What Should Mormons Know About Mormon Culture?

6.9.08 | | 34 comments
Sor Juana by Miguel Cabrera.

Last week on the NPR radio program On The Media, in a segment titled “Vanishing Reviews,” I heard a great story from Steve Wasserman, a past editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review. It seems that Wasserman had been told by Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes that his ignorance of an early Mexican writer and Saint, Sor Juana de la Cruz, would be, in the Spanish-speaking world, “as if you said the word Shakespeare and got a blank stare.”

So, when Penguin Classics came out with an English translation of the works of Sor Juana de la Cruz, Wasserman decided to feature the author on the front page of the Book Review. But his American-educated superiors at the Times objected saying “Sor Juana who?” Wasserman then carried the mockup of the issue into the executive lunchroom and sat it on the table while he ordered lunch. There, a Mexican-born waiter noticed it, and exclaimed: “Sor Juana!” Wasserman asked, “You know who this is?” “Yes,” the waiter replied, “every school child in Mexico knows Sor Juana de la Cruz.”

Wasserman won the day and the issue was published and gained a flood of reader response. It seems one third of the Times’ audience speaks Spanish as their native language. The responses acclaimed the Times for finally recognizing their culture.

Now, I have a couple of questions about this:

  • First, could you substitute a Mormon writer who is as important to Mormons culturally as Sor Juana de la Cruz is to Mexicans? Is there a writer that fits this bill? Or is it just that you don’t know enough about Mormon literature to know if there is one? *(see my note on this at the end of this post)
  • Second, If there were such a writer featured in a major book-related publication, would most Mormons even know who the writer is?

The point is not who these Mormon writers are — I’m sure I have a good list already. The point is that most Mormons, unlike Mexicans, don’t know their own subculture. They have no idea who the best writers are, or the best musicians or visual artists, or any other aspect of culture, and instead look to the most popular culture from their own lifetimes, because that is the only examples of culture that they do know.

In contrast, almost anyone who has finished High School in the US can recognize (or at least we expect them to be able to name or recognize) at least the ten or more most important or most influential writers of American Literature — writers like Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, etc., etc., etc.

But lets be honest about this. Americans haven’t read enough literature to know that these are the best, or studied American Literary History enough to know that these authors are the most influential. They know because they took the English classes required of everyone who graduates from High School in the U.S. They know because they were told that these are the important writers.

We don’t have this advantage as Mormons. There isn’t any class we are required to take. Except for LDS Doctrine, taught at Church and in Seminary, and LDS History, often taught in the same places, Mormon culture is only taught by example and by word of mouth. Mormons don’t know their greatest writers or musicians or even orators (if nothing else, you would think Mormons would know oration!), because they haven’t been taught!!

I don’t bring this subejct up because its an academic exercise — a game to decide what is important in Mormon culture (although I think reaching a consensus about what is important is useful). Nor am I trying to condemn popular Mormon culture. Nor am I even suggesting that the Church teach Mormon literature or culture in Church or in Seminary.

I am pointing out that cultural awareness doesn’t happen by neglect. The schools in the U.S. and in most countries in the world decide on a minimum level of cultural knowledge, and they teach it to everyone (and sometimes it is actually absorbed <GRIN>). For a Mormon culture to become a significant part of the lives of Mormons, a basic level of knowledge needs to be agreed on, and some mechanism for transmitting that knowledge to other Mormons must exist.

Come to think of it, I think I addressed this issue before, at least in part, in my post on The Canon of Mormon Literature. But I’m going farther here. I don’t necessarily want to know specific works, nor do I want to restrict this question to literature.

What I want to know is, what should be the basic knowledge that every Mormon should know about Mormon culture?

Or, to put it another way, if you could teach a year long course on Mormon culture in Seminary to every Mormon student, what would be in the course? What are the basics that we all need to know?

I realize that this question might be a bit unfair. It might be presumptuous to assume that we know enough about Mormon culture to know what should be taught. (In fact, I know that I don’t know enough about many areas of Mormon culture to make suggestions in those areas). But many readers of A Motley Vision do have a good grounding in some area of Mormon culture. And I think by starting with what we know, we might figure out how to find information in the areas where we don’t have the knowledge we need. And, we are talking about information assuming a High School education. The depth of knowledge doesn’t need to be high.

