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”

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”