I have been thinking lately about what I’d do if I had more time to engage in Mormon literary criticism. This is, of course, a spectacularly unproductive way of going about things. But it’s all I have time and energy for at the moment. And at the very least, it’s about the only thing I have going at the moment (most of my non-AMV but Mormon arts-related efforts are in writing creating fiction with a modest goal of producing 3k words per month*). Terryl Givens provided the field with some interesting formulations for Mormon criticism via his paradoxes. But his was more of a cultural studies/sociological approach, and I’m thinking more here in terms of straight up dealing with works of narrative art (both those currently out there and as themes for those who are looking to create more).
I have no idea if these would be productive avenues to pursue. Nor am I as well versed in the doctrinal and philosophical arguments — both those specific to Mormonism and those regarding the wider strains of Western/Christian thought — as I’d like to be. This list simply comes out of reading a fair amount of Mormon (mostly literary) fiction. I also note that there may already be fantastic articles and presentations out there that deal with some of these issues. Feel free to reference them in the comments**. Continue reading “Possibly productive themes for Mormon criticism”
(or “¦ How to Read a Poem)
by P. G. Karamesines
First, kiddo, disperse that obvious shadow:
To read is not to know. To read
Is to listen from your quiet place
To the teasing laughter of some new voice.
Listening requires aptitude for not knowing. Continue reading “Introduction to the Mysteries”
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”
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”
Call for Submissions
Sensing a lack of critical (as in the literary sense) approaches to Stephenie Meyer, her work, and their cultural connections in the general Twilight discourse, I’ve put together (with Laura Craner’s editing help and William Morris’ technical assistance) an online, open access literary journal in an effort to bridge that gap. It’s called .
Knowing that there are people out there who can bring critical insight and textually supported readings to this conversation, we’re extending an invitation for critical essays to be published in the first issue, “The Persistence of Stephenie Meyer”. Whether you consider yourself academic or amateur, you can submit as many essays as you want.
What We’re Looking For
We’re looking for well-written essays that thoughtfully explore the Twilight novels and their reception and that contribute critical dimensions to our understanding of Meyer’s work and her place in contemporary American, world, and even, since Meyer has been so open about her Mormon-ness, Latter-day Saint culture and literature. Contributors need not be LDS or be major fans (or detractors) of Meyer’s work. We’re simply looking for submissions that say something interesting about the novels.
Submissions, Issue Close Date, and Contact Info
If you’re interested in contributing (or know someone who might be), please refer to this Introduction to catch scent of our rationale and submit your essays (of between 2,500 and 5,000 words, in Microsoft Word, RTF, or WordPerfect format, and according to MLA bibliographic guidelines) according the procedures laid out here. Please include a brief bio statement to be published with your essay.
The essays for the first issue will be published as they’re accepted and the first issue will be closed on January 15, 2009.
Any questions can be directed to me at email@example.com.
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: 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”
In November 2005, I discovered, in a review of the Wikipedia article on Mormon Fiction, that the authors of the article thought Mormon Fiction essentially didn’t exist before 1979. Since I knew this wasn’t true, I corrected the article, and many others have added their own corrections and improvements. (I drew my information principally from Eugene England‘s Mormon Literature: Progress and Prospects, lest someone thinks I’m some kind of expert on the field.)
But last week I finished reading William’s graduate school paper (available in his July 31st post, Slowly Flowering: My grad school paper on Mormon literature), and I realized that I’m uncomfortable with the way that England has presented this history. I’m not sure it tells the whole story. And I’m not even completely sure that most literary histories tell the whole story.
Continue reading “On the History of LDS Literature”