For the Time Being

by Annie Dillard

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Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 507

Dillard is not conventional in any strict sense of the term. Some will find her writing to be off-putting, as it is emblematic of what might be called postmodern or avant-garde literature. There is a seeming structure to For the Time Being, but that structure is fluid and malleable—almost a stream of consciousness—and calls into question the accessibility of a central theme and argument within the text. Dillard’s prose is also thick. The reasons some do not find her prose enjoyable, however, are the very same reasons that so many do. Her prose may be thick, but it is poetic. For her, language itself, because it has being—because it comes from being—is the very thing capable of rectifying the relationship between human beings and the divine. We might say that for Dillard, writing is an act of creation. It thus partakes of the beneficence God expresses when he himself creates. In this regard, creation is ethical, it is good. Noting this salient feature of Dillard’s work, writer Sandra Humble Johnson has called Dillard an “epiphanist,” a writer capable of discovering God and bringing her readers to that discovery through the process of writing. If Christ is the Logos, such an argument suggests, then language itself possesses a certain metaphysical ability to reconnect with its giver and source. Dillard’s words do this.

For the Time Being is also an unconventional theodicy. It raises the question all theodicies raise: If God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, why are things so bad? It responds, however, from the artist’s perspective, not that of the philosopher or the theologian. Dillard never develops what one might see as a pointed thesis. Rather, she points her readers to the trajectory of a response, forcing them to rest within the open space of what poet John Keats might call “negative capability.”

Sources for Further Study

America 181 (August 14, 1999): 25.

Booklist 95 (February 1, 1999): 939.

The Christian Century 116 (May 19, 1999): 572.

Johnson, Sandra Humble. The Space Between: Literary Epiphany in the Work of Annie Dillard. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1992. Dillard is envisioned as an “epiphanist,” a writer who gives testimony to the presence of God through the utterance of language.

Library Journal 124 (April 1, 1999): 103.

McClintock, James I. Nature’s Kindred Spirits: Aldo Leopold, Joseph Wood Krutch, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, and Gary Snyder. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1994. Places Dillard among the great nature writers of the twentieth century and investigates Dillard’s The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974) in terms of the environmental movement.

The New York Times Book Review 104 (March 28, 1999): 9.

Parrish, Nancy C. Lee Smith, Annie Dillard, and the Hollins Group: A Genesis of Writers. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1998. Investigates the formative writing education Dillard and her noteworthy classmate, Lee Smith, received during her undergraduate years at Hollins College, a women’s college.

Sojourners 28 (September, 1999): 58.

Yancey, Philip. Soul Survivor: How Thirteen Unlikely Mentors Helped My Faith Survive the Church. Reprint. New York: Galilee Trade, 2003. Noted inspirational Christian author Yancey catalogues thirteen indispensable figures who helped shape his faith, including Annie Dillard.

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