2007 Lionel Basney Award
James Matthew Wilson, "Representing the Limits of Judgment:
Yvor Winters, Emily Dickinson, and Religious Experience"
(Published in Volume 56, Number 3)
Text of Citation
The Publications Committee is pleased to name James Matthew Wilson the recipient of the eighth annual Lionel Basney Award for the best refereed article published in Volume 56 of Christianity and Literature. Wilson's essay, "Representing the Limits of Judgment: Yvor Winters, Emily Dickinson, and Religious Experience" 56.3 (2007): 397-422, is outstanding in the way that it brings together the details of Dickinson's poetry, the history of Dickinson's critical reception, the history of American literary criticism more broadly, and the history of theology. The article not only engages each of these discourses in advancing an integrated and persuasive argument; it does so in a manner that is exemplary for its subtlety, precision, and erudition in each of these areas.
At one level, Wilson's central argument demonstrates how the neo-Thomism of Yvor Winters would make possible the later critical treatments of religious experience in Dickinson's poetry. At a deeper level, however, Wilson ultimately shows how Dickinson's poetry overcomes Winters's allegation that Dickinson presumes to represent an unrepresentable mystical experience. Wilson persuasively shows that "Dickinson does not indulge in a forged mysticism where the poet experientially crosses into the divine. Rather, she in a sense expands Winters's own conception of the poem as a statement about human experience."
In effect, Wilson demonstrates that Dickinson develops a unique conceptual vocabulary which includes, as internal to the meaning of each key term, a "disproportion" between "what we can knowingly assign to the meaning of each term and what we suspect may in fact overwhelmingly be hidden behind it." In developing this claim, Wilson's argument reveals the mistaken critical inferences that arise from what are, in effect, misconstruals of the theological meaning of analogical predication-misconstruals that are not limited to Winters or to Dickinson criticism. The fact that this essay should offer such insight while also contributing to the historicization of New Criticism indicates the breadth and depth of learning and insight involved in the central argument's inception.
As the argument unfolds, Wilson admirably unites a clarity regarding profound intellectual disagreements-most notably between Winters and Dickinson-together with an imaginative charity in understanding those disagreements. Wilson's article is thus not only an important contribution to theological treatments of Dickinson's poetry; the argument also demonstrates the importance of the intersections between Christianity and literature for literary criticism more broadly and exemplifies how the practice of such criticism could proceed with great effect.
Denise T. Askin, "Carnival in the ‘Temple':
Flannery O'Connor's Dialogic Parable of Artistic Vocation"
(Published in Volume 56, No. 4)
The committee also recognizes as a finalist for the Basney award Denise T. Askin's essay, "Carnival in the ‘Temple': Flannery O'Connor's Dialogic Parable of Artistic Vocation" 56.4 (2007): 555-72. In arguing that O'Connor's "Temple of the Holy Ghost" offers an ironic self-portrait of the "comic-prophetic artist," Askin not only makes an important contribution to the critical understanding of the relationship between "Temple" and the rest of O'Connor's writing but also between the imaginative and theological aspects of O'Connor's work more generally. Most notably, the essay makes effective use of Bakhtinian critical categories in showing the theological richness involved in O'Connor's narrative deployment of the grotesque.
2007 Publication Committee: Phillip Donnelly, Scott McLaren, and Sue Starke