So, what should we include?

* I actually think there are some candidates who might fit this bill, depending on how you see it. Even if you exclude scriptural writings (i.e., Joseph Smith) and doctrinal works, there are candidates like Eliza R. Snow, Nephi Anderson and Virginia Sorenson who have had some cultural impact — to say nothing of several current writers (Orson Scott Card, Gerald Lund, etc.) who have had significant impact within Mormon culture). And then there are a host of good writers who have had little impact until now, but who might have significant impact if their works were taught as part of Mormon culture.

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34 comments: “What Should Mormons Know About Mormon Culture?

  1. Researcher

    Very nice post; interesting questions. Sorry I don’t have any answers for you!

    Just a few ramblings. Perhaps when Mormonism has sufficient population and duration the great classic authors will appear. I’m not saying that there are not great minor artists and authors in Mormonism, but it would be hard to make a case for great major figures like your top ten American authors.

    But there is hope. World class authors started showing up with some regularity in the United States when the population had been on the continent for around 200 years. Sor Juana began writing about 200 years after the Spanish conquests began.

    We’re coming up on 200 years from the establishment of the church. Perhaps the first great world-class Mormon author who will memorialize Mormonism like Faulkner memorialized the South sat in Primary yesterday singing, “Jesus Wants Me For a Sunbeam.”

  2. Kent Larsen Post author

    Researcher, while I appreciate the point, and I agree that great authors will eventually appear among Mormons, that isn’t really the point. We’re looking here to figure out what existing writers Mormons should know about, simply because they are important to the bit of Mormon culture we’ve attained so far.

    Most cultures, regardless of how small the culture is and how unimportant their writers appear on the world stage, have some figures that they teach their children are important to know about.

    For example, I know something about the culture of Mozambique. The most important writer Mozambique has produced to date is probably João Craverinha. (I couldn’t even find a good page in English on Craverinha to link to!! I’ll have to fix that.) I’m quite certain that most people in the US have never heard of Craverinha. But that doesn’t change the fact that something about his work is taught in Mozambique’s schools. You may not thing he is an important writer, but still he is taught in Mozambique’s schools.

    What is important here is not how important the writer is to the world, but how important the writer or other cultural icon (be it person, place, thing, book, film, etc.) is to the relevant culture.

    For the purpose of this question, I don’t care if the author is good in the eyes of the world, or popular or successful. I do want to know if the author is important in some way for Mormon culture – that the person be someone we want our kids to know about, even if their writing doesn’t meet some worldwide definition of what is important.

  3. Larry Ogan

    or even orators (if nothing else, you would think Mormons would know oration!)

    Okay I will start.

    Neal A. Maxwell’s talks used to blow me out of the water. When he spoke the line at one of the General Conferences, “God lives in the Eternal now,” I almost fell out of my chair. That may be the best discription of the nature of God I have ever heard or read.

  4. Sam B.

    Kent,
    One problem is, your examples are of national culture. True, I may not know Mexican or Mozambican authors, but they can be taught in national schools.

    Although at one point we did, we no longer have a geographic center. Utah, sure; I lived there for four years of college. My wife lived there for 2 months of the MTC. It’s not exactly a compelling pull.

    Because we’re not educated in Mormon schools, and because “Mormon literature” is not recognized in most curricula (heck, we didn’t even do Western literature in my California high school), I think it is unlikely that Mormon literature will become as well-known to us (as a religious group) as Mexican literature is known to Mexicans (as a national group, educated within the nation).

    In a sense, the schools function as arbiters of national taste/importance. I don’t know that in Mormonism we have any such arbiter–I’m not a big fan of poetry/literature that I hear about in church, and the good Mormon stuff I know about I do not hear about in church. (Okay, since I’m in Primary, I don’t hear much good or bad lit mentioned in church, but that’s kind of sideways to any point I have.)

