Discussion Questions for We Have Our Standards (For Mormon Writers)

Here are the discussion questions for the seventh email in the AMV Deep Dive of Marden J. Clark’s essay collection Liberating Form.

If you haven’t signed up for the email, you can read it (and sign up to receive future ones) here: We Have Our Standards (For Mormon Writers).

Please note that comments are moderated, and the goal is to make this a place welcome to Mormons of all stripes (as well as folks with an interest in Mormonism).

  1. Is writing for the market really literary dishonesty? In what ways can it be dishonest and in what ways honest?
  2. What are Clark’s blind spots here? What are works/genres that he might consider dishonest that you don’t? What are works/genres that he might consider full of honesty and integrity that you think are still dishonest in one way or another? And why?
  3. Why is literary excellence so difficult to achieve and/or recognize? How could individuals and communities better support it? Is it even the right phrase for what we think we Mormon artists should strive for? Why/why not?

Discussion Questions for Science, Religion, and the Humanities

Here are the discussion questions for the sixth email in the AMV Deep Dive of Marden J. Clark’s essay collection Liberating Form.

If you haven’t signed up for the email, you can read it (and sign up to receive future ones) here: Science, Religion, and the Humanities.

Please note that comments are moderated, and the goal is to make this a place welcome to Mormons of all stripes (as well as folks with an interest in Mormonism).

  1. Clark writes that “art can bring us pain as well as comfort” (70). Are those the two primary emotions it can bring us? Are they the most important? Which other emotions can art bring us? Are those other emotions of equal, greater, or lesser value than pain and comfort and how so?
  2. What kind of darkness do you seek out in art? (Which may or may not coincide with the kind of art that is labeled as dark). Which works of art that has darkness in it have you had interesting, profound, and/or emotional experiences with?
  3. Which works (if any) of Surfiction, postmodern art, metafiction, fabulation, high modernist art, etc. do you find valuable? Which do you think would be the most likely to change Clark’s mind on the value of such art?
  4. How does reading literature affect how you read scripture?

Every Literary Work Marden J. Clark mentions in “Science, Religion, and the Humanities”

Here is the list every literary work Marden J. Clark mentions in his essay “Science, Religion, and the Humanities,” which is printed in the collection Liberating Form.

Click here for the AMV deep dive email that goes with this list

Click here for the discussion questions that go with this list

  • Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri
  • “Heart of Darkness,” Joseph Conrad
  • “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell,” William Blake
  • Paradise Lost, John Milton
  • The Brothers Karamozov, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Notes from Undergound, Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • The Mysterious Stranger, Mark Twain
  • Letters from Earth, Mark Twain
  • “The War Prayer,” Mark Twain
  • “To the Person Sitting in Darknes,” Mark Twain
  • Moby Dick, Herman Melville
  • “The Turn of the Screw,” Henry James (plus “nearly all of his novels”)
  • “Apparently with no Surprise,” Emily Dickenson
  • The Castle, Franz Kafka
  • The Book of Job
  • Ash Wednesday, T. S. Eliot
  • The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • All the King’s Men, Robert Penn Warren
  • Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison
  • The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne
  • The Winter’s Tale, William Shakespeare
  • The Oresteia, Aeschylus
  • Mourning Becomes Electra, Eugene O’Neill
  • War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
  • Measure for Measure, William Shakespeare
  • Samson Agonistes, John Milton
  • Paradise Regained, John Milton
  • “The Waste Land,” T. S. Eliot
  • Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot
  • The Odyssey, Homer
  • The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell

Discussion Questions for The Mormon Commitment to Education

Here are the discussion questions for the third email in the AMV Deep Dive of Marden J. Clark’s essay collection Liberating Form.

If you haven’t signed up for the email, you can read it (and sign up to receive future ones) here: The Mormon Commitment to Education.

Please note that comments are moderated, and the goal is to make this a place welcome to Mormons of all stripes (as well as folks with an interest in Mormonism).

