Annie Dillard and the Word Made Flesh: An Incarnational Theory of Language

Annie Dillard and the Word Made Flesh: An Incarnational Theory of Language

Annie Dillard and the Word Made Flesh: An Incarnational Theory of Language

Annie Dillard and the Word Made Flesh: An Incarnational Theory of Language

Synopsis

Annie Dillard and the Word Made Flesh engages two of Dillard's most defining characteristics: her belief in the power of language and her Christian faith. Though Dillard's spiritual belief is arguably the most intrinsic aspect of her writings, until now, no full-length examination of her beliefs has ever been undertaken. As a writer, Dillard particularly identifies with Christ's designation as the Word. This incarnational concept of language has four distinct aspects. First, because of her belief in the incarnate Word, Dillard believes that the incarnate world speaks a spiritual language. Secondly, just as Christ physically embodied the spiritual, Dillard believes that the spiritual realm continues to be real and substantial, not ephemeral or abstract. Thirdly, because Christ as Word imbued the world with meaning, Dillard believes that language has a particular capacity to express and create meaning. Finally, because Christ demonstrated sacrifice, so Dillard believes that the writer must adopt a similarly sacrificial role, depleting herself for the sake of the work.

Though Dillard’s spiritual belief is arguably the most intrinsic aspect of her writings, no full-length examination of her beliefs has ever been undertaken. This study also greatly extends the critical examination that has been given to Dillard; going beyond the consideration of Dillard’s first, Pulitzer Prize-winning text, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, the primary focus of most Dillard criticism, it examines the full corpus of Dillard’s nonfiction still in print, as well as her first book of poetry, Tickets for a Prayer Wheel. Incorporating close textual readings, identifying and analyzing scriptural allusions and demonstrating a clear awareness of and engagement with critical responses to her texts, this volume is an important contribution to Dillard scholarship.

Excerpt

“Just when we thought there were no more fierce voices among us, no Jeromes or Jeremiahs or Jonahs, just when we thought the expression of our faith had degenerated to conflict management and seminars on stress, here comes Annie Dillard … ” It is indeed difficult to ignore the centrality of Annie Dillard’s Christian faith to her artistic vision, to her purpose in writing, even to her style and genre preference. As James McClintock points out, Dillard’s referencing of God in her works is perhaps their most distinctive feature. Dillard herself acknowledges that after her introduction to theology, all other ideas seemed “mean” by comparison. in an interview with Mary Cantwell, Dillard claimed that students misguidedly seek in psychology, philosophy, and literature the same fundamental truths they had discovered, as children, in religion: “You spend the rest of your life looking for something that good.” Curiously, however, Dillard reserves most of her Christian commentary for her books; only rarely does Dillard grant interviews, and she usually bristles at questions which probe her personal faith. Clearly she regards her literary output as the best venue for her religious ideas, and from her first book—Pilgrim at Tinker Creek—theology and biblical allusion have infused her texts. in fact, Nancy Parrish notes that this was a key point of difference between Dillard’s and her first husband Richard Dillard’s works: hers concerned themselves heavily with religion, while her husband’s considered it not at all.

Dillard’s attentiveness to the spiritual can unquestionably be accounted for by the fact that Dillard adheres to a sincere Christian belief. in An American Childhood, Dillard portrays herself as having received a nominally Christian upbringing; though as a child she attended a Presbyterian church with some regularity, she presents her personal attitude toward faith as at best skeptical and at worst mocking and indifferent. However, by age twenty she had moved to a position of personal belief and considered herself a Christian. Her conversion to . . .

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