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)
- 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.
I’m late in saying this, but it still should be said: if you haven’t already, I’d recommend reading Randy Astle’s presentation from the November 2010 Mormon Media Studies symposium. What Randy does is take a look at the major schools of film criticism and then propose the method he thinks is most amenable to a Mormon worldview *and* that a Mormon worldview can enrich as a theory of how film operates. I don’t want to discourage readers from clicking through to his presentation so I won’t reveal what that is, but I will quote what he has to say about the importance of criticism.
Spencer W. Kimball’s “The Gospel Vision of the Arts” is admittedly ubiquitous in discussions of Mormon art and media, and it is usually cited for his predictions of remarkable future accomplishments, for instance that Mormon-themed “masterpieces should run for months in every movie theater, cover every part of the globe in the tongue of the people, written by great artists, purified by the best critics.” But while LDS filmmakers, in this case, have reason to rejoice in this prophetic benediction, it is my firm belief that the most important point is the final one, that the best critics must purify our films and, by extension, other media.
I’m pleased to announce the launching of Critic’s Corner here at AMV. As with our other Friday/Weekend features — Short Story Friday, , and Weekend (Re)Visitor — I’m hoping that my co-bloggers and AMV’s readers will help me with the effort, which was inspired by the responses to a previous post on works of literary criticism found in Dialogue’s archives.
For the launch, I’ve decided to highlight Eugene England’s response to Orson Scott Card’s novel Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus ( Amazon ) because it captures well, I think, a specific, fascinating moment in both of these great men of Mormon letters’ careers.
Title: Pastwatch: The Redemption of Orson Scott Card
Author: Eugene England
Publication Info: Mormon Literature Database; text of a paper presented at Life, the Universe, & Everything XV: An Annual Symposium on the Impact of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Provo, Utah, February 28, 1997
Submitted by: Wm Morris
Why?: Wm says, “What fascinates me about this paper is that it represents an attempt by England to convince himself that OSC is back in his corner (so-to-speak). It is as much about the socio-cultural politics of Mormonism as it is about the novel Pastwatch.”
Fill out the Critic’s Corner form
Read all the Critic’s Corner posts so far
In his Sunday morning session address from the April General Conference, President Uchtdorf spoke about love. Titled “You Are My Hands,” it was a great talk delivered wonderfully, which is what we have come to expect from him. I want to call out one line in the talk that, paradoxically, affirmed for me the importance of well-crafted narrative art.
Pres. Uchtdorf said:
True love requires action. We can speak of love all day long–we can write notes or poems that proclaim it, sing songs that praise it, and preach sermons that encourage it–but until we manifest that love in action, our words are nothing but “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.”
Now that would seem, at first glance, to cast aside the whole notion of expressing love through words. Love without action is dead. Which is why it caught my attention. But notice the verbs used: proclaim, praise, preach. All good methods of discourse, but all intended to drive a didactic response — to provoke action or, in the case of the receiver of the proclamations, reaction.
That’s not how narrative art works. Not exactly. And the more I thought about this talk, the more I wondered why love was important. I feel it is. I know it’s important in my life, that life would be dismal without it, but why? Continue reading “True love, progression and narrative art”
To celebrate the liberation of Dialogue’s archives from the clumsy format they were previously in*, I thought I’d pull out a few pieces of Mormon literary criticism for AMV readers to download and peruse. There’s some excellent stuff there, and the virtue of the PDF format is that one has the piece in a self-contained easily opened, read and referenced format. And don’t forget that even if you can’t subscribe, there’s always the option to donate $5 or $10 as a show of appreciation for making the archives available. So here’s a few cool pieces that I’ve found so far (please note that the links are to PDF downloads of the article):
This is just a small sampling of the riches available. I’m particularly looking forward to reading some of the original reviews of works that are now considered part of the Mormon canon (such as it is).
One more thought: what do you think of adding work like what I’ve linked to above to AMV’s Friday Feature rotation?
*Of course, now articles and full editions are dumped in to PDF files, but hey, at least the PDFs are searchable (and the search engine is much faster and more intuitive than what was found in the UofU archive solution), and really it’s the best we could hope for considering the limitations involved.
Previous Posts: Part I: Origins | Part II: The Middle
So now that I’ve explored the origins of the term radical middle in relation to Mormon arts and culture, and teased out some of the issues related to the middle, it’s time to get radical. In the first post, I mentioned a radical movement in British Islam and noted the adjectives (creative, positive, revolutionary …) that were being used in describing this Radical Middle Way for Islam. What those adjectives indicate to me is that radical is meant to show that the middle is a dynamic place to be; it has energy; it’s in motion. It’s rising.
Now, radical is generally not the most welcome term among American Mormons. It smacks to much of the Left and/or of the political fringe. This is why it’s important to confine the term the radical middle to Mormon arts and culture and emphasize that there is room for artists, critics and readers with a multitude of political leanings (assuming, of course, that their politics isn’t the sole thing driving their artistic activity). Indeed, I think by pairing radical and middle and applying it to Mormon arts, England and anyone else who invokes the term is reinscribing its’ meaning, appropriating the adjective for our own use and changing it in the process. I’m a fan of such appropriation by an ethnic group/sub-culture. But what do we really mean by radical and how does it play out in Mormon arts and culture? The short answers are: nobody has really said much, and it doesn’t really. So unlike with the middle where I was able to explore it in depth in a descriptive way, I’m going to have to get speculative and prescriptive with the radical. But first…
Radical history and doctrine
Whatever our position in American society now (that is the tenuous semi-mainstreamed stability achieved through the embrace of the meritocracy and of alliance with conservative politics [allowing, of course, for the few liberals and crunchy cons and libertarians]), it must not be forgotten that we have radical roots. From the restorationist claims of Joseph Smith to the communitarian projects of Brigham Young, and, yes, the scandalousness of polygamy — whether you believe all that to be a concatenation of American (not forgetting the European streams of thought behind them) influences (with a touch of native genius) or the opening of the heavens and streaming of restored truths, the radical, as in the challenge to the status quo, roots of Mormonism run deep. And are the wellspring of latter-day Mormon art. Continue reading “The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: The Radical”
The middle is an appealing place to be albeit a difficult place to define and defend. And it brings with it its own dangers. By very definition it relies on other operative ideologies and is thus too often reactive. By inclination, as I mention in the first post, it tends to be wish-washy and self-conscious (or even anxiogenic), often producing thousands of words on what it isn’t or is, seeking to write itself a space, to carve out its outer limits and vigorously defend what falls in to that space. The following is not meant to be an exhaustive exploration of the middle, but is merely an attempt to define some important strands that are woven into the concept.
Between the poles
If we take our cues from England’s essay “Danger on the Right! Danger on the Left!,” the middle is the place between two poles of Mormon narrative art. In most specific terms, it is the works that fall between the two 1990s Mormon short story anthologies Turning Hearts: Short Stories on Family Life (Bookcraft) and In Our Lovely Deseret: Mormon Fictions (Signature). It is represented by the works England selected for his own, earlier anthology Bright Angels & Familiars: Contemporary Mormon Stories (Signature). Now England does make some larger philosophical claims for what this middle is, in particular linking it to the idea of ethical fiction, but in terms of defining the middle, well, the middle is in between these two poles — between the right and the left. Continue reading “The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: The Middle”