  5. Dave

    Well, everyone knows that Steve Young, Donnie and Marie, and Mitt Romney are Mormons. But fewer Mormons know of the more literary types on your list. Two proposals: (1) publish a Dictionary of Mormon Cultural Literacy (think People of Paradox for the masses) and get Deseret Book to stock it (miracles do occur); and (2) get Deseret to publish a Mormon literary classics reprint series, certainly something they owe the Mormon reading public to atone for all the fictional drivel they push.

  6. Kent Larsen Post author

    Larry:

    Thanks. This is exactly the kind of suggestion that I was looking for.

    And I agree that Oratory should be high on the list of what is taught.

    The lone attempt at putting together a literary anthology that we have in Mormon culture (Cracroft and Lambert’s A Believing People: Literature of the Latter-day Saints – now out of print, but easily available used) does include oratory as one of its main categories.

    Unfortunately, in addition to being out-of-print, “A Believing People” is written for a college audience, and is probably overkill for most Mormons who haven’t studied literature on a college level.

    IMO, we need to define the basics for something more popular, something on a High School level.

  7. Kent Larsen Post author

    SamB., Dave:

    Apparently I didn’t make it clear enough that the issue of how to get the knowledge to Mormons was beyond the scope of this post!!

    You are right, these are important issues. Comparing a subculture like Mormon culture to a national culture, which does have arbiters/educational institutions is somewhat unfair. But I suspect that religious cultures are a somewhat different animal, at least when they cross cultures like Mormonism has now done. Instead of a single subculture operating in the US, we now have or are rapidly approaching multiple subcultures of many national cultures. That has the possibility of destroying whatever culture has developed, unless some communication across the various Mormon subcultures develops. That communication needs to include the kind of education I’m talking about.

    How will it be disseminated? that remains to be seen. I’ll ask about it in a future post.

    But let me respond to Dave’s suggestions:

    1) While I like the idea (and I have it on my list of potential projects), I don’t think it fits the bill here. A Dictionary of Mormon Cultural Literacy will be by its very name too comprehensive — and likely to be subsumed by a wiki-style website or the collection of Mormon Culture articles on Wikipedia (if they ever become comprehensive enough).

    2) Consider your hand slapped for this suggestion. You haven’t been paying attention to our posts here, have you? Deseret Book would laugh you out of their offices with that suggestion. And even if they did decide to do something like it, they would likely pervert it into another work focused on exactly the Wasatch-Front culture that most of us want to get away from!

    Please, folks, let’s first talk about what should be covered in a good overview of Mormon culture. We’ll get to exploring how to disseminate it later.

  8. Th.

    .

    I’ve been thinking about doing a POD reissuing of classics in nice hardback editions and cheap paperbacks. The problem is Kent’s though: what to choose? Eventually, of course, everything could be available. But now? I think starting with doctrinal classics (BH Roberts, Orson Pratt, etc) would be the most financially sensible place to start.

    If anyone wants to steal my idea, I welcome the competition. Or I might be willing to help edit.

    (The On the Media story was great, wasn’t it? As was the whole show that week.)

  9. Laura H. Craner

    Having spent the last few years cruising through as much LDS lit as I can find, I have a few suggestions:

    1. Oratory: Because of General conference and our own efforts at giving talks, this is the literature every LDS person comes in contact with so it should occupy a pretty important place in teaching. Neal A. Maxwell–of course! Probably, Spencer W. Kimball (all the older members in my ward are constantly quoting him). But also definitely President Benson’s talks on Pride and the Book of Mormon–especially the one where we all got chastised for not reading it enough.

    2. Personal Essay/Memoir: this is another area where LDS cultural naturally pushes its readers. There are so many to choose from and I haven’t read enough in this genre to really know, but a couple that have made an impression on me are Virginia Sorenson’s Where Nothing is Long Ago and Carol Lynn Pearson’s Goodbye, I Love You. I’m sure there are others and I hope someone will put them up here because I want to know what I should ILL.

    3. Fiction–Because this is a such a comfortable area for so many LDS readers ficiton should also be taught. However, the category is too unwieldy to cover in the comments. . .although I do think everyone should know that the basic idea for Saturday’s Warrior was written by Nephi Anderson way before the 1970s.

