George Clooney, I’m told, uses his star power for good. That is, he makes a blockbuster—say, Ocean’s Thirteen—to keep his box-office mojo shiny, then spends that star capital on getting Burn After Reading made. Or The Perfect Storm so O Brother, Where Art Thou? can exist. The Coens, it would seem, owe megamovies a great debt.
Continue reading “On becoming the George Clooney of Mormon Lit”
By now everyone has read Mark Oppenheimer’s article on Mormon literature in the New York Times. Typical in its approach, it highlights Mormon successes in genre fiction and offers a few explanations for why these successes happen and why they aren’t more forthcoming in a Mormon-flavored “Realist literature for adults.” The reasons he puts forth seem to be as follows: Mormons are uncomfortable with realism, Mormons are afraid of “church disapproval,” and Mormons are culturally geared towards a “sunny outlook” that privileges uplifting narratives over realistic literature that presents sex, violence, and swearing without judgment and moralizing.
In his eloquent and insightful response to this article, George Handley rightly calls Oppenheimer out on these reasons, particularly the notion that literary greatness is some alchemic mixture of “great suffering,” book sales, and national recognition. Mormon writers, Handley suggest, have made great strides irrespective of these factors, and will likely keep doing so “before the rest of the world notices.” For him, rather, Mormons have “underachieved” in the realm of realistic Mormon literature–or “Great Mormon Literature”–as a result of a number of cultural flaws: their reliance on “triumphalist rhetoric,” a “thirst after quick and easy forms of [cultural] vindication,” and rather narrow ideas “about what constitutes a Mormon identity.” In making this argument, he seems to echo Samuel W. Taylor’s 46-year-old claim that Mormon literature is the captive of “positive-thinkers,” or public-relations-minded Mormons who police their people’s output for the sake of pleasing and appeasing public opinion. He also suggests–taking a cue, perhaps, from Nephi Anderson’s account of the artist in Zion–that Mormons need to do a better job of being a community that cares for (and about) its artists–including artists whose works are neither nationally recognized nor compatible with the ideology and aesthetics of “positive-thinking” Mormons.
Continue reading “Mormon Literature: A Sunny Outlook”
“The strange thing is that aside from these displays the rest of the museum could almost be an account of the settling of the American West.” — Edward Rothstein in the NY Times.
Why, yes. That is very, very strange.
(Although to be fair to Rothstein, his contextualization of the museum in relation to identity is fairly solid. And he use the term “hyphenated American”.)
A couple of recent articles got me thinking again about the current revolution in ebooks and related subjects.
First, the New York Times in The Bookstore’s Last Stand took a look at Barnes and Noble’s attempts to stay competitive in the current environment, focusing on B&N’s creation of the Nook and on its current CEO, William J. Lynch Jr., who joined the company three years ago after working at IAC/InterActiveCorp, the parent company of the Home Shopping Network. Lynch ran both hsn.com and gifts.com there. Surprisingly, Lynch, who considers himself a technology guy and even claims that Barnes and Noble is a “technology company” told the Times that “the idea that devices like the Nook, Kindle and Apple iPad will make bookstores obsolete is nonsense.”
Continue reading “ebooks and the self-publishing bubble”
I threw a minor fit on Twitter the other evening over the New York Times article How Nonsense Sharpens the Mind, which reports on a study that claims that experiencing the uncanny, the weird, the absurd, the freaky “may prime the brain to sense patterns it would otherwise miss.” What provoked the outburst on my part was the revelation that the researchers rewrote a Kafka short story for use in their study. Here’s how the reporter Benedict Carey describes it:
In the most recent paper, published last month, Dr. Proulx and Dr. Heine described having 20 college students read an absurd short story based on “The Country Doctor,” by Franz Kafka. The doctor of the title has to make a house call on a boy with a terrible toothache. He makes the journey and finds that the boy has no teeth at all. The horses who have pulled his carriage begin to act up; the boy’s family becomes annoyed; then the doctor discovers the boy has teeth after all. And so on. The story is urgent, vivid and nonsensical — Kafkaesque.
“The Country Doctor” is my favorite Kafka short story and is the piece of literature I have spent the most time with as a critic. I read it and wrote about Continue reading “The many misuses of Kafka and insider knowledge”