The Abundance by Annie Dillard
When we read, what are we reading for? A moment of escape? An adrenaline filled rush? Or is each time we open a book, we are on a quest to find something great? A great character, a great love story, great writing, great prose. How often do we read so that we can say, “Yeah. That was okay.” The answer is never. We’re never looking for something adequate. We want to be blown away.
This is why we revere the great authors/painters/filmmakers to the extent that we do because their gift to us is excellence – consistent, elating, life-affirming excellence. This is where all reverence comes from. At times we experience greatness as it arrives – we can anticipate the next film or album. Sometimes this greatness must be discovered or handed to us to discover. The Abundance is just that – a collection cultivated by someone so that we can say, “Holy shit. This is amazing.” And it is amazing. Annie Dillard is amazing. She is Great. Her bombastic and jubilant prose erupts; it cannot merely be read, slowly absorbed, wafted to the senses. The writing and sensation arrives, barges into your mind. Her endless fascination with the world is invigorating. She is as in love with life as Hunter S. Thompson is with shouting.
What I especially love about Dillard is that her loving, passionate exuberance is not marred by rainbows ejecting from every pore, from a hail of unassailable kittens and children beating cancer. She’s a weirdo – unconventional to the core. She watches a moth burn and you only wish you could have smelled the sizzled exoskeleton and experience her world more directly – in real time. Dillard observes the world as it slowly unfolds. She asks for nothing except what is given and is amazed where others notice nothing at all. This is in stark contrast to the slew of hyper-optimism which has a following today, the sort which cajoles beauty and happiness out of every moment and tells us that we have the control to shape our perceptions every step of the way, and which, unknown to the writers or adherents, betrays a great fear of living with its demands. Dillard excels at being genuine and authentic – a maxim (“be genuine”) that though prevalent is still difficult to reach or find.
There isn’t any controversy in this opinion. Dillard is already established as a great writer. Even so, it’s hard to find her touted or lauded except by people “in the know.” She is not necessarily a household name. This is why collections like The Abundance are so important. Often times we hear of someone great and don’t know where to start. We are overwhelmed with their bibliography in opposition with our own lives. The Abundance allows a smattering which can only engender further reading of its author. Dillard’s style is bombastic and humble, immense and precise, sweeping and childlike. She, like many great authors, presents a philosophy that must be teased out, that is indirect and that is truly enlivening. Her philosophy, like many great authors, supersedes most of what you will find in a self-help section of a bookstore, yet relays a similar message: love life. Or maybe it’s that life can be loved at all. Or perhaps it is that there are things in life that are worth your attention, and these are the things you might say you love. Any way you look at it, it is not enough to simply change your attitude, as many gurus profess, and it is not so simple as thinking in relatable phrases. To love life is imprecise and defies category. This describes Dillard, too.
That is the abundance of The Abundance. There is so much to be revealed and discovered in Dillard’s writing, that the sentiment of “there is more than enough” can be extended outward, can be applied daily. And yet somehow there is always more. One cannot forget or dismiss that Dillard is fun to read. She is hilarious and has a bizarre sense of humor and an impeccable sense of timing. Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “A serious and good philosophical work could be written consisting entirely of jokes.” If anyone could do that, it’s Annie Dillard.