Mormon literaturstreit: the response to the response, I

Wm discusses the first section in Richard Cracroft’s AML presidential address responding to Bruce Jorgensen’s critique of Cracroft’s criticism of the poetry anthology Harvest.

Note: this is post three of an ongoing series on the Mormon literaturstreit.

Part I: opening salvo
Part II: the response

A year after Bruce Jorgensen responded to Richard Cracroft’s criticism of the poetry collection Harvest in an Association for Mormon Letters (AML) presidential address, Cracroft responded to the response in his AML presidential address. [1. Quite convenient that they were elected AML president in successive years.]  In my previous post, I asked: “Can Cracroft come up with a better definition/critical approach for Mormon literature?”

Not exactly. But he is forced to explain in more details what he means, which furthers the conversation. He begins by pulling out a key line from Jorgensen’s address–“Essentialism is the problem”–and saying, essentially, “Nuh-uh! We’re the problem”. He writes:

In my review of Harvest, I assert that which is apparent to any right-thinking, red-blooded, and sanctified Latter-day Saint who reads the poems sequentially, attentively, and–big gulp here–spiritually and essentially, that a surprisingly large number of the poems written by Mormon poets and included in the “New Direction” section of Harvest selected by Dennis Clark are skillfully executed poems grounded in the “earth-bound humanism” (Cracroft 1990, 122) of our contemporary secular society, but reflecting little or no essential Mormonism. It seems to me, as I state in my review, that such poems, mislabeled Mormon, lack, ignore, repress, or replace the Mormon “essence” so essential to distinguishing a work of Mormon letters from a work that is merely Western or American or Protestant or Jewish.

These two sentences summarize the entire approach of the address/essay, which puts the responsibility for deciding what is Mormon in the hands of the (some? certain?) Mormon people and then shows how literary critics don’t really count as the Mormon people because they (we) are tainted by secular humanism. That’s a blunt way of putting it, but Cracroft lays it all out rather bluntly and, in some sections, cleverly. Note, for example, how he uses the language of social justice in his appeal to essentialism. The poems aren’t just not Mormon–they “lack, ignore, repress, or replace the Mormon “‘essence'”. But also note how the reasoning is ultimately circular: works of literature are Mormon because they have a Mormon essence, which is the same as saying that they are Mormon because they are Mormon. Continue reading “Mormon literaturstreit: the response to the response, I”

Welcome Sarah Dunster and Luisa Perkins

LDS authors Sarah Dunster and Luisa Perkins are joining AMV!

I am very pleased to announce that Sarah Dunster and Luisa Perkins are joining A Motley Vision. Both are longtime commenters at (and friends of) AMV and have also been interview subjects.

Luisa is the author of Dispirited, a work of contemporary dark fantasy which was published last year by Zarahemla Books.

Sarah’s historical LDS novel Lightning Tree was published last year by Cedar Fort.

Both have had other works published in a variety of venues and have things to say about the world of Mormon literature and culture. Please join me in welcoming them to the team.

Wilderness Interface Zone: Call for submissions

Colorful_spring_garden by Anita Martinz

Wilderness Interface Zone is issuing a call for nature-themed prose: creative nonfiction or environmental nonfiction, eco-criticism, interviews, hybrid literary forms, and short fiction, including novel excepts, that reflect on your relationship to the natural world, wherever you engage it.

We’re especially interested in writing that demonstrates the need for and effects of what I call “green language””“rhetorical prowess that taps into the fertile realm of language’s most vital energies. One of WIZ’s foremost goals is to advocate for better behavior in the teeming yet at-risk environment of human language.

Please consider sending your work to Wilderness Interface Zone. Before submitting your writing, please read our About and Submissions pages.

AND poets, please continue sending your poetry. WIZ loves poetry!

ALSO, in the past,WIZ has launched its Spring Poetry Runoff, an annual, themed poetry competition celebrating spring’s highly anticipated arrival. This year, Jonathon and I have chosen not to run the Runoff. We’ll bring it back in 2014 in new and improved form. But we will host an informal spring fling featuring poetry and prose that revels in the arrival of warmer and brighter days, the annual emergence of life, and onset of spring migrations that change life’s scenery.

