Although I was born and raised a Wasatch Front Latter-day Saint and was baptized early on in the sea of Mormon culture, I didn’t begin to test these deeply ethnic waters until Eugene England’s intellectual specter called me from the comfort of my newly christened craft to join him in the waves. It happened something like this: A number of years ago, shortly after submitting to a growing passion for words, I was surfing our new internet connection, searching for an entrance into Mormon literature when I serendipitously crashed into the Association for Mormon Letter’s website and found myself, moments later, somehow caught in Dialogue‘s current of back issues (an interesting feat since Dialogue isn’t officially connected with the AML).
Impressed that the best place to start something is usually (though not always) the beginning, I linked to “Volume 01, Number 1, Spring 1966,” then to “Contents.” Having embraced Eugene and his piercing insights and rhetoric after finding “Mormon Literature: Progress and Prospects“ on the Mormon Literature Database a few months earlier, I was especially drawn to his short essay, “The Possibility of Dialogue,” and to his poem, “The Firegiver.” Deciding it best to begin at the end this time, I’d linked to the poem, read it, and laughed, first off, at the interplay it illustrates between a curious and gifted child and the all-knowing, merciful, and just Parent, Muse, and Mentor he seeks to please; then at how perfectly his language captured (and still captures) the subtle tugs and pulls of my own nascent intellectual discipleship. Continue reading ““God, Forgive My Pen”; or, I’m Sorry I Missed You, Gene”
Introduction to Textual Criticism
As the Book of Mormon is the cornerstone of our religion, so the original manuscript was the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House, or at least it was in the cornerstone from 1841-1882, when Lewis Bidamon, Emma’s second husband, removed it. It was badly damaged by water and mold and only about 28 percent survives. Joseph’s scribes made a copy for the printer which survives intact except for a few lines.
That is a great deal more than we have of the original manuscript for any other scripture from antiquity. We don’t have any manuscript within hundreds of years of the original for any book of the Bible, or other ancient books. (And, of course, we don’t have the original records for the Book of Mormon, only the manuscripts of a translation.) We even lack original manuscripts for many books much less ancient, Shaxberd for example.
But we do have many copies of books from antiquity ranging from hamburger-sized fragments and smaller to nearly complete. Textual criticism is a discipline developed to figure out how to handle the differences between the many copies of a work. Sometimes the differences are copyist’s errors, or errors where a scribe didn’t read the original correctly. But there are many cases where a scribe or editor simply didn’t value what the author had written and made some changes. And this still happens today.
Continue reading “Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon”
Introduction to Textual Variants Part IV
When my father taught as a Fulbright professor at the University of Oulu, Finland in 1970-71 we took along an anthology of humor, maybe A Sub-treasury of American Humor, ed. by E. B. White, which had this piece by Robert Benchley with the very strange title “Filling that Hiatus,” about what to do when the people on either side of you at a dinner party are talking to someone else. I couldn’t figure out what a hi-uh-toose was, and for some reason didn’t think to look it up. Now that I’ve been on a taxing highertoose for about a month I figure it’s thyme to parsley write down what I’ve been thinking about.
In Part III I mentioned Joseph Smith’s discourse of Sunday October 15, 1843 which starts with a comment on his love for the Constitution and its guarantees of religious freedom, then moves on to a comment about textual corruption in the Bible, “I believe the Bible as it read when it came from the pen of the original writers. Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.” (Documentary History of the Church VI:56-57)
The quote, though not the rest of the discourse, is well-known to seminary students and missionaries, and a young missionary might mention it to a woman who asks why we need additional revelation, hardly expecting her to say, “Do you really believe Jehovah God Almighty would allow errors to get into His scriptures?”
Continue reading “Gadianton The Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon”
I don’t want to take anything away from National Poetry Month with another Twilight bender, but Theric’s worked so hard on his essay, “Saturday’s Werewolf: Vestiges of the Premortal Romance in Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Novels,” that I thought I should jump in and give him his dues. Here’s the abstract:
“Saturday’s Werewolf explores Twilight in terms of the supernatural literature of the Latter-day Saints, specifically as the series links to the premortal romance narrative mode, as exemplified in Nephi Anderson’s Added Upon (1898) and Douglas Stewart’s popular musical Saturday’s Warrior (1989).”
It’s an entertaining and insightful read that I’ve just posted at Reading Until Dawn (both PDF and HTML versions available there). Come take a look after you finish commenting on Laura’s Harvest post.
And don’t be scared: RUD’s lone (were)wolf doesn’t bite. But it just might inspire you to submit.
Part III: Poetry, Style and Literary Craft in the Book of Mormon
Often in Family Home Evening we would read from different translations of the Bible. Someone would have the KJV, someone else The Jerusalem Bible, another The Revised Standard or New English Version. We would take turns reading and the others would follow along in their translations, and sometimes comment on what we read. Shortly after my brother Kevin returned from his mission he read The Book of Mormon in Finnish and we followed along in English.
When we read Nephi’s lament at the death of Lehi in 2 Nephi 4 my father told us this was a psalm, and the only psalm in The Book of Mormon. I had begun noticing a lot of poetry in the Bible, partly because The Jerusalem Bible and others format the poetry as poetry, but thought there was not much in The Book of Mormon, except Alma’s “Oh, that I were an angel.” I know now there is a great deal more poetry in the Book of Mormon than Nephi’s psalm. Indeed, every time a writer says “Oh,” it is likely the start of a poem. Even without looking at chiasmus there is a lot of lyric poetry, including the Zoramites’ prayer on the Rameumptom and Nephi’s prayer on the garden tower. Continue reading “Gadianton the Nobler, Reflections on Changes in the Book of Mormon”
With the new year, I’ve been going through drafts and notes for AMV posts, and decided to begin by finishing this one which I started back in October 2007:
I recently read Umberto Eco’s Six Walks in the Fictional Woods, the text of the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures he presented at Harvard. There’s a lot that could be said about the lectures, which focus on questions of reading, fiction, truth and narrative. But what delighted me most about the book is that it confirmed (for me) something that I have long thought and experienced: criticism doesn’t kill the reading/viewing experience.
