Culture and being in, but not of the world

4.23.14 | | 2 comments

As I was reading the comments to Scott H’s recent AML blog post Moving Culture, I had the following thought:

In modern Mormon American communities when the notion of “be in the world but not of it” is raised in relation to culture, it is almost always the “not of” that is emphasized rather than the “being in”. And so most Mormons draw their various lines (which, as I wrote almost 10 years ago, I don’t have a problem with as long as they are honest with themselves about those lines) for what they will and will not consume, enjoy the works that fall within their lines, and then (perhaps) look askance at those who draw their lines in different places than they do.

But the problem is that this method (which I will admit to employing myself quite often) is actually addressing neither the “being in” nor the “not of” because:

1. Any culture you avoid means that you are cutting yourself off from those parts of the world and thus are not being in it. Now, obviously, there are places (and in this case I mean cultural places as in: specific works/creators and/or communities that form around those works/creators) we should not be in. And there are places that some of us can be in without causing major damage to our souls while others can’t. But we are not called to cloister ourselves, and if we have no frames of cultural reference with which to approach others, we can’t really claim that we are in the world.

2. I think (and this is based on my reading of Christ’s ministry on Earth) that being not of the world is less about not partaking in things and more about how you approach your presence in and interaction with the world. “Not of” means that the world doesn’t override or distort your Mormon worldview (at least not too much — I also believe that no one is untainted by the world). And it means bringing your worldview into play in an active, interrogating, subversive, filtering, enveloping way.

What I think that adds up is that to be “in the world,” one must be engaged with culture, and to be “not of the world” is to act upon rather than be acted upon by culture. This is easier said than done.

Theric (and Monsters & Mormons) at SLC Comic Con Fan X

4.16.14 | | one comment


I’ll be in Salt lake City this weekend for Fan Experience. I’ll be giving an updated version of my Mormons and comics discussion from the first SLC Comic Con which will, among other changes, mention Nathan Shumate’s Cheap Caffeine, incorporate information from a couple AML presentations (James Goldberg on The Garden of Enid, Stephen Carter on Book of Mormon comics), and the Kickstarter campaigns for iPlates and From the Dust. Mike Homer will give his presentation on representations of Mormons and Utah in comics over time. (240 seats)

Fifteen minutes before that rerun, a panel of Monsters & Mormons participants will be publicly talking about their work and what’s become of it. I’m a bit confused over the final makeup of the panel (this story is personally embarrassing, but that’s a story for another day), but expect at least seven people you definitely want to hear from. (220 seats)

Then fifteen minutes after the comics rerun, I’ll be on a Sherlock Holmes panel which I really really hope has no Mormon tie-ins. (400 seats)

Based on the numbers here, I think I should be able to take 10.75 days off teaching and still reach the same number of people. Sweet.


The Writing Rookie Season 2, #6: Stocking the Pantry

4.11.14 | | 7 comments

For the complete list of columns in this series, click here.

While a single point of data eliminates any line that doesn’t pass through the point, sadly it does nothing to narrow down the infinity of possible lines from every point of the compass-rose that do, in fact, pass through that point. And so it is with one-of-a-kind experiences. Such as, say, writing a novel.

You’d think that having written one with which I was more or less happy (though I’d hope to do better next time), I would know at least how to go about the writing part. Sadly, this turns out not to be the case. From a creative writing perspective, the last several years have been spent trying out one method after another. In the absence of any noteworthy success, I’ve felt that I didn’t really have much to share in this forum. Hence the two-plus years since my last Writing Rookie report.

I still don’t have any solid evidence that this has changed. However, I’ve been trying something the last several months that (a) has not yet proven that it won’t work, and (b) has the virtue of being quite different from what I’d tried before. So I thought, why not share? Even if this doesn’t work out, at least it may have the social utility of any publicly failed experiment…


Tom Nysetvold on the Mormon Texts Project 2.0

4.10.14 | | 2 comments

Tom Nysetvold has taken on the yeoman work of starting back up the Mormon Texts Project. He was kind enough to answer some questions about it.

Why did you decide to resurrect the Mormon Texts Project?

I somehow ran in to and read some books on Project Gutenberg (notably Joseph Smith as Scientist by Widtsoe) that had been done by the Mormon Texts Project (MTP). They led me to Ben Crowder’s MTP website, and I was very impressed with what he was doing. I got in touch with him and found out he’d recently suspended the project for lack of time to run it.
I thought it was a shame that many important Church books still weren’t (and aren’t) available, and I’ve long been interested in the ideals of open source projects, Creative Commons, etc., so I decided to do a couple of books to figure out the Project Gutenberg process and see if it was something I was interested in doing on a larger scale. I had a lot of fun doing The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt and Orson Pratt’s An Interesting Account of Several Remarkable Visions, so I decided to try and get other people involved in the same type of work, and I contacted Ben and got his permission to use the Mormon Texts Project name. A few friends and I started working, and we’re now up to ten books released on Project Gutenberg (PG) this year (seven that were previously unavailable and three that were available only on the old MTP website). At this point, 31 church books are available on PG (23 of which were produced by MTP) out of roughly 45,000 books total. I think those numbers show that as a global religion with a rich heritage, we have a long way to go before that heritage is appropriately accessible. more