  1. What are the best educational experiences you’ve had? Have any of them come close to being like an Entmoot?
  2. What is your awareness or even memory, of the culture wars of the 1990s (Mormon-related or not)? How did you come by that awareness? What, if anything, is there to learn from how everyone engaged in/reacted to those culture wars?
  3. If you had the time and financial resources for further education, what topics, disciplines, institutions, crafts/skills, practices, types of research, etc. would you like to engage in?

Discussion Questions for Some Implications of Human Freedom

Here are the discussion questions for the third email in the AMV Deep Dive of Marden J. Clark’s essay collection Liberating Form.

If you haven’t signed up for the email, you can read it (and sign up to receive future ones) here: Liberating Form: Some Implications of Human Freedom.

Please note that comments are moderated, and the goal is to make this a place welcome to Mormons of all stripes (as well as folks with an interest in Mormonism).

  1. What is gained and lost by believing in a God who is not absolute?
  2. What are your favorite works of art that explore notions of freedom, human agency, etc.?
  3. What does divine discontent mean to you? Is it as useful as Clark suggest? Why or why not?

Discussion Questions for Art, Religion, and the Market Place

Here are the discussion questions for the third email in the AMV Deep Dive of Marden J. Clark’s essay collection Liberating Form.

If you haven’t signed up for the email, you can read it (and sign up to receive future ones) here: Liberating Form: Art, Religion, Marketplace.

Please note that comments are moderated, and the goal is to make this a place welcome to Mormons of all stripes (as well as folks with an interest in Mormonism).

  1. What positive things does religion bring into your life that art hasn’t? What positive things does art bring into your life that religion hasn’t?
  2. A lot of the examples Clark uses are works that are explicitly religions, or at least moral. What’s your favorite work of art that is overtly religious? What’s your favorite work of art that religious folks, and especially Mormons, might find heretical and/or distasteful?
  3. Which works of art do you find valuable that exist because of the market place (and wouldn’t have been able to be created without it)? The market place can definitely can distort art. Are there ways in which it can shape it and make it better? And is the market place really the main evil or are there other villains to point more strongly at (authoritarianism would definitely be one, in my book)?
  4. And the big one: what are the potential pitfalls in re-merging art and religion? What are the potential triumphs that could result? What work could be done to help bring about such a re-merger?

Discussion Questions for the Title Essay of Liberating Form

Here are the discussion questions for the second email in the AMV Deep Dive of Marden J. Clark’s essay collection Liberating Form.

If you haven’t signed up for the email, you can read it (and sign up to receive future ones) here: Liberating Form: The Title Essay.

Please note that comments are moderated, and the goal is to make this a place welcome to Mormons of all stripes (as well as folks with an interest in Mormonism).

  1. Which literary or artistic or craft forms do you find particularly liberating and/or interesting? Are there ones that leave you cold? Which specific works of art do you think are particularly good at investing form with so much energy that the resulting work feels liberating to you?
  2. What do you think about the use of both personal anecdote and literary analysis in an essay? Are there other examples of essay that successfully combine both that you’d like to recommend? Or not recommend?
  3. How do you know when a form is or isn’t working for you? Given that this site is about Mormon art, I’m less interested in whether or not the LDS Church (or other Mormon denomination) is true or not, or working or not, or toxic or not, and more interested in practices related to creating and/or consuming art, literature, craft, and anything else you learn from and find beauty in.

Discussion Questions for the “Foreword” of Liberating Form

Here are the discussion questions for the first email in the AMV Deep Dive of Marden J. Clark’s essay collection Liberating Form.

If you haven’t signed up for the email, you can read it (and sign up to receive future ones) here: Liberating Form: Deep Dive on the Foreword

Please note that comments are moderated, and the goal is to make this a place welcome to Mormons of all stripes (as well as folks with an interest in Mormonism).

  1. In what ways are the tensions you experience—whether they come out of your love of humanities or your Mormonism or other vectors of identity, modes of thought and being—delicate, exasperating, complex, and/or challenging? What is the value in acknowledging those specific qualities of the tensions you experience?
  2. Have you found specific poems and poetic images useful to your thinking on art, religion, society, life? Which ones and in what ways do they help?
  3. In what ways do you find art and culture nourishing and stimulating? What existing communities provide you with intellectual and/or religious stimulation and nourishment? What communities do you wish existed to provide you with more, different, or better stimulation and nourishment?