In 1984, at Columbia University, I devoted a graduate course to Sylvie, and some very interesting term papers were written about it. By now I know every comma and every secret mechanism of that novella. This experience of re-reading a text over the course of forty years has shown me how silly those people are who say that dissecting a text and engaging in meticulous close reading is the death of its magic. Every time I pick up Sylvie, even though I know it in such an anatomical way — perhaps because I know it so well — I fall in love with it, as if I were reading it for the first time. (p. 12) * Continue reading “Critics as readers and Mormon literature”
(this is the first in a series of six posts on the Pillars of Mormon Art)
…thou shalt not make unto thee any graven images, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
This little verse has caused more turmoil in art and in history throughout the monotheistic world than perhaps any other. It characterizes Islamic art, which for centuries has avoided the depiction of any living creature, for the fear that the artist who tried to create was usurping the role of the One true Creator. It characterizes the turmoil in Byzantium, it crops up again in the Protestant reformation, which sees Netherlanders whitewashing their cathedrals to separate themselves from their Catholic Belgian cousins. Its subsequent transformation into anti-religious fervor is the battle cry of the French revolutionaries, the Bolsheviks, and the Communists in China. In more recent years, it rears an impious head as the Taliban government of Afghanistan destroys monumental Buddhist sculpture.
And faithful Latter-day Saints find themselves alternately sympathizing with both viewpoints.
Continue reading “Mormon Fine Art and Graven Images”
This is the final post in a five part series that explores the ethics of Latter-day Saint literature and criticism. In part four, “Maintaining Rhetorical Balance”, I cite Karl Keller’s suggestion that Mormonism’s lack or denial of a serious literary heritage stems from three delusions: 1) our Puritanism, 2) our paranoia, and 3) our apocalypticism. Adding these delusions to the Mormon culture industry’s commodification of Latter-day Saint culture and theology, I suggest that these positions are symptomatic of a general failure to engage the world (which is ultimately our means to exaltation) and Mormon theology and thus to bear what Eugene England calls the “difficult burden” of “describ[ing] a unique set of revealed truths and historical and continually vital religious experiences and to do so both truly and artistically.” I conclude by asserting that only by seeing language as experience and by moving to capture the truths of human experience in language can writers strike a spiritually real rhetorical stance, maintaining integrity of character and experience even as they move beyond the familiar, the convenient, and the comfortable to engage readers in lives and universes beyond the limits of their own.
Since the underlying concern of this series has been with the ways in which Mormons–especially Mormon critics–read or misread Latter-day Saint literature, culture, and theology, I turn now to the “or” of my tragically long title, “An Ethics of Latter-day Saint Reading” and attempt to infer some conclusions about where I think the Mormon reader/critic stands in relation to our letters. (After reading William’s series on the distinction between the terms Mormon and LDS, I’m not sure what my usage here says about me and my particular terminological inclinations. But I sure am self-conscious about them now. Thanks for that, Wm”¦)
V. Assuming Responsibility
The ethical implications and textu(r)ally redemptive possibilities of the rhetorics people use to explore human experience and to communicate with and to persuade others center in the acts of reading, a series of unique performances that exist only in the intersection between writer, reader, and text and that flow from the ethos of each transactional party. This ethos, as Booth has it, emerges not only in a person’s moral integrity, but it’s further expressed in the patterns or “habits of choice” we fall into in every domain of our lives.1 The way we read, then, as the way we habitually choose to live is a complex extension and expression of our character. Continue reading “The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part V”
This is the fourth post in a five or six part series that explores the ethics of Latter-day Saint literature and criticism. In part three, “The (In)Convenience of Mormon Letters”, I briefly examine a New Testament narrative–Satan’s temptations of Christ–first of all, to underscore the dangers a consumer-based outlook on Mormon theology poses to Mormon culture and on the essential relationship between self and other, individual and community, and, second, to suggest a way to transcend this paradox, namely by inconveniently pushing at the boundaries of established or misinterpreted cultural conventions (of action, knowledge, language, etc.) and thus expanding the limits of personal and communal understanding and potential.
As I conclude, “This vision of doctrinal expansion and spiritual cooperation as acts of theological creativity ties very closely to Mormonism’s cultural and artistic development because the depth and breadth of our theological and experiential perspective and the vigor with which we explore, express, and develop it in our lives, our writing, and our reading (often an unconscious act) determines the vitality and the efficacy of our community’s literary testimony. Because of my belief in this vision, I sense that Mormon literature and criticism haven’t yet grown past the awkwardness of adolescence into a full and necessary articulation of their essential greatness, a mature literary and critical character founded in Mormonism’s theological complexity and prophesied, promised, and hoped for by LDS prophets, seers, writers, and critics alike.”
IV. Maintaining Rhetorical Balance
Karl Keller insists that Mormon culture’s literary immaturity arises from three distinct delusions, conventions we cling to that keep us from fully experiencing words and with which we have historically “denied ourselves a literature.”1 Continue reading “The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part IV”