Why we need not worry about the Great Mormon Novel

6.13.09 | | 74 comments

Although Jerry Johnston’s column is provocative, and Dallas’ post (salty language warning) and Shawn’s AMV post in reply are very interesting, I have to admit a bit of weariness over this whole Great Mormon Novel trope. As Shawn points out, the whole idea that Mormons can’t produce great literature goes way back. It’s always a good one to bring up when you want to stir up debate, and it’s particularly delicious in the Mormon context (for let’s be clear — the whole idea that of whether a people can or can not produce literary genius is by no means unique to Mormonism) because you have the excommunication thing to work with.

Here’s why the whole idea is completely misguided:

1. The Great American Novel idea is dead. It’s worn out cliche that barely anybody has the energy for anymore and for Mormons to take up the idea is for us to prove yet again our status as belated moderns. And to play in to the discourse of the literary elites, of the critics and academics and editors and book reviewers who trot out the trope every so often simply to generate energy for their own decrepit ideas is to bow to an authority that Mormons shouldn’t and don’t need to acknowledge. No one is going to tell me what I should be worrying about when it comes to the production of Mormon narrative art.

2. The novel itself is almost dead. Or to restate: the novel as the great documenter and supporter of bourgeois life, as the polyphonic captivator of discourse in text and the great indoctrinator in to the norms of the emergence of the modern, democratic state is dead. For anything to be “the” and “Great” it would have to unify and receive acclaim (even if it’s years after it was published) from most of society or at least most of reading society. I don’t know that novels can do that anymore. As I have mentioned in the past, if there is going to be a “Great Work of Mormon Narrative Art” it’s more likely to be a film, game, graphic novel, or some new or hybrid form (perhaps one with collaborative authors/creators) that those of us with a literary bent may misunderstand or miss out on entirely.

3. We don’t and won’t and can’t know genius. A few of us perhaps can (or can get in early enough in the game as fans to boast about it after the fact). But genius is rare and making any claims about it (and one would have to be a literary genius in order to write the Great Mormon Novel) is a sucker’s game. Who could have predicted a lawyer working for an insurance company from a middle-class background could do what Kafka did? Or that one of the greatest works of literary fiction of the 20th century (and one of the greatest works of Christian fiction ever) would be secretly written by a depressed Russian playwright and former doctor and not emerge until a quarter of a century after his death as The Master and Margarita did? Or that two of the best sensual poets of the 19th century would be a Jesuit priest and a reclusive spinster? I could go on, but I think you get my point.

4. The whole excommunication thing is simply stupid. I would submit that since we can’t predict what form a genius work of Mormon art would take, we can’t predict who the creator is going to be, nor how the LDS Church is going to react, nor how the broader American society is going to react. And even if we want to extrapolate future returns from past results, well, Orson Scott Card’s work is scandalous, absolutely scandalous if you really look closely at it, and as far as I know he’s kept his membership intact (and in spite of the letters that I’m pretty sure have been sent in to the Church Office Building). What’s worse, I think the whole excommunication thing is an unnecessary distraction a way for LDS fiction folks to justify non-literariness and a way for Mormon fiction folks to justify disaffection with the institutional church and a way for non-Mormons to put us in a box.

5. This trope also needs to be ignored because it distracts from the minor victories in Mormon narrative art. The major frustration I have had with the Mormon arts/studies (and I share some blame here) community over my 10 years in it is how much excellent, praiseworthy work comes out with very little recognition. We’re good at engaging in the Big Discussions; we’re not so good at digging in to the minor lovely moments here and there that capture something cool or interesting or breathtaking or tragic or comic about Mormon doctrine, practice, culture and life. Everybody wants to be a theorist or a Svengali or a critic; nobody wants to be a (literary) critic. And there’s no shame in being a minor literature. Wear it like a badge because in this post-modern world, everybody is minor.

