Annie Dillard is the author of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, winner of the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Narrative Nonfiction, and Teaching a Stone to Talk, a collection of essays in which “Total Eclipse” was reprinted, as well as several other nonfiction books, novels and two collections of poetry.
The essay is divided into four sections. The first recounts Dillard and her husband waking up in a hotel room in preparation of the eclipse. The second describes the drive to the mountain and the events of the eclipse itself. The third deals with the existential impact of the eclipse upon Dillard. The fourth is about Dillard’s return to reality and the after effects of the eclipse.
The essay is more poetic than traditionally essayistic and relies heavily on images and allusions. Dillard attempts to explain the deep, human terror of a total eclipse—something that seems indescribable, incomprehensible. She argues that photographs cannot capture the true nature of an eclipse, so she attempts to do that with prose, relating, through a series of seemingly dissonant metaphors, her feelings surrounding the event.
Essay’s Immediate Context
“Total Eclipse” was originally published in the Spring/Summer 1982 issue of Anteaus, a literary journal founded by Daniel Halpern (who also served as editor) and Paul Bowles. Antaeus was the first venture of Ecco press, which also publishes literary fiction and poetry. Drue Heinz, publisher of The Paris Review, served as publisher of the magazine.
Anteaus was a relatively small circulation magazine which ran from the summer of 1970 to 1994. Many well-known writers such as Tennessee Williams, Mark Strand, and W.S. Merwin served as contributing editors. The magazine was known primarily for poetry but also ran several theme issues, such as “The Autobiographical Eye” issue in which “Total Eclipse” was published.
Essay’s Subsequent Appearance
The essay was collected in Annie Dillard’s only collection of essays, Teaching a Stone to Talk, published in 1982. It was also recorded for radio by Audio Prose Library.
Dillard, Annie. “Total Eclipse.” Anteaus 45/46 (1982): 43-46.
“Vita – Biography.” Annie Dillard Official Website, 2013. http://www.anniedillard.com/
Text and images: Kilby Allen.