Spring arrives early on March 20. Feel free to add a streamer to WIZ’s literary maypole. Even if your poem, essay, short story or novel excerpt merely mentions spring and nature, please consider submitting it to the festivities.

The Matched Trilogy: Teenagers and correlated media

Wm discusses Chapter 9 of Ally Condie’s Matched and what it says about art, propaganda and teenagers.

Note: this post contains spoilers for Matched, but not for the other two books in Ally Condie’s trilogy.

In my first reaction to Ally Condie’s Matched, the first book in the Matched trilogy, I noted that the worldbuilding she creates for cultural products in the Society plays on our current worries about media/information overload and obsession with listmaking and also reflects her experience as a Mormon who grew up in the era of correlated materials in the LDS Church. I want to discuss how this actually plays out in the novel and what it says about the teenage experience.

In Chapter 3 we learn about The 100. Cassia, the main character, explains that the Society had committees who picked out the best 100 songs, paintings, stories and poems. The did this because “culture was too cluttered” and no one can “appreciate anything fully when overwhelmed with too much” (29). Having 100 works of art across four major forms still leaves a lot of works to study in a school setting. But what does it mean for leisure time? Continue reading “The Matched Trilogy: Teenagers and correlated media”

Cracroft in the Ensign on Mormon lit

Wm runs across a Richard Cracroft article on Mormon literature published in the LDS Church’s magazine The Ensign and cherry-picks a quote form it. Something about good fiction needing good readers.

While searching the archives of The Ensign, I ran across something I had never read before: a two part series by Richard Cracroft on Mormon literature published back in 1981.

Here are the links: Part 1 | Part 2

And here’s an excerpt from part 2:

In fact, the future of LDS fiction will probably be closely linked with Home Literature, for the LDS writer and the LDS reader share an abiding faith and hope in eternal principle, in the possibility of billions of happy endings. Thus we will have more faith-promoting fiction. And we probably will have still more fiction dealing with LDS history and with characters in the Book of Mormon and the Bible. But, above all, we will have more fiction about Latter-day Saints endowed with real, human problems, problems which can be overcome as well as problems which can defeat and destroy. The effect of the gospel in the lives of such characters afford great fictional possibilities.

But the message of Mormon fiction, while inevitably moral, as is most fiction, need not be painfully blatant. Many of the sweetest messages of life are subtle, and the important messages of truth which LDS fiction will be charged to carry can be aimed at readers schooled in reading well-crafted fiction, at readers who rejoice in the elevating message as subtly suggested through skillful character development, dialogue, setting, symbolism, metaphor, and language. Well-written literature challenges the reader to read to understand–not simply to dismiss–to prove the message, dark or light, and to ponder the implications of his or her new insights. Good fiction thus calls for good readers.

At the heart of such literature will lie the examination, in fiction, of the quest for faith, of the tension inherent in being in the world yet not of the world. It is not a new dilemma, of course. But, daily, the dilemma is renewed in the lives of all faithful men and women, and thus the old tensions continue to provide a springboard to significant new moral fiction. As a creative religion, the restored gospel will teach writers–and readers–to find new and fresh and inspiring yet technically sophisticated ways to create a fiction which will measure up to the great dilemmas of human experience and to the grand message of the Restoration.

Good fiction calls for good readers. Mormon fiction…need not be painfully blatant. The dilemma is daily renewed.

Why I wore a maroon tie to church yesterday

I do not own a black beret so I did not wear one to church yesterday. But I did wear a maroon tie. I didn’t wear it ironically or aggressively or subversively. No one in my ward, in fact, knew why I was wearing it. But I knew why. And one of the reasons was to recognize this:

Art keeps me from being dogmatic about my religion; religion keeps me from fetishizing my art.

Call for submissions: LONNOL Month on WIZ

Calling all loving thoughts!
Calling all loving thoughts!

Got messages of deep feeling you’d like to send someone, or maybe to the world at large? Starting February 1st, Wilderness Interface Zone will launch its traditional month-long celebration of love and the natural world, Love of Nature Nature of Love Month.

We’re issuing a call for nature-themed love stuff: original poetry, essays, blocks of fiction, art, music (mp3s), videos or other media that address the subject of love while making references to nature. We’ll take the other side of the coin of affection, too: We’ll publish work about nature spun up with themes of love.