6. Don’t be distracted by Orson F. Whitney. Whitney’s pseudo-prophecy is neither a true prediction nor a goal to be aimed for. It’s a piece of post-Romantic wishful thinking and belated modern political positioning. Now, this is not to dismiss Whitney. I think that he is a fantastic, seminal Mormon writer whose works need to be paid more attention to. And yet I would submit that most people who invoke him only know him by that one quote or at most that one essay the quote came from.

7. And finally, and I’ve said this before but it can not be repeated enough, Mormonism doesn’t need a literary genius. It already has one. His name is Joseph Smith. Yes, I am aware that there are all sorts of complications that arise from this claim. Isn’t that cool? It leaves open a hundred avenues for exploration through narrative art. Could you imagine being saddled with a Shakespeare or Homer or a Dante or Milton or a Tolstoy or an Eminescu or a Cavafy or a Neruda, etc.? Joseph Smith has given Mormon artists a great gift — he has removed the need for a writer to be a foundational genius, but did so without creating “great narrative art.” We don’t have to worry about the anxiety of influence because our influencer provides amazing bits of language and huge grand narratives, but he didn’t set a language and a mode of writing as solidly as “pure” literary geniuses did. And yet he didn’t leave us without anything to work with. I have read Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard (it’s a long story — but the short version is a non-Scientologist friend gave it to me as a graduation gift) and I gotta say that it’s a big relief not having to work within that literary tradition. Joseph Smith as our founding genius creates a pretty sweet space for us, and I wonder some times if we’ve been so assimilated by American culture that we forget how much there really is to work with and how its inherent messiness (cause the Prophet’s literary and theological legacy is messy) cries out for a multitude of dramatizations and interpretations. I mean, how cool is that? Would you trade it for some pallid suburban or pseudo-urban white middle/upper class 21st American literary legacy? I wouldn’t. And yet so often we do.

Now, of course, Mormon creators of narrative art may feel part of these other literary traditions. That’s fine. And I do. But I also say that a little Joseph Smith-style iconoclasm in the face of such traditions may be in order for some of us.

So I have no worries about this whole Great Mormon Novel thing. I suggest you drop them too. The opportunity to create Mormon narratives, Mormon aesthetics, Mormon discourses, Mormon criticism is the only “great” thing we need to worry about. And I would submit that should there some day be a great Mormon artist, a true genius, the best thing we can do is cut and polish a bunch of minor gems so that he or she will have some glows and radiances to play off of.

74 comments: “Why we need not worry about the Great Mormon Novel

  1. Tyler

    Excellent and very non-reactionary post, Wm. I especially like the concluding five paragraphs where you essentially suggest that we Mormons need to get over our greatness complex and focus on the small and simple things Mormon narrative has done/is doing/can and will do.

    If only everyone would take your sage advice…

    Seriously.

  2. Jonathan Langford

    Interesting thoughts.

    The only point I would perhaps dispute is the “deadness” of the novel. The minute you start looking at the literature of groups that are still seeking to establish identity (such as African Americans), you start seeing more traditional narrative forms – including novels. I suspect the same is true of gay literature, though I’m unsure.

    In short, I’m not sure we live in a postmodern literary age, so much as we live in an age where those working in the center have gotten bored – and where the interesting things are largely happening on the margins. Which, when you think about it, provides an opportunity for Mormon literature…

    So: Has anyone written a paper yet on Wikipedia as the great 21st century American novel?

  3. Karen Gowen

    What’s literary? What’s great? What’s Mormon? It’s all so random, just words thrown out that everyone has different definitions of. Still, this is one of the most interesting discussions I’ve read on AMV. I wish there were more comments. Here’s a question: Does anyone have an example of what THEY consider the great Mormon novel? I know I don’t.

  4. Th.

    .

    Man am I in a weird position. I’ve rarely been so zeitgeist, but I can’t tell anyone about it . . . .

    pointbypoint:

    1. The GAN is as dead as the GMN has always been. The real contenders for GAN (eg, Huck Finn) earn contention by being widely read a hundred years later. If there will be a legitimate GMN discussion, it can take place before the 2080s. (Doesn’t mean it’s not fun to talk about though.)

