A Snail, a Sea Lion, or a Systems Analyst

a dolphin crests the sea of cortez just as the sun breaches the horizon

“Geography is the key, the crucial accident of birth. A piece of protein could be a snail, a sea lion, or a systems analyst, but it had to start somewhere. This is not science; it is merely a metaphor. And the landscape in which the protein ‘starts’ shapes its end as surely as blows shape water.”

– Annie Dillard, Teaching a Stone to Talk 

I’m truly enjoying perusing through the many photographs I took on a magical vacation to the Sea of Cortez. It was one giant splash into an enchanted sea filled with an impressive variety of whales, fish, and comical sea lions – one even nibbled on my fin while snorkeling.  It was a trip I will always remember. 

While searching for a proper quote to pair with my photograph, I stumbled across the passage below, which is about literary epiphany in the writings of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Annie Dillard. With curiosity piqued, I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of her book, Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters. (I added lined breaks to help assist with online legibility.) 

“Landscape is the key shaping factor for Dillard, for she sees in locus the seed of all life that follows, a seed which allows life to bud and then in a synergistic relationship react to the life it has spawned: 'Geography is the key, the crucial accident of birth. A piece of protein could be a snail, a sea lion, or a systems analyst, but it had to start somewhere. This is not science; it is merely a metaphor. And the landscape in which the protein ‘starts’ shapes its end as surely as blows shape water' (Teaching 127).

 

Dillard’s 'geography' becomes a full-blown motif in An American Childhood, with epiphany engaging what lies below and above the surface of the land. But Dillard suggest with the word 'metaphor' another kind of landscape that links her with Hopkins – the landscape of language becomes more than just a system of symbols to represent exterior ideas; language becomes idea, or 'the thing' itself. Language takes on texture and form and meaning; it evolves just like the physical landscape, for, Dillard writes, 'like languages, ideas evolve. And they evolve…not from hardened final forms, but from the softest plasmic germs in a cell’s heart, in the nub of a word’s root, in the supple flux of an open mind' (Teaching 122).

 

Both Dillard and Hopkins react to language as if it is a 'hardened' soil, an arena of activity by itself; in this language-rich sol the epiphany of words springs to life.”

– Sandra Humble Johnson, The Space Between: Literary Epiphany in the Work of Annie Dillard

Photo Credits:  Mama Sea Lion and her Lazy Pup,  by Susan J. Preston, Sea of Cortez, Baja California Sur © 2017, all rights reserved
Technical: Fuji XT-2 | XF 100-400mm

 

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