If you have a sweet song or sonnet you’ve written to someone beloved”“or perhaps a video Valentine or an essay avowing your love for people, natural critters or spaces near and dear”“please consider sending it to WIZ. Click here for submissions guidelines.

Our fondest hopes for LONNOL Month: Putting into the currents of language flowing around the world some of the deepest, most passionate, freeze-thawingest words that we can find. And if things work out, we’ll also be running one of WIZ’s DVD giveaways, a Pre-Hays Code movie, King of the Jungle, starring loincloth-clad Buster Crabbe as Kaspa the Lion Man.

We hope you’ll join our month-long celebration combining two of the most potent natural forces on the face of the planet–love and language.

Eric Samuelsen interviews Matthew Greene about his new play Adam & Steve and the Empty Sea

Playwright, retired BYU professor and literary critic Eric Samuelsen interviews Matthew Greene about his play Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea.

Salt Lake City’s Plan-B Theatre Company is staging the world premier of Matthew Greene’s Adam & Steve and the Empty Sea at the end of this month. The play opens Jan. 31 and runs through Feb. 10.  Tickets and details are available at planbtheatre.org or 801.355.ARTS.

Here is the description of the play from Plan-B:

Adam is LDS. Steve is gay. Set against the backdrop of the passage of Prop. 8, these childhood friends grapple with religion, sexuality,politics and adulthood.”¨ A world premiere by LDS playwright Matthew Greene. Featuring Logan Tarantino as Steve and Topher Rasmussen as Adam, directed by Jason Bowcutt.

AMV readers may recall that I interviewed Greene is about his play #MormoninChief. LDS playwright, retired BYU professor and literary/cultural critic Eric Samuelsen recently interviewed Greene about Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea. Greene attended BYU during the time Eric taught there so that also is discussed. Enjoy!

One Playwright to Another: Eric Samuelsen’s Interview with Matthew Greene

I guess it would have been five years ago now that Matthew Greene showed up in my beginning Playwriting class at BYU. Mild-mannered kid, obviously exceptionally bright, but rather quiet. I assigned the kids to write a ten minute play, due the next class period–jump right in and start writing something, anything. And his play was smart and funny and real. I knew I had someone special in that classroom. He’s had his New York debut, with #MormonInChief. And now Plan-B Theatre in Salt Lake is producing his play Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea. Continue reading “Eric Samuelsen interviews Matthew Greene about his new play Adam & Steve and the Empty Sea”

Avoiding dismissiveness

Wm furthers the thinking of his classic Mormons and media consumption post and suggests why we should avoid dismissiveness in our attitudes towards art.

A May 2012 episode of The Cricket and Seagull Fireside Chat featuring host Stephen Kapp Perry interviewing retired BYU professor Eric Samuelsen crystallized something for me. In the podcast, Eric discusses how excellence in human striving (in sports, in art) can lead to moments of spirituality and how we shouldn’t dismiss.

I’ve been thinking about the boundaries we draw quite a bit that last few months and from a variety of angles — literary fiction vs. genre fiction, male vs. female readings, cosplay and authenticity, LDS vs. Mormon vs. exMo fiction, film narrative vs. gaming narrative, etc. I’ve become ever more convinced of the rightness of my post Mormons and media consumption, and I highly recommend the podcast with Eric and Stephen — it contains some fantastic examples of what can happen when you avoid dismissing certain art forms or content issues as well as others experiences with art.

I have something else to add to my prior thinking on this:

On the one hand, I understand why artistic expression makes us uncomfortable. Why certain folks are scared to death of didactic-ness and others of in-appropriateness. But the longer I live and the more art I experience, the more I’m amazed by how essentially conservative (maybe meaningful would be the better word) most art is. Or rather, how it all comes back to questions of love, faith, loyalty, creativity, fidelity, charity, integrity, friendship, family, etc. Continue reading “Avoiding dismissiveness”

A nod to Mormon history in Ally Condie’s Reached

I can’t tell you what it is because that would be a huge spoiler. But there’s a major one (and it’s one Condie writes about in the acknowledgements).

I still need to fully process the Matched trilogy (of which Reached is the final book). I’m fascinated by the fact, though, that although you could read it and love it without any knowledge of Mormonism at all, it contains within it major resonances with Mormon history, landscape, doctrine and practice.