Annie Dillard‘s book, “For the Time Being” is a literary work that focuses on her own travels to China and Israel, as well as the travels of spiritual paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin. This particular excerpt of Dillard’s book centers on the uncovering of thousand-year old Chinese clay soldiers buried alongside China’s first emperor, Emperor Qin. At first, the narrator seems unconcerned with the thought of viewing the soldiers in person, stating briefly that she had seen magazine pictures of the items in question. Arriving on scene, the narrator is immediately enthralled with the excavation grounds of the tomb and outlying counterparts that litter the trenches. She describes, in great detail, about the state some of the statues are in, while sauntering the trenches with thoughts about what the future holds for these cherished works of art, as well as the newer generations dim viewpoint on the authenticity of these exhumed clay statues.
Immediately upon arrival of the clay statutes, Dillard flirts with irony and metaphors of death and the beauty inherit within the submerged and semi-submerged statues. By using smooth and elegant description of the clay statues and the Loess soils that house them, she the shrewdly summarizes them as rammed-earth. Dillard revisits these descriptions throughout the excerpt, building up unfettered emotions that encapsulate her experience and the inevitable destination of death and the future that is in store for these clay statues of soldiers.
I am convinced Annie Dillard responds to the unearthing of these statues with shock and dismay. She continuously reminds us of the earth and the disturbing, farm-cropping style that these clay statues are unearthed. Dillard describes the inter-meshing earth colors while giving these statues meaning and status by calling them “clay people.” She even goes as far as describing some of the immersed statues as “bent bodies like chrysalids.” It seems that Dillard recognizes the depth that which these statues convey rebirth and revitalization and that this excavation can be a personal experience that which no one can ever live through again nor compare; in turn, Dillard displays conviction and a personal honor to be in attendance. This particular experience is one of a kind and a deeply emotional correspondence with Dillard and her question of life, life after death, and the inevitable expiration of life that we as humans cannot seem to fathom.
Out narrator reconvenes with the statues once again as she remarks upon the strewn, broken pieces of the “clay people” who were hopelessly destroyed by the earth and, at the same time, the crucial perception that the earth also bore these great works. The idea of a clean, polished clay statue house in a museum is inconceivable to Dillard. The true acuity of these statues lies in the uncensored screening of loose body parts and the pained expressive gestures many of the clay statues possess as they pose, captured, within the earthen walls. Dillard realizes that future generations will be sheltered from what we as a civilization are really constructed of. The candy-coated reality that will be embraced by the future generations will not illustrate the crucial aspect of life and the principles inherit within.
As Dillard struggles with the world’s bleak future, while astutely coming to terms with her own morality, she cannot help but end her memoir on a doom-ridden note that, as we all expire from life, the sad part is not dying but the acceptance of the fact that the inevitability is a crescendo to life and to the people a part of it.