    4. Poetry is another place I think LDS readers are more comfortable than they are willing to admit or maybe even know. I say this because of our hymns. We all sing them–which is not necessarily a cognitive poetic experience but their language seeps into our minds on some level. And even occasionally we read the hymns as poems in our classes and activities. If LDS poetry were to be taught by starting with hymns and then moving to some of the more difficult and modern texts, it might just be palatable. As for authors, William Clayton and Eliza Snow come to mind. Carol Lynn Pearson is sort of the Maya Angelou of Mormons. . . I don’t know. Again, I don’t have enough knowledge to know who else to recommend so I look forward to someone filling in the gaps.

    5. I also think some sort of background in drama should be provided since we are such a pageant-happy people, but I wouldn’t know where to start with that one either.

  10. Kent Larsen Post author

    Great suggestions Laura.

    Just so you know, the Nephi Anderson title is Added Upon, which was first published in 1898. Except for a brief period after Deseret Book dropped it following its acquisition of Bookcraft, Added Upon has never been out-of-print.

    Unfortunately, Added Upon is probably Anderson’s worst work. Try Dorian instead — unless you want to catch the cultural significance of the first book.

    Does anyone have suggestions outside of literature? Visual art? Music? Dance?

  11. Laura H. Craner

    Kent–I never felt Added Upon was particularly well written, I just thought it should be included since that type of story seems to be the central conceit of LDS fiction. I’ll have to see about getting Dorian. . .

  12. Kent Larsen Post author

    Laura – Yeah, I think I fell asleep multiple times trying to get through those middle chapters.

    Its one of those books that could actually be helped by a critical edition (yes, its in the works).

  13. Th.

    .

    Visual art: Friberg of course. Minerva Teichert would be a must. CCA Christiansen (did I get the initials right?).

    My ward library has Dorian and I was intending to read it but I received a free copy of Added Upon and haven’t been able to decide which to read first. This sort of thing happens to me a lot.

  14. Mormon Soprano

    MUSIC is where our real global power lies!

    1. Mack Wilberg: Internationally revered in the music world, especially among choral groups and artists. His arrangements are not only produced prolifically, but performed regularly in nearly every denomination. If you have ever sung in a religious choir of any faith, you have performed at least some of his music. He was recently feted in London with a top awards and his works were performed to sell-out crowds.

    2. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: Internationally known and loved. The songs of Zion, and more importantly the Spirit of Zion has sunk down deep on a weekly basis since 1939 into the hearts of millions year after year listening to the broadcasts. And now with modern media, even more world-wide can be reached. There are more sermons in one of those hymns than found in 100 Sundays.

    3. The Osmonds: ok, ok.. I know we all like to poke fun at them, and it is easy to not take them as “serious” musicians. However, the Osmond family have been and still remain an international Mormon cultural icon. Their music, their ideals and their personas have influenced millions.

    4. Janice Kapp Perry: This woman may very well be the most prolific and influential modern mormon composer of all time – and possibly of all American women composers.

    5. Sally DeFord: Another amazing LDS talent who deserves recognition. She is prolific, and her melodies are beautiful. She freely distributes her music through her website – one can download hundreds of pieces. She has never made any income from her gift.

    6. Gladys Knight: We are all so blessed to get to claim this amazing talent as our own. Granted, the majority of her work and recordings were done when she was not a member. However, her new recordings and Choir are proving to be a powerful musical force! They have already won a Grammy.

    …and the list continues to grow!

  15. Larry Ogan

    I agree that Minerva Teichert is a must. Arnold Friberg I loved as a young boy and now consider him as a great illustrator. Is the criteria “serious” works of art or does commercial popularity also come into play? To bad Carl Bloch was not a Mormon.

    Utah Artists Project has the following artist on its website that I think should be include on the list if important visual artists.

    Mahonri Young was born in Salt Lake City in 1877. He became interested in art as a young boy, and studied in Utah, New York and Paris to achieve national recognition as both a painter and a sculptor. He died in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1957.