    2. Speaking of Twain, the death of the novel has been greatly exaggerated. The ebook revolution is already saving it. Mark my words. Which is not to suggest that the greatest Mormon narratives will thus be novels. Who knows what they’ll be? I expect greatness in all genres.

    3. Can we see genius upon its release? Of course not. Any sense of history will tell us that it’s impossible to recognize in the moment. It’s just one more voice. Only passing decades can identify genius. Time is the greatest judge.

    4. Amen. People who blather about excommunication have gotten on the wrong boat.

    5. Buy The Fob Bible!

    6. On top of that, I really really have no interest in being Milton, thank you very much.

    7. I had never really thought about it in these terms. I hope you’ll write more about this in the future.

  5. Dallas Robbins

    Wm, all excellent points. I would only take exception to point #2, that the novel …. is dead. I think such an idea is about cliche as the idea of the great American novel itself. But I think that your reasons why there will not be a great Mormon novel is right on – all reasons which Johnston failed to understand and communicate and instead gave us a bunch of circular bs.

    But one thing that I find interesting in all this discussion, is that it tends to focus on the novelist, i.e. the possibility of excommunication, insider vs. outside, etc… I really could care less who the novelist is or isn’t – simply because I have no way of knowing. A novel should stand on only the literary quality within the novel itself and not on the (un)orthodoxy of the novelist.

  6. Eugene

    I think Jerry Johnston has a good point to make, but gets causes and effects mixed up. The Mormon market is so small and so dominated by DB and its clones that any product deemed to be representatively “Mormon”–by its creator or by others–will get caught up in squabbles about whether it is a “true Scotsman” or not, instead of having its actual artistic merits debated. Rather like the “People’s Front” in Life of Brian directing all their venom at the “splitters” rather than at the Romans.

  7. Th.

    .

    The GAN is defined by me as a book that explains America to itself and America to others.

    A GMN will do the same.

    (Also, it will still be widely read after a hundred years.)

  8. Laura Craner

    I have a couple books I think qualify as the Great Mormon Novel (if we could just get people to read them!):

    * The Earthkeepers by Marilyn Brown

    *The Conversion of Jeff Williams by Doug Thayer

    Seriously. Great novels.

  9. Harlow Clark

    “Everybody wants to be a theorist or a Svengali or a critic; nobody wants to be a (literary) critic.”

    I want to be both a literary and a literate critic. The back inside flap on the dust jacket of Pauline Kael’s Reeling has this statement by John Leonard, “I care about Miss Kael’s criticism as literature.”

    That’s what I want my criticism to be, literature, Mormon literature, Marxist Mormon literature (Groucho mostly, Harpo is more difficult to convey with words–I love the postage stamp I heard about from one of the former So-vi-et (“Come, Shaun, Shem”) republics celebrating Marx and Lennon).

    I also greatly admire James Thurber’s “The Wings of Henry James” in Lanterns & Lances.

  10. Tyler

    I want to be both a literary and a literate critic. […]

    That’s what I want my criticism to be, literature, Mormon literature,

    Hear, hear, Harlow. I’m in the same boat.

  11. nosurfgirl

    I don’t worry so much about Great Mormon Novels… I’d like to see more creative literature out there, period, that is sold to mainstream LDS society. I’d like to see something in fiction that is more than adventure, comedy, or romance when I walk into Seagull or Deseret Book. We need more Sharon Downing Jarvises and Carol Lynn Pearsons. I don’t think it’s all because of LDS writers, either. I think that the LDS publishers have a somewhat narrow niche of what they are looking for. (of course, this could just be a little bit of angst on my part… recently I had a manuscript finally rejected. Eliza Nevins, the editorial assistant, informed me that it was “strong writing” and the editor who reviewed it loved it, but the marketing department thought that it was too “young-adult” to be salable.)

    Sigh.

    Beating myself over the head with my keyboard.

    All right, vent over.

  12. Th.

    .

