Over at my personal blog I wrote a response to Lev Grossman’s recent WSJ article defending fantasy fiction. I think much of what I wrote over there applies to Mormon literature as well. In a nutgraf: trying to defend a minor literature (which is what Mormon literature is even though it’s status as such is messier than, say, an ethnic or minor national literature) almost always backfires because it is almost always done by positioning the minor literature in relation to the major literature.
In that post I also rail against something that I have mentioned a few times here and there in discussions of Mormon literature: the goal of literary respectability.
I don’t think that there’s anything inherently wrong with individual writers aiming for literary respectability — to be published in the venues that give it; to write works that are in the idiom that garners that label. However, when fields (or a grouping of works in that field) consistently and obviously strive for such respectability they set themselves up for disappointment. Literary respectability never actually embraces or envelops a minor literature; it always simply plucks out the authors and works it deems respectable and co-opts them for its own purposes (Ursula K Le Guin, Gene Wolf, Phillip Dick, Brady Udall?).
As I point out in my paper Slowly Flowering, which looks at how the various literary periods of Mormonism are framed by Eugene England, by positioning Mormon literature as underdeveloped, authors and critics create a discursive space where they can be the ones to lead the restoration, the great leap forward, the Renaissance. This is a natural inclination. It is one I carried with me for several years.
But no more.
I’m not interested in taking defensive positions. I’m not breathlessly awaiting a Shakespeare or a Milton or a Roth or Morrison or even a King or a Rowling. I’m going to take the stories as they arrive and see what thrills me and intrigues me and touches me and annoys me. There’s a lot of good stuff going on. That’s what I want to talk about. And I also want the liberty to ignore some of it because it just doesn’t interest me without feeling guilty that I’m letting the field down. Not that all of this is much different from when AMV started out. I just sometimes need to restate it.