“. . . the universe is fundamentally absurd, but need not remain so.”

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In the latest issue of Sunstone (the latest for me, at least—I always get the new issues a couple weeks later than everyone else), Jack Harrell writes a provocative and, for me at least, difficult-to-argue-with essay about Mormon writing. In fact, I’m tempted to describe it as a manifesto. Sunstone won’t put it online for a few months, but I want to talk about it now.

He starts with calling Mormon artists out for our attitudes toward “two forces . . . [which] originated outside of Mormonism, and [that] tempt us to work below our station” (6). For simplicity’s sake in this review, I’ll refer to these forces as absolutism and postmodernism, but I want to be on record as saying that postmodernism means a lot of things to a lot of people and if you don’t how it’s been oversimplified in this post, get over it.  Continue reading ““. . . the universe is fundamentally absurd, but need not remain so.””

What questions should we be asking ourselves?

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Among those I have ongoing conversations with regarding the Mormon arts, my most local and face-to-face conversation partner is painter Bryan Mark Taylor. (Incidentally, his latest show is opening next month in Sacramento. Check it out.)

He recently asked me a series of questions via email and I wrote back with answers I was pleased with but weren’t really very good answers, if you know what I mean. So he responded with this:

I may not have been asking the right questions…do you have any ideas on the questions we should be asking ourselves?

Which is one of the best darn questions I’ve ever been asked. And it’s way too big of a question for me to answer alone. So let’s crowdsource this baby.

What are the questions we in the Mormon arts should be asking ourselves?

Sundry Moldy Solecisms # 2 Thinking to Thank the Jews and Thank the Jews For

Title: The New Covenant, Commonly Called The New Testament: Volume I The Gospels and Apocalypse
Translator: Willis Barnstone
Publisher: New York: Riverhead Books
Genre: Scripture
Year Published: 2002
Number of Pages: 577
Binding: Hardbound in signatures
ISBN10: 1-57322-182-1
Price:

Title: The Jewish Annotated New Testament: New Revised Standard Version
Editors: Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Genre: Scripture
Year Published: 2011
Number of Pages: 637
Binding: Hardbound in signatures
ISBN13: 978-0-19-529770-6
Price: $35

In II Nephi 29 Nephi pauses in the midst of an apostrophe to future readers who will reject his words to remind them of their debt to the Jews.
Continue reading “Sundry Moldy Solecisms # 2 Thinking to Thank the Jews and Thank the Jews For”

Poetry, asters to zeppelins

I started to comment on Tyler’s post, “Preach on, Sister Meyer.  Preach On.” But–look out–the comment mushroomed.  Adam G’s comment especially caught my attention. His question seems to be, is it possible to talk about poetry–especially in terms of hierarchies and other high-falutin’ standards for determining a poem’s worthiness–with language that doesn’t float above us like a leviathan, bomb-totin’, gas-filled bag of pretension?

If that’s his question, I think it’s a good one. Continue reading “Poetry, asters to zeppelins”

Mormon Artist Magazine interview–three cut Qs & As

Mormon Artist Magazine interviewed me for their latest issue (Issue 10).  You can find my interview here.

Mormon Artist Magazine Literature editor and fellow AMVer Katherine Morris suggested I post here at AMV questions and answers cut from the interview.   So, for your reading pleasure:

There also seems to be an underlying theme of agency in your writing: “[I]t enables those who read or hear it to create choices for themselves”. How does the concept of agency inform your writing?

The “It” here refers to “sustainable language.”  Sustainable language is creative, proactive, productive language that effectively sparks others to create their own risk-choice spectrums and generate possibilities for themselves.  It’s the language of life. Sustainable language goes out on its faith in others’ creativity, creative drive being a far more commonplace phenomenon in all levels of society than is popularly supposed. Good language–sustainable language–allows for that creativity and invigorates human agency. Continue reading “Mormon Artist Magazine interview–three cut Qs & As”

What Should We Look For in General Conference?

This evening is the annual Young Women’s meeting (which I always associate with General Conference), and General Conference itself begins next week. Over the past few years I’ve come up with a few things that I focus on as I listen to each Conference, in addition to the messages, and I’m now wondering:

What do you listen for when you listen to Conference?

Continue reading “What Should We Look For in General Conference?”

“Crap, I’m apologizing for my Mormonism again. Sorry.”

elnabaker.