    Inability (unwillingness) to sell good books that the editors love is a common rejection. Don’t know whether that will make you feel better or worse….

    Also, fun vocab: Marxian (Groucho, et al) (to distinguish from Marxist meaning Karl).

  13. Th.

    .

    (although maybe i should point out that although marxian is widely used my marxians, marxists claim both terms for themselves)

  14. nosurfgirl

    Th…

    I know. :) It doesn’t make me feel better. The difficult thing with fiction specific to an LDS audience is, you have nowhere else really to go, once you’ve exhausted the main LDS publisheres (which could be numbered on one hand…) except self-publishing, or a publishing company that is basically akin to self-publishing. I’m struggling right now with what I want to do. The LDS market doesn’t seem, to me, like a very fertile place to cast my seeds of creativity into right now. :)

  15. Wm Morris

    In response to the novel is not dead comments:

    The novel is the mode of narrative that I most enjoy and am most comfortable with. It was the main focus of both my undergraduate and graduate careers. It may be something I engage with as a creative writer, as well.

    And, of course, the novel isn’t dead in the sense that there are still plenty of great novels being written and published and even read and there is still more to do with the form.

    However, you’ll note that #2 is stated in socio-historical terms. And I stand by that claim. Yes, as Dallas notes is a cliche. And the cliche is wrong if we’re only talking about the idea that the form itself is dead. That there’s nothing new or worthwhile to do or say with the genre.

    But in the context of the Great American Novel or any Great Novel that is freighted with the national-creating-baggage that the Great Mormon Novel, then, yeah, I don’t we can expect the novel to do that in the way that it once did.

    —–

    In reply to Jonathan’s comment on the novel and African-American literature:

    I think that’s an excellent point about the center vs. the margins. Conversely, though, I have to wonder if the African-American novel as such was more a defining thing for white academics than it was for the culture itself. It seems to me that blues, gospel, jazz, r&b and hip hop have done much more to create African-American identity.

    ——
    sparsile:

    I love the first 3 Alvin books, but I think the series got off track and most especially they lack the writing style to be THE Mormon novel. Of course, that may just be my literary snobbery showing.

    ——
    nosurfgirl:

    I share your pain (well, not personally, because I have yet to exhaust the main venues) and so do a lot of other people around here. I’m pleased you’re trying the DIY route, though. I think that the more we can experiment with this stuff the better chance we have of coming up with some things that work.

  16. Th.

    .

    In reply to Jonathan’s comment on the novel and African-American literature:

    I think that’s an excellent point about the center vs. the margins. Conversely, though, I have to wonder if the African-American novel as such was more a defining thing for white academics than it was for the culture itself. It seems to me that blues, gospel, jazz, r&b and hip hop have done much more to create African-American identity.

    I think the AA novel’s moment may be now, based on the number of Zane and Triple Crown books I see around the high school.

  17. William Morris Post author

    I see them on the bus as well.

    But that begs the question:

    Perhaps the Great Mormon Novel is Gerald Lund’s series or the Rachel Ann Nunes’ Ariana series. Or Twilight.

  18. MoJo

    I think the AA novel’s moment may be now, based on the number of Zane and Triple Crown books I see around the high school.

    I doubt they’re reading Zane because she’s AA. Zane writes erotica.

    I’m pleased you’re trying the DIY route, though.

    Wm., I didn’t see her say she was going to DIY. In fact, she sounded quite dismissive of it.

    Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card is THE Mormon novel.

    I couldn’t disagree more.

  19. William Morris Post author

    MoJo:

    nosurfgirl is recording a novel that she is planning on podcasting.

  20. MoJo

    Oh! Did I miss that? I’m so sorry I misunderstood.

    That’s GREAT!!!

    (Podcasting scares me to death.)

  21. nosurfgirl

    Sorry… didn’t mean to sound dismissive. TO me, DIY is something you should do yourself… not necessarily with any third parties involved. If you’re trying to get a publisher, the point would be that they could market your novel and that you wouldn’t have to pay to have copies printed, would it?