    Young studied under J. T. Harwood, Edwin Evans, and John Hafen. His classmates were other young local artists who later rose to prominence, including Lee Greene Richards, Jack Sears, and A. B. Wright. Beginning 1899, Young pursued his studies at the Art Students League in New York under George Bridgeman and Kenyon Cox. He began studies at the Académie Julian in Paris in late 1901. Young trained in both painting and sculpture, but decided that his style was better suited to sculpture.

    Young’s sculptural reputation was twofold—sculptures of laborers and prize fighters and his much larger depictions of frontier heroism. Man With a Pick (1915), Stevedore (1904), Man Sawing (1912), and Right to the Jaw (1926–27) were influenced by the Group of Eight (Ashcan movement) in New York, an early-twentieth-group concerned with social realism. His depictions of frontier heroism were influenced by his pioneer Utah roots. In 1912, he sculpted the Sea Gull monument depicting a central theme in the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In 1947, during his last productive years, Young completed his landmark tribute to the Utah pioneers, the This is the Place monument. His final sculpture, of his grandfather, Brigham Young, was commissioned to appear in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

  16. Kent Larsen Post author

    Larry wrote:

    “Is the criteria ‘serious’ works of art or does commercial popularity also come into play?”

    I think this is a good question. I’m not sure I can or should dictate the answer. But regardless, here’s my opinion:

    There is a balance to be struck here, a tension between popularity and quality, and between the recent and what has proven cultural importance. Many of the suggestions made so far (Mack Wilberg, Sally DeFord, Janice Kapp Perry, Carol Lynn Pearson, perhaps even Neal Maxwell), seem too recent and unproven to me. (My opinion, not gospel, please tell me why you disagree, if you do).

    I’m not sure how to strike that balance exactly. Its one of those balances that is often political and sensitive, and I’m afraid that I would probably at least annoy some people in trying to make the balance.

    As for Mahonri Young, you are right (you did know about Mahonri before this, right?). IMO he is one of those must-know figures in Mormon culture.

  17. Th.

    .

    Yeah, I was thinking about Young and Fairbanks this morning–we haven’t talked sculptors at all.

    I’m with Kent on the recent thing. I avoided more recent names for the exact reasons he mentioned. All the same, knowing where we came from is of limited use if we don’t know where we are.

  18. Anneke Majors

    I’m uncomfortable with any attempt to define “Mormon Culture” that then limits that culture to “Anglophone Mormon Culture.” I realize that most of the time English is all we’ve got, but I don’t think we can place it in the canon until it’s available to all nations, tongues and peoples.

    With that said, the truly universal Mormon Culture is that which is well-known and accessible to Saints all over the world: Neal A. Maxwell, Spencer W. Kimball, James E. Talmage, Bruce R. McConkie.

    And here’s a tangential thought – I was talking to a friend of mine about the intellectual bias that exists, even in innocent amounts, against President Monson. We love & appreciate President Monson, but both I an this friend of mine have felt that his speeches and books are rather simplistic and didactic. I feel a lot more attuned to President Eyring – he seems to speak on my level. What do we do when we feel like the Prophet isn’t speaking to us on the intellectual level we (pridefully?) think he should? This is where my friend pointed out the importance of a leader for a worldwide church. She served her mission in Anaheim, California, and worked with a lot of minorities and immigrants. Many of the people she taught simply adored President Monson. The simple yet profound metaphor, the reliance on easily-translatable personal stories, the inclusion of universal types and symbols, though simplistic, speak to many in the church who don’t have an academic background. Rather than being a mediocre scholar, as I had sometimes felt, President Monson is an orator and writer who knows how to communicate across cultural and educational boundaries.

    This really made me re-evaluate what the Library of Zion will have in stock. As much as I enjoy Carol Lynn Pearson, maybe it will be a little more focused on the Primary songs. As much as I enjoy reading Arthur Henry King, maybe the most popular books checked out will be the collected teachings of Joseph B. Wirthlin. The culture of the church is not unacademic, but it’s not elitist either, and needs to be accessible to all.

  19. Bradly Baird

    Interesting ideas presented in your post, Kent. Since becoming an active part of the LDS Faith some 20 years ago, I have long wondered about and watched its culture very closely; paying particular attention to the emergence of LDS artists, writers, intellectuals, attitudes in the political arena, belief structures, and habits.

