Analysis of Seeing by Annie Dillard

  • According to Dillard, lovers and the knowledgeable can see well. Yet she also suggests that those who are knowledgeable on a topic, such as people who have been blind from birth and can suddenly see (due to an opperation), can perhaps view more objectively the world around them, and see it in a way that those with vision from birth cannot.

Infants, she says, can see very clearly, for they are viewing the world for the first time, and can observe the colors and the light with no prejudgments, but we forget this experience as we grow older, and only occasionally catch glimpses of this phenomenon.

  • Lovers can see well, because their vision transcends the obvious, if they love a lake, they do not merely see a lake, but also see what the lake represents for them, they see meaning. The knowledgeable can see because as small children we are constantly learning, but those who are knowledgeable continue to learn throughout their lives, which enables them to keep discovering new ways to view the world and allows them to keep an open mind and open eye. Those who know little can see, but only if they are open to knowledge, even if that knowledge is self taught, they just must be open to experience and to wonder.
  • Seeing contributes to happiness because when we allow ourselves to see, we allow ourselves to open our minds and our hearts, and to see the wonder in the world, which we often close ourselves off to as we grow older. Perhaps when we begin to learn of all the sufferings of reality, we close ourselves off to seeing, because we don’t want to know, but if we do not allow ourselves to see and feel suffering, we shut the door to the joys and wonders of this world as well.
  • The part of Dillard’s essay which struck me the most was her retelling of the experiences of those who had been blinded from birth and were then granted sight, and how they did not have a sense of visual space or distance. It made me realize how my perception of the world is a combination of all my senses, and I can’t really distinguish them. If I see an apple, I don’t only see it, but I imagine how it feels, tastes, smells, sounds as I bight into it. It is hard to separate each of those from each other, but the sound of n apple being bitten into without the knowledge of it being an apple or knowing what it tastes or smells like, is a novel idea. To think of it separately is difficult, but if you can isolate it, it is truly fascinating, exciting even, for it is like a whole new experience.
  • When Dillard uses the term seeing, she means seeing something beyond the obvious. When looking at a tree, not seeing just a tree, but seeing it as if you were seeing it for the first time, and seeing it for all that it entails.
  • A person may “see” not with the eyes, if they were to feel something deep within themselves that could not be attributed to any of the senses. Seeing in this case means to understand what the view means to the individual.
  • See is most closely a synonym with understand and appreciate. What Dillard means is to appreciate, for often we go through life not “seeing” because we are ungrateful. However, one cannot truly appreciate unless they understand. One can look at the stars and not know what they are and still see them and understand.
  • What I mean by understand, is not to be able to scientifically explain, but to wonder about and to be able to understand what it means to the the individual. – Annie Dillard
  • The indefinite article article “a” in Dillard’s title suggests that when she speaks about the vulnerabilities and fragilities of one moth, she speaks for the whole species. She observed “a” moth burn in the candle, but it could have been any moth, for they all are vulnerable to fire. Humans as well, are all connected in this way, when one person dies, we are reminded of our own vulnerability and our own lack of power in the face of death.
  • In Dillard’s essay the moth dies by flying into the flame of the candle while Dillard is camping.
  • I think the moth is significant to Dillard because it reminds her of her own vulnerability. Death is one thing which connects all life forms, irronic, but true. When she speaks of “a” moth, she speaks of all moths, and not only all moths, but all life forms, including herself. The moth stands out to her as well because the moth essentially surrenders it’s life in order to allow her to read through the night, not knowingly or on purpose, but Dillard benefits from the death of this moth. This is sort of an example of the circle of life, for though one life form dies, another is able to flourish, this is of course on a small scale, but the concept is the same.
  • Dillard retreats to the hills because she is going through writer’s block and is trying to re-motivate herself to write. She brings with her The Day on Fire by James Ullman, a book which she read as a young person which inspired her to write.
  • In “Death of a Moth”, Dillard seems to be unsure what she wants to write about. She begins by talking about herself living alone in an apartment, then diverges to discuss her trip to the hills to try to get motivated to write again and about watching a moth die in her candle flame, and then in the last paragraph she goes back to talking about living alone. The middle of her essay about her retreat to the hills by herself seems to be about her feelings of loneliness as well though. Even the moth dying is a representation of her solitude, for the moth dies alone. Dillard enjoys being alone, as she clearly states, which I have no doubt is true, but she also seems to want to want company.

I find this very relateable, I enjoy my solitude very much, but sometimes I wish that I could be happy and comfortable living with another person, but I feel I cannot be myself unless I am alone. The only time Dillard wishes to not live alone, is when something is funny, because it is much easier to share joyous times with others than to share ones pain. I would prefer to die alone because then I would not have to worry about how those around me felt, and I would be able to allow myself to feel however I felt, and if I did feel pain when I died, I would want to be able to feel that, and people around me might hinder my ability to do that.

I think this is what Dillard may have felt watching the moth die, she pities the moth for dying alone, but the moth goes out majestically and for this reason Dillard envies her. Dillard wishes her death to be real, majestic, and she fears living her life with other people will ruin her death. It is a sad reality to live your life in fear of death, but even more tragic to live your life in preperation for a perfect death.

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