The Importance of Intricacy

Dillard appropriately opens “Intricacy” by describing in fantastic detail the world inside a fish bowl where her new pet goldfish, Ellery, lives. As usual the level of her observation is as intimate as can be. “The red blood cells in the goldfish’s tail streamed and coursed through narrow channels invisible save for glistening threads of thickness in the general translucency.” (126) The question then becomes, why are the red blood cells in the fish’s tail so important? Which in turn creates a vessel for Dillard to explain why every detail that she has observed thus far is vital.

The fact that Ellery’s tail behaves in such a way is extravagant in its own right. But do not stop at seeing how over the top nature is; understand the importance of its extravagance. Understand that each detail is a product of evolution and that it could not possibly be any other way. Dillard states that “Evolution, of course, is the vehicle of intricacy. The stability of simple forms is the sturdy base from which more complex stable forms might arise, forming in turn more complex forms, and so on.” (133) We are one red blood cell in a goldfish’s tail away from not existing. Intricacy is a concept born out of consciousness. It is the idea that every single extravagant, seemingly ridiculous detail is the most important thing in the universe.

Even if Dillard is unable to explain why that is, and she admits that she can’t (130), it is understood that her existence depends on it. A person who does not think about these details is out of touch with their own reality. Dillard discusses a hilarious hypothetical situation where she might attempt to enlighten a stranger. “Do you know that in the head of the caterpillar of the ordinary goat moth there are two hundred twenty-eight separate muscles?” She explains why she feels compelled to explain this: “I am not making chatter; I mean to change his life.” In the situation, the “poor wrech flees.” (134) But how could anyone be so stupid as to not care about how many muscles exist in a caterpillars head? We exist because of the intricacy in the design of those muscles.

Dillard exposes herself. She knows that she is obsessive about minute details and that this makes her different from almost everybody. She is attempting to explain what is behind the obsession. At the root is her personal project of self-awareness. We see her as we see Thoreau at times, a soul trying to gain some peace in connecting with nature. But Dillard is calmer about it. She openly admits that she will probably not understand everything where Thoreau was overly determined to do so. Dillard feels that she owes it to both herself and nature to at least try. As she says early in Tinker, “beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there.” (10)

One thought on “The Importance of Intricacy

  1. You make an insightful point in connecting the intricacy of that chapter to the issue of self-consciousness and self-awareness from earlier chapters. I’d like to hear a bit more as to how you understand Dillard to assert that intricacy is born out of consciousness.
    Your final point about Dillard’s exposure is very intriguing–worth developing further for the writing project.

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