I’ve been away, and came back, but failed in my intention to post a new Scrip immediately on my return. However, I haven’t been completely idle; I have been trying to stitch myself back (to continue, and mix, the textile metaphors!) into the warp and weft of my new book.
But I still dip into other people’s books. Recently I looked into Annie Dillard’s essay collection, The Abundance (Canongate, 2017, foreword by Geoff Dyer). I’ve loved her work for many years, her wild, detailed, surprising, poetic voice. I am sure I’ve mentioned her before, probably quoting from her book The Writing Life, but she can bear mentioning again and again, until you read her, because the flavour of her writing can’t be described, only experienced.
I read the last essay in the book, “An Expedition to the Pole.” This blends polar exploration with church. She attends a Mass with one shambolic moment after another, and a motley singing group, The Wildflowers. “Alas, alack, oh brother, we are going to have to sing the Sanctus.” Dillard is very funny describing the stumbling ways we try to encounter God, clumsy as dancing bears. But then somehow the most ludicrous church gathering is at the same time a “search for the sublime,” like the search of polar explorers for the austere beauty of the pristine land, the Pole of Relative Inaccessibility. Others might draw this parallel, but her genius is making it come alive in the details, so one minute you are crunching over ice, and the next you hear mismatched voices struggling with foolish hymns. The ideas too sweep from the sublime to the ridiculous, and back. And then it all overlaps: “We are clumped on an ice floe, drifting in the black polar sea. Heaven and earth are full of our terrible singing.”
There is so much more, such richness in this essay, and the brilliance of her lucid, free-wheeling, beautiful writing simply can’t be conveyed. At the end, I felt breathless, ravished, wrung out, and limp with admiration and gratitude.