This is not my review of Elna Baker’s new book. This is an accident. I read her first chapter then nine minutes later gave birth to a healthy essay. This sort of thing can happen, even with virginal New York Mormons like Elna. I promise I will do whatever it takes — count to 100 by sevens, whatever — to keep from conceiving an essay per chapter. If all goes well, you will not hear from us again until her book’s estimated due date, October 15.

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The first “chapter” (it’s not called a chapter, yet that’s what I’m calling it) of The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance is stage-setting, it’s an introduction — she hasn’t brought out the funny yet (though it’s funny), she hasn’t brought out the memoir yet (though it’s memoiric) — she’s setting the stage, she’s introducing us to her life’s dramatic conventions. She’s world-building.

Yet in these first 22 pages of her new memoir, Elna Baker carves out a rhetorical space for herself by discussing how she has carved space for herself in the real world. She is “A Mormon in New York.” Continue reading ““Crap, I’m apologizing for my Mormonism again. Sorry.””

After the House Fell Silent

Of Speaking the Truth, Scapegoats, and Absorbing the Rhetoric of Blame
(A Review Essay of Shattered Silence: The Untold Story of a Serial Killer’s Daughter)

Author(s): Melissa G. Moore with M. Bridget Cook
Publisher: Self-published through Cedar Fort, Inc. (Springville, UT)
Release date: 8 September 2009

I. Speaking the Truth

I must begin this review essay, which I had great difficulty writing (for reasons that I hope become clear in my rhetorical wanderings), with a series of caveats, beginning here: I make no claims to represent the literary conscience of America or, for that matter, of Mormo-America–neither do I feel the need to make such claims, simply because I don’t believe I represent the mainstream American/Mormo-American literary consciousness or even, perhaps, that there is such a mainstream way of reading and thinking about the world. As a poet first, I’m attracted to language that, among other things, is lyrical, visceral, and deeply honest to human experience; that draws me toward deeper connection with my inner self/ves, with others, and with God. In short, I like words and combinations of words that cut to the quick, that don’t simply affirm my version of reality (though sometimes that’s nice, too), but that disrupt it, that persuade me to reevaluate what I know–or think I know–about myself and the moral universe I inhabit. Continue reading “After the House Fell Silent”

Airing the Rhetorical Laundry: Of Mice and Pizza

Since I’ve been thinking more lately about responsible rhetoric and what my language does once it leaves my mind and my mouth, I’ve noticed a number of Mormon cultural instances in which language has been used by leaders/teachers in what I consider reckless ways. Hence this series of Airing the Rhetorical Laundry posts, which I never intended to become a series (though who knows how long it will actually last) and which have become brief explorations of moments in LDS culture where I think language has been manipulated (knowingly or not) by individuals or groups of saints in their attempts to persuade fellow laborers to greater faithfulness.

Today, I’m taking on the faulty analogies often used to convince people away from movies or books that may be good, “except for one little part.” Notice, first off, that I don’t intend to deal with the idea of keeping our entertainment clean or with the varying degrees of readerly sensitivity, i.e., individuals’ varying capacities to endure evil in the fictions they frequent. (So keep that in mind in the comments, if you will.) Rather, I’m approaching the language itself and intend to judge its merits in purely rhetorical terms–that is, I’m more concerned with what work the language is actually doing than with what it’s intended to do* or with whether or not we should watch this movie or read that book because of this steamy scene or that profane word. Continue reading “Airing the Rhetorical Laundry: Of Mice and Pizza”

Airing the Rhetorical Laundry: Breaking through the Administrative Rhetoric

I’m teaching the Elders’ quorum this Sunday coming and the phrase I keep returning to in my pondering is “watch over, be with, and strengthen” (ref). In context, of course, this phrase refers to the teacher’s duty, as an ordained member of the Aaronic Priesthood, to build and sustain the Church, to help hold the body of Christ together, by keeping the senses trained on its members and by reminding the Saints, in word and deed, to do their communal duty. While this may seem a heady chore to heap onto a fourteen- to fifteen-year old boy, this principle’s use as the foundation for the home and visiting teaching programs extends its reach beyond the Aaronic Priesthood holder’s ken into a supporting fixture of full and vigilant fellowship with the Saints. Continue reading “Airing the Rhetorical Laundry: Breaking through the Administrative Rhetoric”