    I definitely agree that there is a lot of great work out there and that we – as a culture – are beginning to produce some really terrific works that express who we are.

    My approach to your initial question, though, is a little bit different. If I were planning a class on Mormon culture, I would not begin with the who of the culture. Rather, I would structure the course based on emergent cultural themes: currents, forces, ideas, practices, habits, and beliefs that have emerged throughout our short little history as a faith.

    Then, based on these cultural themes, I would begin to identify specific works (art, lit, music, etc.) that formally express and illustrate the thematics I want people to know about and understand. This is the point, then, where I begin to choose amongst the Mack Wilbergs and LeRoy Robertsons of our culture.
    For example, does Wilberg’s Requiem or LeRoy Robertson’s Book of Mormon Oratorio illustrate a key emergent theme of our culture?

    Referring to names mentioned in previous posts, Mack Wilberg expresses one aspect of who we are, Janice Kapp Perry another, Carol Lynn Pearson another, Virginia Sorenson another, and so on. The trick is to pick carefully amongst all of the people doing this kind work so that the student receives a balanced, unbiased, picture of the culture.

    I always get nervous when people start to debate influence or importance, and especially when they start to rank who is the greatest in a pantheon of unbelievably talented people. Placing value judgements on cultural expressions is a slippery slope and can keep the student from a real understanding of a culture. Not to mention the fact that those often considered the “greatest” or “most important” are not necessarily the most representative of a particular culture.

    So, for me the topics to cover include our foundations, our history, our physical geography, our public expressions of faith, our private expressions of faith, our food, our familial structures, our genealogical interests, our mysticism, our built environment, our societal structure, and our discourse (public and private). Along the way, then, ensuring that each of these topics is illustrated by the artists, writers, dancers, composers, etc. who dedicate their lives to expressing and interpreting the culture.

    Gosh, talking about it makes me want to write the book or teach the class. But, I do hope that my post answers the question you asked in your first post, “What I want to know is, what should be the basic knowledge that every Mormon should know about Mormon culture?”

    As a final note, I would like to take issue with Mormon Soprano who expressed a desire that Janice Kapp Perry is the most “prolific” of any American woman composer. I would gently suggest that she might not even be close to the most prolific. Take a look at the pop music world where you have song writers like Dolly Parton who have composed something on the order of 4000 songs, or female “classical” composers like Amy Beach or Ellen Taaffe Zwilich whose opus numbers extend into the hundreds. Perry is a current in our culture – no doubt – but I would suggest that enthusiasm give way to factual information, please.

  20. Larry Ogan

    I just started reading “People of Paradox” by Terryl Givens. I believe some of the background information that Bradly is looking for is in the beginning chapters.

    Thank you for the reminder Anneke. “The culture of the church is not unacademic, but it’s not elitist either, and needs to be accessible to all.” I do try to keep that in mind but sometimes find myself in the elitist mold which then leads to a lesson in humility.

  21. Kent Larsen Post author

    Anneke wrote:

    “I’m uncomfortable with any attempt to define “Mormon Culture” that then limits that culture to “Anglophone Mormon Culture.” I realize that most of the time English is all we’ve got, but I don’t think we can place it in the canon until it’s available to all nations, tongues and peoples.”

    I agree with the sentiment, Anneke. And I’m actually working on changing that (see http://www.mormontranslation.com).But without some kind of suggestion, at least, as to what cultural elements are important or worth transferring to other cultures, its hard to prioritize what to work on. (and all kinds of translating or transferring of cultural goods are expensive to do well).

    “With that said, the truly universal Mormon Culture is that which is well-known and accessible to Saints all over the world: Neal A. Maxwell, Spencer W. Kimball, James E. Talmage, Bruce R. McConkie.”

    I think that if you limit this to just those elements that are truly universal, you only end up with those elements that have been chosen by the Church as worthy of being universal. Some entire cultural areas — fiction, all forms of Modern art, Opera, etc., will simply not be included. AND, perhaps worst of all, art is reduced to a didactic purpose, and becomes something that communicates doctrine, not beauty.

