Interview with Joy Buhler on Mormon literature

William talks the great Mormon novel with Joy Buhler and finds about her AML Conference paper on the subject.

When I heard that Joy Buhler was going to present on the great LDS novel at the AML annual meeting this year, I made a note to hit her up for an AMV interview. Mainly because I knew that I wouldn’t be there and so wouldn’t get to hear what she had to say. So I tracked down her email and requested an interview.

Originally from Vernal, Utah, Joy graduated from Utah State University with a B.A. in Political Science (and a minor in Spanish). She holds an MPA from George Mason University and has lived in Washington D.C. for ten years, where she currently works in HR Policy at the Department of the Interior. She blogs at Sherpa’s Wonderin’s.

What made you decide to tackle the topic of the “Great LDS Novel” for the AML Conference?

I wrote about Jerry Johnston’s column when it came out in 2009. When I read that AML was looking for papers for their annual conference, a paper on Mr. Johnston’s column seemed like a natural fit.  The paper is my introduction to LDS literature and the core concept of the paper, doubt, is fascinating to me from the LDS perspective. Continue reading “Interview with Joy Buhler on Mormon literature”

Why we need not worry about the Great Mormon Novel

Although Jerry Johnston’s column is provocative, and Dallas’ post (salty language warning) and Shawn’s AMV post in reply are very interesting, I have to admit a bit of weariness over this whole Great Mormon Novel trope. As Shawn points out, the whole idea that Mormons can’t produce great literature goes way back. It’s always a good one to bring up when you want to stir up debate, and it’s particularly delicious in the Mormon context (for let’s be clear — the whole idea that of whether a people can or can not produce literary genius is by no means unique to Mormonism) because you have the excommunication thing to work with.

Here’s why the whole idea is completely misguided: Continue reading “Why we need not worry about the Great Mormon Novel”

The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part III

This is the third post in a five or six part series that explores the ethics of Latter-day Saint literature and criticism. In part two, “In Exchange for the Soul”, I extend the paradoxes of existence more deeply into the realm of literature, exploring how our literary experience with them can become an “intelligent affirmation” of and engagement with the moral universe. I also continue my deconstruction of Johnston’s review and assert that he perpetuates a subtly dangerous stance by punctuating his reading of the state of Mormon letters with pecuniary examples drawn from the scriptures.

III. The (In)Convenience of Mormon Letters

The dangers of taking or enabling this commodified position are evident in the spiritually and ethically crucial dialog that occurred between Christ and Satan just after Christ walked from the wilderness, having fasted forty days and forty nights in an effort to commune more closely with his Father. In these inaugural moments of his mortal ministry, Satan tempted him to conveniently satisfy his gaping hunger by making bread of stones and, when that enticement failed, to prove his messiahship to a growing crowd of temple worshippers by leaping from the building’s pinnacle into the protection of the angels bound to do his bidding. Once these persuasions fell short, however, Satan became desperate: following Christ to the peak of “an exceedingly high mountain” from which was seen in vision the glory of “all the kingdoms of the world,” the tempter said, “All these things will I give unto thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”1 Jeffrey R. Holland (then president of BYU) says of this moment that

Satan [made] up for lack of subtlety here with the grandeur of his offer. Never mind that these kingdoms [were] not ultimately his to give. He simply ask[ed] of the great Jehovah, God of heaven and earth, “What is your price? Cheap bread you resist. Tawdry messianic drama you resist, but no man can resist this world’s wealth. Name your price.” Satan [thus] [“¦] proceed[ed] under his first article of faithlessness–the unequivocal belief that you can buy anything in this world for money.2

The true irony of this proposition could not have been lost on Lucifer, son of the morning, one of God’s brightest sons who fell eternally from grace because his vision and intellect were clouded by pride. Was this mere posturing, then, an adversarial drama enacted by Satan to illustrate and overturn the demands of redemption; to show Christ that this process of saving souls wasn’t going to be child’s play, that it would eventually require the last full drop of someone’s infinite and eternal blood in exchange for the unremitting and embittered deference of evil; and to offer Christ the convenient course to his Messianic throne as rightful King of the Jews?

Perhaps. Continue reading “The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part III”

The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part II

This is the second post in a five or six part series that explores the ethics of Latter-day Saint literature and criticism. In part one, I introduce the dissonance between Mormon theology and Mormon culture, pointing specifically to how the artifacts of that culture–particularly our letters–often fail to engage the eternally rich and redemptive ethical dilemmas raised and embraced by LDS theology. As a case in point and as a springboard into discussing the greater questions arising from this dissonance, I deconstruct Jerry Johnston’s Mormon Times review of Eric Samuelsen’s play Inversion and suggest that the binary Johnston propagates favoring literary tidiness over ambiguity tragically reduces the Mormon quest to know God through the workings and weaknesses of human language1 into barely more than an immature attempt to avoid the discomforts of existence in a paradox-filled universe.

II. In Exchange for the Soul

One of the most tragic of these paradoxes, as Eugene England points out, is “the struggle to maintain individual integrity, to be true to ourselves”2 in the face of the demanding responsibilities and expectations laid on us through our chosen affiliation with and participation in Christ’s Church. Denying this paradox its place in our discipleship and our arts and letters, even if ignorant of our refusal, we ultimately subvert the work of God as he moves to convert us into his own exalted lifestyle, to mold us into his own glorified image. Continue reading “The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality, Part II”

The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality: Part I

The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality: Exposing the Achilles’ Heel of Jerry Johnston’s Commodified Theology, or An Ethics of Latter-day Saint Reading–Part I

(The title’s a mouthful, I know.)

This is the first post in a five or six part series (to run on Thursdays) that explores the ethics of Latter-day Saint literature and criticism. Working within a framework of the redemptive paradoxes inherent in Mormon theology and the moral universe it embraces, the series attempts to probe the place of this ambiguity in the central, recurring conflicts in Mormon letters (particularly in light of the debate between those who think Mormon literature should primarily serve orthodox, didactic purposes and those who think it should provide a more challenging aesthetic), to present an economic reading of why much popular Mormon literature remains in the former camp, and to show how one contemporary Mormon writer has attempted to transcend this paradox–and thus to serve a more deifying need–in their own writing.

I. (Mis)Reading the Mormon Tragic Quest

In his recent review of Eric Samuelsen’s new play Inversion, Jerry Johnston introduces what is and should be a demanding discussion on the ethics of Mormon literature, then bows out before giving the dialog due course or even before acknowledging that he only tells part of the story. Continue reading “The Tragic Tell of Mormon Morality: Part I”