The Horse Fly of Tinker Creek

Blake Cooper '03, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

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They say a horse fly has hundreds of eyes, each observing a distinct area in a very broad visual radius. Also, I'd assume horse flies are not very good at putting all this information together to form broad assumptions about the world, but are probably pretty good at finding food and avoiding the swatter (their world). Annie Dillard seems to work the same way. "My eyes account for less than one percent of the weight of my head," writes Dillard, "I'm bony and dense; I see what I expect" (18). The horse fly probably sees what it expects as well: food, predators, decay...but it's just a horse fly, Dillard, as a human being, has no such excuse. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek contains hundreds and hundreds of paragraphs that put a magnifying glass to nature, making some keen observation, then capping the paragraph with some quirky remark about how inept Dillard is at seeing anything. What is Dillard trying to see? Is nature, in the mind of Dillard, one of those computer generated, scrambled 3-D pictures that one has to stare at with unfixed eyes before the picture comes through? Dillard seems to suggest just this when she writes:

Seeing is of course very much a matter of verbalization. Unless I call my attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won't see it. It is, as Ruskin says, "not merely unnoticed, but in the full, clear sense of the word, unseen." My eyes alone can't solve analogy tests using figures, the ones which show, with increasing elaborations, a big square , then a small square in a big square, then a big triangle, and expect me to find a small triangle in a big triangle. I have to say the words, describe what I'm seeing. [30]

This is all fine and well--if true--but again and again Dillard sees things that the ordinary observer would almost certainly miss. If Dillard truly sees only what she expects, then she certainly expects a great deal. If this is true, why is Dillard, like the horse fly, unable to bring ALL this information together to form a broader thesis on nature and not just strings of "deep thoughts"?

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Last modified 3 December 2006