    I’m newish to this. I probably know a lot less than a lot of you do… correct me if I”m wrong.

  22. MoJo

    Well, having come this far with a startup press, I can now say it’s impossible to do this without third-party help (in the form of contract services or freelance help).

    I can flippantly say, “I DIY,” but that’s like saying I remodeled my bathroom except for the electricity and the plumbing. (Um, which, I’m actually supposed to be doing right now because the electrician and plumber have been here and now it’s back in my court.)

    For my books, I need an editor and a DH who does whatever it takes to give me time to write/design/publish.

    For the other book(s), I am *their* “plumber and electrician” and they provide the vision and content to match.

    So, no matter how much I fight against the concept, it’s true that no man is an island.

  23. MoJo

    “Perhaps the Great Mormon Novel is Gerald Lund’s series”

    Sigh.

    Okay, now I lurv you.

  24. Jonathan Langford

    I have to wonder whether “the great American novel” EVER existed, in the sense of being something that actually played a formative social role of the type William seems to be describing. If nothing else, there’s only ever been a relatively small number of fiction readers in America. Was there any novel that ever actually made a big difference in how we as Americans saw ourselves as Americans? In short, are we setting the bar for the “great Mormon novel” too high?

    Just for reference, I’ve decided to pull in here the first paragraph of Wikipedia’s article on the Great American Novel:

    “The ‘Great American Novel’ is the concept of a novel that most perfectly represents the spirit of life in the United States at the time of its writing. It is presumed to be written by an American author who is knowledgeable about the state, culture, and perspective of the common American citizen. It is often considered as the American response to the tradition of the national epic.”

    Based on this definition, probably the best candidate for “great American novel” (in my opinion) is Twain’s Huck Finn, which captured both elements of typical American life and one of the essential American conflicts (individual versus society). It’s also a book that’s been widely enough read to have actually had some possibly impact on American culture – at least American reading culture. And it’s the kind of book that can transform the way you view yourself by making articulate a sense of identity that was already implicit, but that makes you say yes! yes! that’s who I am! (Though it didn’t for me. I disliked Huck, his setting, and the story he inhabited. Probably, though, I disliked them in ways and for reasons that have to do with not really feeling much kinship between myself and frontier American culture.)

    You know, my notion of Wikipedia as the great 21st century American novel is looking more tempting all the time…

  25. Wm Morris

    And DIY never was about one man or woman being an island. It was/is about groups of passionate individuals helping each other out, sharing expertise and tricks, passing on the names of good people to work with, etc.

  26. Wm Morris

    “Was there any novel that ever actually made a big difference in how we as Americans saw ourselves as Americans?”

    Any one novel? Probably not. Although “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” comes close. Your analysis of “Huckleberry Finn” also may be right (I don’t know enough about how it was received in its day to know). However, the role of the novel in the formation of national identity in the 19th century is on fairly solid ground from the scholarship I’ve read (although, of course, these tend to be cultural theorists and literary historians so it’s something that’s definitely in dispute).

    In terms of the small readership for novels — well, see the qualifier “bourgeois” above — but it was definitely a major pop-cultural form in the 19th century in a way that it isn’t now. In particular, the novel played an interesting role in the socialization of men and women in the industrial, consumer America and Europe of the mid-to-late 1900s (c.f. Horatio Alger and courtship novels).

    I’d also say that WWII was the last great world event where people really sought to explain and understand what happened through the novel. Although by then film and popular music was beginning to dominate the scene.

    ——
    “In short, are we setting the bar for the ‘great Mormon novel’ too high?”

    That’s the whole point of this post. There is no need to worry about the great Mormon novel.

  27. Th.

    .

    Was there any novel that ever actually made a big difference in how we as Americans saw ourselves as Americans?

    “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” comes close.

    Also The Jungle, Horatio Alger —- there are a few. Though they might not often get shortlisted as GAN possibilities.