New A Motley Vision email project—Deep Dive on Liberating Form

Sign up for William’s new email newsletter project — a deep dive on Marden J. Clark’s essay collection Liberating Form

Remember when I put this blog on hiatus and said it was going to be a quarterly email newsletter instead? Well, I only managed to send out the newsletter once.

As it turned out, doing a quarterly email on bits and bobs related to Mormon literature wasn’t something I was able to deliver on.

So here’s what I’m going to do instead: an email newsletter that’s a one season deep dive on a specific Mormon literature topic.

Oddly enough, an ongoing quarterly commitment didn’t work for me. But a limited series is something I can do.

For season 1 of the AMV Deep Dive, we’ll be taking a look at all of the essays in Marden J. Clark’s Liberating Form: Mormon Essays on Religion and Literature.

I hope you’ll join me on this journey. I think you’ll find it quite interesting. Clark’s essays have only become more relevant since the collection was published back in 1992.

NOTE: you may need to confirm your subscription by clicking on a link from an email the Buttondown sends you. Check your promotions or spam or other folder/mailbox if you don’t see it in your inbox.

THE GIST + A DEEP DIVE FOR THOSE WHO WANT IT

I want you be able to enjoy each email without having to read all of it if if you just don’t have the time or capacity that week. So here’s how the emails will be structured:

Snapshot: A summary of that week’s essay in 50-100 words.

Best Line: The best line or two from the essay plus two or three sentences of why I think they’re the best lines.

Mormon Lit Recommendation: Exactly what it says. Generally will relate to the topic of that week’s essay but often in a tangential way.

Other Recommendation: Some other recommendation. Most often a piece of culture. So far that has included novels, films, music, and a work of literary criticism. May relate to the topic of the week’s essay; may not.

William Update: Announcements of work coming out. A sneak peak at something or other. A recipe. Something pulled out of the archives. Whatever I’m ready and/or in the mood to share.

Deep Dive: This is will be an in-depth look at that week’s essay from the collection. It’ll generally be 1,000 to 2,000 words.

Appropiately enough, the form each deep dive takes will vary depending on what I think the most interesting way to engage with the essay is. So far, we have everything from

  1. a numbered list of observations –to–
  2. three quotes + me riffing off of each of them –to–
  3. reconstructing Clark’s argument from the end back through the essay to the beginning.

Some weeks will include quite a bit of summary; some will pull out a few strands and focus more on the topics I think are most relevant to the here and now.

SCHEDULE (AND KEEPING TO IT)

The Liberating Form emails will arrive in subscribers inbox every other week. Most likely on Thursdays, starting March 31.

So why do I think I can make this work when I wasn’t able to do the quarterly AMV newsletter?

For one: there’s an end point. And when season 1 ends, we’ll see both what I decide to do for season 2 (I alread have some ideas) and when I launch it (there will be at least a two month hiatus between seasons—longer if I’m in the throes of my next novel, and it’s become all-consuming, which is quite possible since I’ll be starting it in late summer/early fall, and it’ll be my most ambitious fiction project to date).

I’m much better at projects with a specific focus and an end date.

More importanly: I’ve already written 6 of the 15 emails (and have notes on several others), which means I have a three month head start.

HOW LDS IS THIS GOING TO BE?

It’s Marden J. Clark, and he, like Eugene England, was pretty adamant about bringing his love for literature and his faith in the Restored Gospel and membership in the LDS Church together.

However, like England, Clark also identified quite ably a lot of the tensions in that project. Tensions that have become even more so over the years.

Some of the work I will be doing will be meeting Clark where he is. Some will focus more on where I think he’s missing elements or where things need to be updated for modern Mormonism.

A lot of the focus will be on creativity and creating art, both in a Mormon context and more generally.

I’m quite confident that you’ll find this email series valuable wherever you are in your Mormon-ness. But, honestly, some weeks may be more interesting to you than others, depending on the specific esssay and my reaction to it.

DO I NEED TO READ ALONG?

