Beyond Prescription? Problematizing Mormon Identity and the Future of Mormon Literary Studies

Note: What follows is part one of a serialized essay in/on Mormon literary criticism. It was catalyzed by William’s series on the radical middle and some other recent posts elsewhere dealing with the problem(s) of Mormon literature (that litany of links is just a sample). My hope is that this series and any ensuing discussion will be something of a departure from “normal” conversations about Mormon lit and that it can open up new ways of reading as a Mormon.

Feel free, of course, to talk back with me as this four to five part series unfolds. The “theory” I posit is still very much in progress.

Look for part two sometime Thursday.

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Beyond Prescription? Problematizing Mormon Identity and the Future of Mormon Literary Studies

[T]he multiplicity of religious and irreligious practices engaged in […] by those who lay claim to the nominations “Mormon” and “post-Mormon,” much less “Jack Mormon,” […] boggles the mind.

-Bryan Waterman

Confluences

These past several months I’ve been wrestling with myself, with the Heavens, trying to gain some hold for my intellectual desires and work in a broader conceptual universe. This struggle has really just been an extension and intensification (due to the academic path I’ve been negotiating recently) of my continuing quest to find what Wayne Booth might call “a plausible harmony” between “my many selves.” Among others, the believing Mormon, who seeks greater communion with God by trying to live by His laws as voiced by His prophets and to serve with faith in what he considers God’s church (no matter the institution’s flaws); the husband, who has obligated himself through what he considers unbreakable promises to honor his bride, her potential as a human being, their combined potential as wife and husband, and the fruits of their eternal marriage; and the poet, teacher, and literary scholar who is compelled by the incessant prodding of vocation to share his rhetorical gifts with the world–you know, the whole don’t-hide-your-light-under-a-bushel deal.

My continued challenge is learning to balance these passions, to engage with each in an honest, quality, pleasing, even–ideally–transformative experience for the parties involved. In short, I yearn to make a positive difference in the world (though I admit the intangibility and the potential “O, that I were an angel“ discontent of that desire), to create a space in which I can identify with and influence others, in which I can allow their voices, their stories, their selves, to gather, to mingle, to develop, to expand into and revise the stories I came from. Continue reading “Beyond Prescription? Problematizing Mormon Identity and the Future of Mormon Literary Studies”

If you can “Queer” a book can you “Mormon” a book?

Thanks to the recent mention of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town in the last conference I pulled out my old script. See, I got to play in Emily in our high school’s production and it was a transformative experience for me. When I first read the script I was blown away by Wilder’s wisdom, especially in those last moments between George and Emily in the graveyard. Being the dramatic teenager that I was, I read Emily’s last sentence over and over. After the other dead admonish George for his emotional display at Emily’s tombstone, Emily looks at George and says, “They don’t–understand–do they?” As I rolled the words around in my mind I thought about forever families and how George and Emily could eventually be together forever and I knew, I knew, that Wilder knew–or at least guessed– it too. Why else would he have Emily admonish the dead for the flippant way they treated George’s emotions?

It wasn’t until one particularly difficult rehearsal near the opening of the show that my director told me my interpretation was wrong. Emily was saying George didn’t understand. When you consider her earlier monologue with the line, “Do human beings ever realize life while they live it–every, every minute?” her comment about “they” failing to understand was obviously geared at the humans. I privately decided my reading was better  and stuck to it, but I realized for the first time that I had “Mormon-ed” a book. Continue reading “If you can “Queer” a book can you “Mormon” a book?”