A literary shema : Annie Dillard's Judeo-Christian vision and voice
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Ample evidence exists for American Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard’s life-long interest in Jewish mysticism. However, to date, its shaping influence on her work has remained unexamined. This thesis seeks to explore the role of Jewish mystical theology, particularly Lurianic Kabbalism and Martin Buber’s Hasidism, in three seminal theological movements found within Dillard’s canon: creation, evil, and redemption. Chapter 1 demonstrates that although there exist connections between Jewish mysticism and the Neoplatonic traditions with which Dillard is frequently linked, her pansacramental vision of God’s presence in creation seems far more closely allied with Hasidism than Neoplatonism, particularly in her depictions of mystical descents. Chapter 2 explores Dillard’s challenges to Western Christianity’s notions of an omnipotent God as she wrestles with questions about evil and suffering. Her synthesis of the Kabbalistic concepts of tsimtsum and shevirat ha-kelim with Christian kenotic theology allows her to create within her literary cosmos a God who elects to be self-limiting. Chapter 3 suggests that the inherent kenoticism of tsimtsum and shevirat ha-kelim enables Dillard to explore questions about evil and suffering within the tension of theodicean spaces created by gaps between apparently contradictory existential and spiritual truths. The chapter also proposes that Dillard’s asyndetic style both reflects and creates deliberately unsettling textual ellipses that locate readers within the silence of theodicean spaces. Chapter 4 begins the arc of the thesis’ movement toward redemption by demonstrating how gaps and absences within Dillard’s work function not merely as theodicean spaces but also as affective absences that, like the mystical white spaces between the Torah’s black letters, can become fecund, plurivocal gaps that engender mystery and meaning.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
Embargo Date: 2024-04-15
Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations. Print and electronic copy restricted until 15th April 2024
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