Nope. If you want to track down a copy of Liberating Form, go for it. But I’ll be providing enough summary that you don’t need to read it, and any discussions we have will be fairly general. This also works because Clark’s essays tend to be on fairly broad topics.

Speaking of which…

DISCUSSION POSSIBILITIES

Although A Motley Vision is on permanent hiatus as an active blog, the platform still exists so at the same time as the email goes out a post will go live here at AMV with some discussions questions in case any of you want to drop by and talk about that week’s topic.

Heck, feel free to drop by and participate even if you don’t subscribe to the email.

And, of course, you can also reply to me on Twitter if you prefer to talk there. Or if you want to have a private conversation, feel free to reply to the email with a comment or question or request.

SWITCHING EMAIL SERVICES TO BUTTONDOWN

Please note that I switched email services from Mailchimp to Buttondown.

The reason for that is simple: Mailchimp engages in data practices that I don’t approve of, including selling data on to second party entities. Frankly, it sucks that so many of the platforms for writers right now are engaging in skeezy, unethical, and/or simply stupid practices.

Buttondown doesn’t do that.

No judgement for whatever you or your favorite writers use. I’d say I’m quite a bit more tech savvy than most writers so I seek out tools

For example: if you know what Markdown is, all of these emails and all of my fiction gets written in Markdown using either the Typora or Atom text editor and then either copy and pasted into an editor or exported using Pandoc.

IS THIS GOING TO TURN INTO A PAID THING LIKE ALL THOSE PEOPLE WITH SUBSTACKS?

No.

Again: no judgement for writers who do that. I too like getting paid for my writing, but my Mormon literary criticism is a labor of love and will remain so.

I will be letting you know about any of my fiction that is published, of course, and where it can be read for free or purchased (from Amazon, B&N, Kobo, etc.).

I may also add a way to tip me if you so desire—and that will also be a platform I approve of. Probably: Buy Me A Coffee (Postum!).

Any money that comes in will be plowed back into paying for AMV hosting, books for research/inspiration on future MoLitCrit projects, and production costs for publishing any of my fiction that isn’t being published by someone else—I’ve got both types in the pipeline.

In fact, I’m hoping to be able to share news with you on several completed/brewing projects over the next six months or so. Oddly enough, I’ve had a prolific past couple of years writing what I believe to be not only some of my best Mormon fiction, but also stuff that is pretty groundbreaking for the field.

QUESTIONS?

I think that’s everything. If you have any questions or comments, leave a comment below.

I really hope you’ll sign up for the email and take this journey with me. I think you’ll find it—to use a rather Mormon word—nourishing.

How I wrote When Home Isn’t Heaven on Earth in Mormon Literature

If you haven’t yet read the Building Zion issue of Irreantum edited by Natalie Brown, you should.

And not just because it features my essay “When Home Isn’t Heaven on Earth in Mormon Literature.”

By the way: if you are one of those folks living in Utah who use Google Fiber and can’t access it (as of this post, we’re still working on fixing that), here’s a link to a PDF version of my essay:

When Natalie announced the call for submissions earlier in the year, I knew I had to submit something. But I wasn’t sure what.

The most obvious route would be a short story.

But I’d been wanting to return to literary criticism and so found myself thinking about homes in Mormon literature.

I had an inkling there was something important there but wasn’t sure what until I read Donald Marshall’s “The Week-End” in his story collection The Rummage Sale and was struck by how the main character’s home was described. This led to the following notes (in a text file–all notes and writing begin in text files for me):

Tracy memoir
Angel Falling Softly scene with vampire in home
The Weekend Donald Marshall
Bound on Earth ????

Bound on Earth is the lovely novel in stories by Angela Hallstrom. One of the finest works of faithful realism of the 21st century.

Angel Falling Softly is a not well known Mormon vampire (or more Mormon meets vampire) novel by Eugene Woodbury. Published by Zarahemla Books not too long after the Twilight series came out, it does things with the vampire mythos and Mormonism that are strange and heretical and yet also mundane and ultimately orthodoxically Mormon. In some ways, it’s much more in dialogue with Bound on Earth than Twilight.