Of two minds regarding Smurthwaite’s Road to Bountiful

4.9.14 | | 9 comments


In this round of Reading the Whitney Finalists, we come to the only author I have read previously. Shortly after my mission—whether a couple months or a couple years, I’m not sure—my youngest brother recommended to me Donald S. Smurthwaite’s Do You Like Me, Julie Sloan? I don’t remember why, exactly, but it was a book he liked and he thought it would meet certain requirements I had and I don’t remember exactly what I thought, but I certainly didn’t hate it like the book I had hated the book I had previously read and for which my brother had offered Julie Sloan as a healing salve.

What I do remember is that Julie Sloan largely rose and fell on the strength of its narrative voice, and the same is true of Road to Bountiful times two. more

Three posts on The House at Rose Creek by Jenny Proctor

4.4.14 | | 4 comments


In recent years, as a higher percentage of my reading has become decidedly “Mormon,” I have read very little published by Deseret or Covenant. I’m ashamed of my reluctance. In part I’ve been hesitant because although I hear that quality at these houses has grown vastly over the past years, I also once heard wide acclaim for Baptists at Our Barbecue by Robert Farrell Smith. And hoo boy but was that an unfunny disaster. (Sadly, this was before I started blogging every book I read, so I can’t get more specific than that.)

But as recent discussions attest (eg), coming into a genre without knowing its rules can lead to expectations failing to be met and a disappointment which might not be fair to the work under consideration (consider the recent Deseret News review I discussed here).

Why is why the first of these three posts will be: more

Notes on How to Read a Poem

4.3.14 | | 3 comments

National Poetry Month 2014
(Poster design: Chip Kidd)
Click image for PDF copy of the poster.

I’m of two minds about National Poetry Month.

In one sense, I appreciate the effort (initiated by the Academy of American Poets and institutionalized in April 1996 by President Clinton’s administration) “to highlight the extraordinary legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets; [to] introduce Americans to the pleasures and benefits of reading poetry; [to] bring poets and poetry to the public in immediate and innovative ways; [and to] make poetry an important part of our children’s education” (ref). Even if this official celebration of poets and poetry only happens one month out of twelve and even if people binge on poems during that month but never read another poem all year, at least poetry is being celebrated, right? I can’t complain about that.

In another sense, though, I see poetry as something worth engaging every day. If America can set aside one month a year to advocate for poetry as something that can enhance and enrich “the lives of all Americans” and that “affects every aspect of life in America today, including education, the economy, and community pride and development” (ref), we should be able to make a place (no matter how small) for poetry in our everyday lives, shouldn’t we? Of course, I say this as someone deeply invested in reading and writing and writing about and advocating for poetry. So I may be a little biased.

Whatever the case, and whatever your mind is about poetry and National Poetry Month (prominent poet and critic Richard Howard once called it “the worst thing to have happened to poetry since the advent of the camera and the internal combustion engine,” two contraptions that distanced us from the beauty and rhythms of the earth), I thought I’d share some reflections on how to read a poem, whenever and however often you read one.

The following essay appears as the prologue in my book, Field Notes on Language on Kinship. My ideas (in the essay and in the book) are informed to a great degree by Patricia’s thinking on language and were sparked by her gorgeous poem “Introduction to the Mysteries (or How to Read a Poem).” (Listen to Laura’s stunning performance of Patricia’s poem here.)

* * *

Notes on How to Read a Poem

Some years ago during an undergraduate literature course, a classmate confessed the first time our reading assignment included some poems that “Interpreting poetry is not my forte.” The student’s confession still catches my ear. I hear her/him repeating it poetically in my mind, giving it a lyric ring that comes out more when I write the sentence as if writing a poem, splitting the line after syllable seven:

    Interpreting poetry
    is not my forte.


Science fiction “invested” in Mormonism:

4.2.14 | | 28 comments


Once again, Dr Hales’s “ignorance” of science fiction has lost him some ethos among the AML crowd and so, now that he’s done dissertation-writing, I think it’s high time we get him some reading.

So here’s the challenge: using Enid’s definition of Mormon literature, suggest five science-fictions that meet your interpretation of her criteria.

Enid Seems to Allow for Science Fiction

In the comments section, I will ask that you either provide your own list of five science-fictions Scott should read or helpful commentary on others’ lists. Ideally, by the end of the comments section we’ll have consensus on what he should read. Although, pause for hilarious laughter, I don’t think we’ll really be able to do that.

Theric’s Five Suggestions for Science Fiction Invested in Mormonism more