The serious dethroned; the middlebrow ceasing to strive

Wm explains how the belated-ness of the home literature movement and the disruption of the middlebrow strivings led to weak Mormon cultural identity.

In the April 2012 issue of Commentary, Fred Siegel writes about How Highbrows Killed Culture. It’s your rather standard conservative curmudgeon fretting over culture. I don’t agree with much of it. And I have no nostalgia for the 1950s.

Even so, I think Siegel says something interesting here:

“By 1970 the aim of camp to “dethrone the serious” had all but succeeded. The last remnants of bourgeois morality having largely melted away as part of the national culture, there was little to make even mock cultural rebellion meaningful. The “serious” was replaced by a cheerful mindlessness, and the cultural striving of middlebrow culture came to a quiet end. Why should the well-meaning middle American labor to read a complex novel by an intellectual or try to work his way through a Great Book if the cultural poohbahs first mocked his efforts and then said they were pointless anyway because what mattered was living “life as theater”? Today, if there were a T.S. Eliot, Time Magazine would no more put him on the cover than it would sing the praises of George W. Bush. Time’s literary critic writes children’s fantasy novels and chose a science-fiction book about elves as one of the crowning cultural achievements of 2011. Since the highbrow have been given permission to view the “frivolous as the serious,” why shouldn’t everybody else?”

Let’s ignore for a moment the silly swipe against genre fiction and focus more on the fact that he’s correct in that to a certain extent the highbrow embrace of the lowbrow combined with increasing consumerization of culture led to a shift in the cultural aspirations and consumption habits of the middle class. Assuming this is true (and I think it’s only partially true — in part because the rebellion of the 1960s also led to an opening up of access to higher education which still imparted a certain middlebrow, cultural seriousness to many of its graduates) then I think that it explains something about Mormon culture. Continue reading “The serious dethroned; the middlebrow ceasing to strive”

The Radical Middle in Mormon Art: The Middle

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”

Last call for LDS book group recommendations — the form is closed

Submissions for the list of Mormon fiction recommendations for LDS book groups have petered out, but I figured I might as well announce a formal end date: I will be closing the form at 10 p.m. CDT, Sunday, April 20.

UPDATED 4.20: The form is now closed. Give me a week or two to crunch the results. And, thanks again.

The original post with explanations and instructions.

Titles in the spreadsheet as of April 18, 11 a.m. CDT:

Brother Brigham
Long After Dark
Kindred Spirits
Hooligan: A Mormon Boyhood
Passage to Zarahemla, Tennis Shoes Among the Nephites, Tower of Thunder, Eddie Fantastic
Ender’s Game
On the Road to Heaven
Go In Beauty
Paradise Vue
Slumming
The Conversion of Jeff Williams
Heresies of Nature
Bound on Earth
The Pictograph Murders
Fine Old High Priests
Bound on Earth
Benediction
My Mom’s a Mortician
Funeral Home Evenings
Early-Morning Cemetery
The Final Farewell
Circle Dance
Bound On Earth
Cold Train Coming

There are several titles that still deserve to be considered. I have refrained from adding any, but after the form closes, I will add the two titles that I think most deserve to be included, but weren’t added via the anonymous form. I will also make clear that I’m responsible for adding those titles so readers can take my biases/tastes into account.

Thanks for your help!

Mormon fiction recommendations for LDS book groups (updated April 18)

Chris Bigelow, founder of Zarahemla Books, recently published a guest post on Blog Segullah on Mormon literature’s middle niche. In the comments, author and blogger Angela Hallstrom said that she’d like to see Deseret book develop this Mormon niche and market it to all the LDS book clubs. That seems unlikely, but it occurs to me that there is something that we can do. Plus I have been itching to trot out this really cool Google application as well as launch AMV projects*. So I respectfully request your help in creating a list of middle niche novel (or short story collection) recommendations for LDS book groups.

Updated 4/7/08 to add this point of clarification — Titles should significantly feature Mormon characters and/or themes. For example, Saints by Orson Scott Card is fine. Ender’s Game is not (even though Ender’s mother is Mormon). /update

Here’s how this is going to work:

I have created a Google Docs spreadsheet that can be fed through an online form. I want all of you to submit your recommendations via this form. I will then crunch/format all the data and post it in some sort of usable way on a static (i.e. non-blog post) page here at AMV and announce the finished list with a blog post. All of us will then forward the page link to people we know who are in LDS book groups as a resource for them to use when considering what books to read.

UPDATED 4.20: The form is now closed. Give me a week or two to crunch the results. And, thanks again. Continue reading “Mormon fiction recommendations for LDS book groups (updated April 18)”