of revelations

7 Giant water bug attacking a fish

8 Many literary influences & references, but Dillard has a distinctive voice Twentieth century Edwin Way Teale (35, 38, 47,135, 167, 168, 170, 219, 231, 252) Joseph Wood Krutch (162, 228) Stewart Edward White (17, novelist, 1873- 1946) Marius von Senden (25, author, 1932) Jean Henri Fabre (57,63, 65, entomologist, 1823-1915) Stephen Graham (80, writer, 1884-1975) Howard Ensign Evans (65, 136, 236 entomologist, 1919-2002) Rutherford Platt (164, geographer, living) Werner Heisenberg (127, physicist, 1901-76) Thomas Merton (268, writer, mystic, poet, social activist, 1915-68) Nineteenth century Ralph Waldo Emerson Henry David Thoreau (144) John Muir Earlier times Pliny (91 138, historian, AD 29- 79) Blaise Pascal (mathematician, 1623-62) The Bible The Koran (Some page numbers noted for references in Pilgrim)

9 Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82)

10 Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) Published Walden; Or, Life in the Woods in 1854 Year-long escape; builds a small cabin on Emerson’s land First-person narrative Focus on living life at the core, getting free of society, & not spending time on trivial concerns Individualist, anti-social, acetic, perhaps escapist “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived... I wanted to live deep and suck the marrow out of life.”

11 John Muir (1838-1914)

12 Joseph Wood Krutch (1893-1970) Theatre critic, professor of literature, naturalist, nature writer, Wrote a biography of Thoreau & books about Arizona’s desert Became known as a naturalist by hosting NBC TV documentaries 1967 received the Am. Academy of Arts & Sciences’ Emerson-Thoreau Medal for “distinguished achievement in the broad field of literature” Prose has droll humor & light touch Ibervillea sonorae: “For seven years, without soil or water, simply lying in the case, it put forth a few anticipatory shoots and then, when no rainy season arrive, dried up again, hoping for better luck next year.” (162-63)

13 Edwin Way Teale (1899-1980)

14 How to read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek Read each chapter as a meditation on one idea Look for the idea Notice the seasonal progression from winter to fall Identify important and/or recurring moments and images Consider the meaning of moments and images (in terms of the chapter’s concept) Consider the emotional dynamics of the chapter; how does the mood change from beginning to end? Enjoy the vivid prose String chapter ideas, images & moments together, if possible, into a loose narrative of Dillard’s year-long mystical journey

15 Contemporary events 1970-74: Vietnam, Environmental Movement & Watergate 1970: 448 universities & colleges closed or on strike in protest against war (“Ohio” by Neil Young, written in protest of the Kent State shootings)“Ohio” April 22, 1970: First Earth Day celebrated December 1970: Environmental Protection Agency established January 1971: 800,000 gallons of oil spilled in San Francisco Harbor June 1972: DDT (a toxic pesticide) is banned in US November 1973: Trans-Alaska oil pipeline authorized for construction December 1973: Endangered Species Act becomes law (“Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell captures environmental movement)“Big Yellow Taxi” 1972-74: Watergate scandal, resulting in televised Congressional hearings during the summer of 1973 and in President Nixon’s resignation August 9, 1974 March 30, 1972: North Vietnamese troops cross the demilitarized zone into South Vietnam March 29, 1973: US troops leave Vietnam

16 Watergate Congressional hearings, 1973 August 9, 1974

17 Images become symbols as they recur (a partial list with a few instances noted) The tomcat (1, 98, 270) Mockingbird The water bug (6, 98, 138, 263, 271) Hidden pennies (14, 262) The cedar tree with the lights in it (33, 80, 129, 205, 242, 271) The muskrat (46, 95, 153, 186, 190- 201, 204, 265) Esquimos (182, 206, 236, 248, 268) Praying mantis cases & female laying eggs (54, 99, 108, 211) Malformed polyphemus moth (59, 99) Snakeskin tied in a knot (73, 99, 129) Beagle puppy (78, 102) Caddisfly larva case (91) Tinker Creek (100, 244, 266) Duck pond (117, 258) Horsehair worms (119, 134, 172) Goldfish “Ellery” (124, 167) A goldfinch picking seeds from a thistle head, releasing its down into the breeze (215) Young copperhead (222-27, 262) Monarch butterflies (252-56)

18 Existential questions entertained throughout What is time? What is the present? Can we live in the present? What is it to live? Is human life different from other life (plant, insect, animal)? What is consciousness? What is self-consciousness? How do we cope with the knowledge of pain? Death? Predation? Cruelty? Waste? What is beauty? Why is it important? What is God? Why is the natural world so intricate? Why is there so much diversity? How can individuals be important when so much life in nature is squandered? What should we do given what we know about life?

19 Sample passage of Goldfinch spreading thistledown (215-17) “All at once something wonderful happened, although at first it seemed perfectly ordinary. A female goldfinch suddenly hove into view. She lighted weightlessly on the head of a bankside purple thistle and began emptying the seedcase, sowing the air with down. “The lighted frame of my window filled. The down rose and spread in all directions, wafting over the dam’s waterfall and wavering between the tulip trunks and into the meadow. It vaulted towards the orchard in a puff; it hovered over the ripening pawpaw fruit and staggered up the steep- faced terrace. It jerked, floated, rolled, veered, swayed. The thistledown faltered toward the cottage and gusted clear to the motorbike woods; it rose and entered the shaggy arms of pecans. At last it strayed like snow, blind and sweet, into the pool of the creek upstream, and into the race of the creek over rocks down. It shuttered onto the tips of growing grasses, where it poised, light, still wracked by errant quivers. I was holding my breath. Is this were we live, I thought, in this place at this moment, with the air so light and wild?... “Alleluia.”

20 Dillard ends Pilgrim with mystic vision & Emerson quotation

21 Take aways... The effect of details collected at the moment of observation A continuation of the transcendental, American Romantic tradition of nature writing The power of vivid verbs, large vocabulary, broad reading How memories and references to literary works spur original thought “Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver, released in 1972 “Rocky Mountain High” Annie Dillard today



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