    “This really made me re-evaluate what the Library of Zion will have in stock.”

    The “Library of Zion” is not, I don’t think, what we’re talking about. Library sounds to me more like a canon — everything. I’m more interested in this post in what the important, “must have” bits are- – the things we want to transmit to high school kids — the bits that everyone should know.

    “As much as I enjoy Carol Lynn Pearson, maybe it will be a little more focused on the Primary songs. As much as I enjoy reading Arthur Henry King, maybe the most popular books checked out will be the collected teachings of Joseph B. Wirthlin.”

    Are you saying that its OK to leave out women’s poetry in favor of lyrics to children’s songs? Or that doctrine is more valuable than essays? IMO, the kind of thing I’m envisioning would be remiss if it left out ANY of these!! I don’t see why we have to leave out entire areas of Mormon culture just because they aren’t universal. If any thing, nominating some cultural work as important should mean that it is worth making universal!!

    “The culture of the church is not unacademic, but it’s not elitist either, and needs to be accessible to all.”

    I don’t disagree. I just think that the order is backwards. First decide what is important, and then make it accessible to all.

    AND, I should add, that important cultural products needs to move in all directions. We need to find the important cultural elements in ALL parts of the Church, all languages, countries and cultures, and make them accessible to all.

  22. Anneke Majors

    I’m glad you added that last paragraph. That is one of my main points, though rather outside of the scope of your original question. I don’t see so much an urgent need to translate all kinds of English Mormon art in order to disseminate it – I’d rather see us encouraging the arts in their native cultures.

    I have a CD given to me by a sister in my ward in Yokohama – she mixes music professionally, and in her spare times helps some local LDS musicians record and mix their original work. The CD is a collection of original songs – not hymns, but not pop, more akin to seminary soundtrack-type music – written and sung by Japanese church members. I personally think it’s a little trite and outside of my personal taste, but I cherish it as the accomplishment it represents.

    There’s certainly not an LDS market in Japan – I don’t think there’s really much of a market outside of the artificially encouraged Utah book chains. But I don’t think that should really hamper the development of good art. The good artists will develop within their own native cultures and markets. Orson Scott Card, for example, does well in science fiction circles merely on his own merit. His work is very well translated, and not because a team of beneficent Mormon scholars saw to it. Rather, his work sold, and publishers had it translated.

    I’m a little pessimistic on the possibility of identifying the Mormon Sor Juanas because frankly, I don’t think we’ve seen that many of them yet. If there were that quality of work being produced, no one would need to bring it to our attention.

  23. Kent Larsen Post author

    Anneke wrote:
    “I don’t see so much an urgent need to translate all kinds of English Mormon art in order to disseminate it – I’d rather see us encouraging the arts in their native cultures.”

    Absolutely right!! I’ve been saying the same thing for the past few years. In fact, in terms of publishing (as I point out in my recent post Could the US Support a Spanish-language LDS Market Alone? translation is so expensive that it requires a much larger market than materials that aren’t translated — to say nothing of the fact that the resulting work often doesn’t fit the local culture. [I’ve already run into this problem working on a translation of Parley P. Pratt’s Dialogue of Joseph Smith and the Devil — One Spanish-speaker I had review the Spanish translation objected to the work referring to the Devil as “Your Majesty,” among other issues.

    But, as the Brazilians say, Quem não tem cão, caça com gato (If you don’t have a dog, hunt with a cat!) I think there are efforts, like the sister in Yokohama, in other countries to create cultural works. But thereare some impediments, so translations do have a role to fill, if nothing else simply because there are some elements that need to be made universal.

    I guess that’s what this post is all about — trying to discover what items should be universal and deserve the translation from one culture to the others.

    There may not be a market in Japan yet. But from what I understand, at least one attempt (a book publisher) has been made to jumpstart that market. [FWIW, I just looked at the numbers and I think the potential LDS market in Japan - adjusting for inactivity rates and disposible income -- is slightly smaller than the Spanish-speaking LDS market in the US. But it doesn't benefit from the proximity to the center of Mormon culture in Utah and the already developed US-based distribution, which the Spanish-speaking LDS market in the US can benefit from. So, I think getting an LDS market started in Japan is much more difficult.]

