Thinkable

The great and greatly censored Russian author Mikhail Bulgakov wrote a letter to the Soviet government dated March 28, 1930. In it he expressed his frustration with how his work had been treated (it was routinely savaged by reviewers and the media and his plays were often in rehearsal for years or were accepted, but then never stage dby theater companies) and asked for employment at the Moscow Arts Theatre as an assistant director.

This was not his first communication with the government; however, this one led (a month later) to a phone call from Stalin in which the dictator told him to reapply to the Moscow Arts Theatre (where was accepted for a job he had previously been denied).

I won’t go through all the trials of Bulgakov’s life and literary career. But I do want to quote a line from his letter to the government (from Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov – A Life in Letters and Diaries by J.A.E. Curtis):

“Am I thinkable in the USSR?”

I think that sometimes Mormon/LDS artists get caught up too much in the question of whether or not we are thinkable. A brief blog post is not the best place to tease out all the issues involved in censorship (official or otherwise) and support/patronage of creative work in the field of Mormon arts and culture. It all gets a little complicated.

Rather, what I want to do is celebrate the fact that there are a number of choices and venues in which Mormon/LDS artists can become thinkable. Whether that means writing for the home literature market (Anita Stansfield, Gerald Lund) or fleeing into the bosom of contemporary American literature, art and film (Brian Evenson, Neil LaBute, Matthew Barney), or going after the national genre markets (Orson Scott Card, Dave Wolverton, Shannon Hale, Stephenie Meyer) or trying to carve out the middle niche of Mormon letters (Irreantum, Zarahemla Books), etc.

I’m not saying that the institutional church and the various Mormon audiences don’t have a warping affect upon the field. And I’m not saying that certain markets and positions aren’t more supported than others. And I’m certainly not claiming that certain artists and style of art aren’t eviscerated by segments of the Mormon audience. But in spite of the fact that we sometimes use the language of censorship, the reality is that none of us are unthinkable. That’s something to be grateful for.

8 thoughts on “Thinkable”

  1. Define anyone. If one wants to reach certain audiences, one has to play by their rules.

    The beauty of the internet is that it allows for the development of audiences (and more importantly communities — because the internet is all about conversation) that would have had a hard time developing otherwise.

    Even a very well done zine in the ’80s or early ’90s covering similar material to AMV probably wouldn’t have gotten the readership that this blog has. And that’s just one example.

  2. .

    I agree with you. I hesitated posting such an overbroad statement. My question is how to reach those who (like me about six years ago) can’t imagine that there is anything of worth to find in the LDS market. How do you get them to glance in the first place.

  3. Th. Start a book club and force other people to read your recommendations 🙂 Granted, you have to read theirs too but sometimes it’s all worth it just to come across that one book you never would have found otherwise.

    I’m sure William and Kent have all sorts of good marketing ideas, but for me book clubs are one of the best places to changes people’s conceptions of LDS lit. (This all sounds a little Oprah-y but book clubs are fun.)

  4. .

    Our ward has a great, many-years-old RS bookclub, but men never get such things. We’ve been talking up a couples club, but I have little faith. Everyone knows men don’t read…..

  5. I’m still not sure what “thinkable” or “unthinkable” means here, because it sounds like at least Bolgakov was being reviewed. I guess my question is whether or not some of those Mormon literature genres are a more thinkable than others–?

  6. To get men from any ward I’ve ever been part of into a book club would be like waiting for the next ice age. I am not even sure I could do it, literary-minded as I am.

    While writing this, I was suddenly struck by this hilarious image of my mission companions sitting around discussing Jane Eyre: “Ugh. Me like part with fire where Rochester goes blind.” “Grok. Me like part where crazy woman locked in attic attacks and nearly kills.” “Erg. Would Rochester made great BYU quarterback or half back?” “Scratch. Too bad nasty aunty didn’t burn in fire as well.”

    Of course men don’t read, we all watch football, hunt wild game in the forest, and work on our ’57 Chevys in the front yard. LDS men are hunter-gatherers, not thinkers.

    Seriously, though. Are we thinkable? Yes.

    I think we are just a few miles away from having the kind of critical mass that we need in order to be thought of broadly, to have a widespread LDS marketplace.

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