Sunday Lit Crit Sermon: Rosannah C. Irvine on Mormon Literature

tkts-boothEarlier this week I spent an hour or so waiting in line at the TKTS booth in Times Square to get tickets for friends who wanted to see a Broadway play. As I waited in line, the TKTS staff (volunteer actors, as I understand it) were giving their recommendations and summaries of popular shows to the tourists waiting in line who were not sure what to see–usually after asking questions to see what kind of expectations the tourist had. I was very tempted to ask the staff what to see if you hate musicals and like plays that make you think.

Fortunately, my friends did not have those expectations, and getting tickets to a show was possible.

The reaction we have toward works of literature is usually determined by what expectations we have of it. If we read B. H. Roberts’ Corianton with the expectation of something like All The King’s Men, we are bound to be quite disappointed. But if we expect something comparable to Ben Hur, we might actually enjoy Corianton a little. In this week’s “sermon,” long-time Relief Society General Board member Rosannah Cannon Irvine hints at this question of expectations while suggesting that there is a lot to like in Mormon literature.

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A list of my literary interests

So just for the record, here is a (probably incomplete) list of my literary and cultural interests:

  • canon formation and promulgation (especially as presented by anthologies, syllabi and awards
  • the intersection of literary and genre fiction, especially literary speculative fiction (slipstream, weird) and speculative literary fiction (allegory, magic realism, folk realism)
  • indie/DIY publishing and marketing
  • narrative theory, especially point of view and characterization
  • censorship and literary production
  • small magazines
  • theorizing the radical middle
  • hilobrow and the middlebrow and related issues (camp, kitsch, avant garde, etc.)
  • gaming as storytelling (from pen-and-paper RPGes to FPSes to social gaming)
  • fiction and landscape (especially prairie- and desert-scapes)
  • authorship and authority (from author interviews and public appearances to uses of social media by)
  • authorship and copyright
  • collaborative storytelling
  • Romanticism and post-Romanticism especially in relation to belated ethnic/minority/national literatures
  • the novel as discourse (especially Bakhtin’s notion of heteroglossia)
  • aesthetics
  • readership and reader response (everything from the cult of the author to strong misreadings to fan fiction)
  • representations of faith (and faiths) in narrative art
  • history of the book
  • the book/film review as literary discourse/form
  • Mormon literature as ethnic and/or minor literature
  • the history of Mormon literary criticism especially in relation to defining the field of Mormon literature
  • humor in fiction
  • permutations of narrative art (fiction, film, graphic novel, etc.) and how theory shifts to accomodate these forms

This is why I didn’t go on to a PhD program.

Slowly Flowering: My grad school paper on Mormon literature

I have decided to post a Mormon literature-related paper I wrote for a graduate school class titled “Memory, Nation and Diaspora.”. The class was actually my final comp lit seminar at SF State and was taught by Martha Klironomos, the Nikos Kazantzakis Chair and director of Modern Greek Studies. She was very supportive of my desire to write about Mormon literature. I think she even gave me an A on the paper. Most of the non-Mormon-related criticism cited in the paper is pulled from some of the works we read for the course so the theoretical framework might not be to everyone’s taste, but I found it interesting. In fact, it’s the university course that has influenced my thinking about Mormon literature the most.

Anyway, here it is. No modifications have been made to the original text except for correcting one spelling error that I caught in a very quick re-reading:

Slowly Flowering: Mormon Literary Criticism on Mormon Literary History and Future

And here is an excerpt:

“But more fundamentally, through its recovering and criticism of Mormon literary history, Mormon literary theory invokes a set of texts and way of viewing them that helps preserve a Mormon ethnies, an ethnies which includes individuals beyond active members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And more importantly, by exposing the deficiencies of the current Mormon literary canon, Mormon literary theory sustains the dream of a great literature produced by a chosen people, a dream that combines memory and desire, a prophecy that drives the very literary production that ensures the survival of the ethnies.”

It was also an interesting exercise in trying to figure out how to give decent context for Mormonism without getting long-winded about it. Upon re-reading, I cringed a bit at some of my notes, but on the whole I think the paper stands up fairly well. Or at least I’m not so embarrassed by it that I wasn’t willing to post it. My thanks to AMV commenter Laura Craner who reminded me of this paper in Anneke’s Twilight post.