    As for Mormon “Sor Juanas,” I suspect you are assuming that the quality needs to be something of that level. Instead of looking at the question with the quality standards of the worldwide market for literature and other culture, look at it in terms of what is important for Mormons. I don’t think that Added Upon is great literature, but I think that the fact it stayed in print for over 100 years demonstrates that it has a certain importance for Mormon culture.

  24. Scott L. Peterson

    Re: the note at the end of your article – what about Brandon Sanderson? I imagine that you already know that he’s been asked to finish what is perhaps the most famous fantasy series of the past 15-20 years: the late Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, which has sold over 30 million copies.

  25. Kent Larsen Post author

    Scott:

    Brandon certainly could be on the list. Like most current writers the question becomes one of whether enough time has passed to judge the importance of his contribution.

    I certainly don’t claim to know enough to really judge. It would be nice to come up with a way to judge consensus, however.

  26. Trevor Banks

    So much great stuff here from every one of the comments. I’ve read and re read every comment. really amazing.

    the thing that’s got me the most is Larry’s aside:
    “To bad Carl Bloch was not a Mormon.”

    This question about what are the ‘must-haves’ for Mormon culture is Carl Dreyer’s films. I cannot imagine not watching ‘Ordet’ at least once a year with my family. It seems far more ‘Mormon’ than anything else yet produced.

    What I’m saying is that that film got much of our doctrine right where no other filmmaker has even come close. I know that this is outside the reach of this discussion, but I wonder if it should be.

    as per Anneke’s mention of President Monson: I’ll admit to have had similar sentiments on the topic, but this last conference was world-changing in that sense. That no longer is the same man. Those of us who watched conference witnessed a miracle in the purest sense of the word. Still the orator, but he was strengthened, and he’s not the man he once was. I’d just like to add that we have yet to see what that man is capable of.

    but I’d also like to add a counter to Anneke’s suggestion: “The culture of the church is not unacademic, but it’s not elitist either, and needs to be accessible to all.”

    Scripture requires us to cast none out of our Sacrament meetings, but that is the only such meeting. In most places there are Gospel Principles classes and Gospel Doctrine Classes. There are Relief Society Meetings and Priesthood Meetings. Only one third of our meetings is all inclusive, while two thirds requires greater focus, and therefore exclusion to some degree. It cannot be accessible to all. This, of course, is not even mentioning Ward councils and presidency meetings, Family Home evenings, etc. I’m just saying that appealing to all is NOT a unilateral decree of LDS theology in practice or principle.

    as for what every Mormon should know: I’ve said a lot about LOW, but I’ll say it again. Rarely have I seen LDS cosmology been so perfectly expressed than in some of their songs. Not for Sacrament meetings, but definitely for Family Home evenings.

    And I’ll admit that I was shocked at Mack Wilberg’s conducting and modesty this conference, but as a rule, I would place Janice Kapp Perry in the “must have” and Mack Wilberg’s works in the “must not have” piles.

  27. Th.

    .

    So you all know: Dorian is excellent. It’s a shame Added Upon‘s fame has erased NA’s other books from our collective memory because this one is fantastic. Am I too late to be the first to call him the Mormon Jane Austen?

  28. Wm Morris

    Thanks for the update, Theric. So. Where can the rest of us who don’t have a funky ward library get our hands on Dorian?

  29. Th.

    .

    Right, that’s how I’ve been referencing it (here and here — the latter offers an interesting definition of art from NA well worth your consideration). Someone also threw together a slapjob for sell on Amazon, but I doubt its excellence. (Not that PG is that pretty.)

    Incidentally, here are my comments on Added Upon. When my review of Dorian posts, I’ll add a link to that as well.

    And in regards to where to find Dorian, what about his other books? PG only has three. What if I want to read Romance of a Missionary?

  30. Th.

    .

    (I should probably add that if you follow the link with an Andersonian definition of art, you’ll need to scroll waaay down to find it.)

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