The Tracy memoir is, of course, The Burning Point by Tracy McKay. It’s one of the works of recent-ish Mormon literature that I’ve though about the most over the past couple of years. In particular, I’ve been thinking about how one of the reviews of it said something about how the the third person interludes in it didn’t really work. I’m not entirely sure why, but that judgment has gnawed at me since I read it. I suppose because to me it felt like those interludes were doing something important even if I couldn’t quite articulate what that was.

The next set of notes were these:

Reference?
Love at HOme, home as temple, home as sacred,
The World – Danny Mark Fisher on the uncanny
Chicago book on the home as domain – nuclear family

The World refers to Danny Nelson’s short story in Monsters & Mormons by that title. The Mark Fisher book is The Weird & the Eerie. The Chicago book is Families against the City: Middle Class Homes of Industrial Chicago, 1872-1890. Both are fascinating works that could be put in fruitful dialogue with Mormon topics, but didn’t make it into my essay due to space/scope considerations.

I wasn’t sure I had something there. But I re-read portions of Angel Fallling Softly and Bound on Earth, and it all began to add up. Specifically, the descriptions of Mormon homes as sites of the uncanny or weird were oddly parallel or resonant in the works I had put together even as unlikely as a set of works as they are.

This, by the way, is what makes the study of Mormon literature interesting and challenging for a critic: Mormon literature as a field brings in all types of narrative art in many types of genre that were written and published under a whole variety of circumstances.

It also may be why not only is there not very much Mormon literary criticism, but often it’s focused on an individual work or author or genre. Worthwhile work. But my background is comparative literature, and I can’t help but have a magpie approach.

The next step was to transcribe all of the passages were relevant to the framework. That process did more than anything else to help the essay come together. It validated (to me, at least) the approach I was taking.

At the same time, I worried that The Burning Point wasn’t quite going to fit, especially my point about the interludes. And I was worried that the essay was going to be too long because I knew I’d need to do quite a bit of summarizing and quoting, partly because that was the nature of the project, and partly because I knew the audience couldn’t be expected to have read all five of the works I was going to include.

In fact, if you have read all five, let me know in the comments or at me on Twitter.

The first draft came in at 5,952 words.

The introduction was too indulgent (I went heavy into the gnomic mode that comes much too naturally to me); some of the summarizations were awkward; and the ending wasn’t quite all the way there.

But to my surprise and delight, the conclusion was very different from what I had thought it would be – the interludes in The Burning Point had turned out to be critical to a larger point and a bridge between the memoir and the fictional works as well as to the field as a whole.

And then I didn’t touch it for two weeks, maybe three. Not for the valid writerly reason of wanting to build some distance, but because I wasn’t sure it worked. It was all summarization and not enough analysis.

But as the deadline for the special issue approached, I decided I should at least give it a shot. And I discovered that what was wrong is that I kept trying to say too much and provide too much context. There are forms of literary criticism that need to do that. That need to be boiled down and condensed more. But that’s wasn’t what I was actually trying to do.

The summarization was the analysis.

That is, the way in which the portions of the text that describe when homes don’t feel like heaven on earth are woven into how I tell the story of the individual works provides a reading that, hopefully, brings something to the audience.

To put it another way, hopefully it makes The World seem a little less like a satire and the first chapter of Bound on Earth feel a little more strange.

I spent (parts of) two days revising the essay.

The second draft ended up longer – 6,138 words.

But they were better words. Everything fit together mpre solidly and smoothly. I submitted it and was delighted that Natalie accepted it.

In the editing stage with Irreantum, I fixed some textual infelicities in the sections on The World and The Week-End along with a few other minor wording changes.

I know that the essay is a little rough, a little weird. I could have done a lot more to build the critical framework. It relies way too much on the reader being able to decode and contextualize the assertions I make in the introduction.

But hey: I’m writing Mormon criticism again.

I’m thinking of writing more of it in 2022. And doing so in email newsletter form (but one that happens in seasons/limited runs). If you want in on that (should that happen), click the button below to subscribe.

Note that you can also subscribe via RSS. And that I’m using Buttondown because it has better data practices than some of the bigger email platforms you may have heard of. Thanks!