  28. nosurfgirl

    Obviously I need to expand my horizons… I think I’m still wary of “other” options because there are plenty of people out there who would gladly take my money, you know?

    I’d like to know more about your enterprise, mojo.

    :) Glad to find others who have difficulty accepting Lund as the definition or Mormon Literature.

  29. Th.

    .

    DO NOT work with someone who takes your money.

    And, MoJo, re:Zane et al: Oh, I know, I know.

  30. MoJo

    nosurfgirl: B10 Mediaworx

    Take a look around at what we’re about (we have a couple of goals which aren’t explicitly stated). I have a Catholic friend who’s in the middle of a genre-shattering Old Testament-era novel that I can’t wait to get my hands on. A protestant friend is in the middle of a contemporary novel with immortals from the New Testament novel that I’m drooling over.

    Th., re Zane et al. Okay, gotcha. IMO, that falls out of the purview of AA and into… Well, just doesn’t have much to do with AA. *grin*

  31. Th.

    .

    I don’t think you know my students. Last week one (a freshman) asked me, apropos of nuthin and in the middle of class, how often my wife sucks my toes.

    Can I say than in an AMV comment?

    I know it shouldn’t be said in a high school classroom…..

  32. MoJo

    I don’t know if this is worse or better:

    When I was doing my student teaching (12th grade honors English lit), one kid confessed to me that he had just joined a neo-Nazi group b/c his family was so screwed up.

    /tangent

  33. H.Bob

    GMN = The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint, by Brady Udall. That’s all I’ve got to say about that. For now.

  34. Wm Morris

    The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint is a very good novel with a very good, realistic section about a normal-ish Mormon family. But I think its’ ending keeps it from being a or the GMN. And that’s a post I’ve been meaning to write for years.

  35. Th.

    .

    I liked that book okay, but I don’t think it qualifies. The Mormon element is a minor portion of the book.

  36. Eugene

    The problem with Seventh Son is that very few DB-type readers have read it. And if they’ve read it, have actively made the connection. I’d be curious how many people in the typical ward have read Saints. I suspect very few. Card doesn’t cross over from one direction. Lund and Heimerdinger don’t from the other. The only book to have done that lately–for good or ill–is Twilight. A tree fell in the forest and everybody heard it.

  37. S.P. Bailey

    Greatness: Empty concept.
    Novel: Dead.
    Great American Novel: Cliche, blase, and non-existent.
    Great Mormon Novel: Don’t even think about it.

    Don’t mind me … Just doing some accounting …

  38. S. P. Bailey

    Excellent, well-crafted, insightful, culturally significant, terminally under-appreciated, and/or potentially timeless Mormon novels: a better conversation.

  39. Katherine Morris

    “Fo’shizzle”??? Heavens above, what’s AMV coming to?

    Seriously, though, this has been a great, er, insightful conversation. I particularly liked the idea in the original post that we don’t need to be preoccupied with producing the Great Mormon Novel or even “great” (whatever that means–thanks Shawn) literature when our founding text is itself a great piece of literature. I also like the idea of creating our own cultural criteria for good literature. This plays into something I’ve been thinking about writing a post about: how Mormon ideas of the Spirit and inspiration and edification should play into criticism of Mormon art.

  40. nosurfgirl

    “how Mormon ideas of the Spirit and inspiration and edification should play into criticism of Mormon art.”

    I absolutely agree with this… but I think some people think this means that all that they write needs to be empty of real conflict.

    OK, honestly… there are so many exceptions to what we’re discussing (books by Mormon authors, LDS people who write outside the Seagull box) that it’s really sort of a non- issue. Of course Mormons write great literature. Just like anyone else, they have the capacity, and many do it. I think the issue for me is, does anyone publish it with the standard LDS publishers, and I think that in most cases the answer to that is no.

  41. Pablo

    Often the problem is that LDS culture looks to create something Mormon, and doesn’t bother enough with the rest. I think that if an LDS filmmaker, author, musician, etc… focuses on making good art, their Mormonness can shine through. But if they focus on the Mormon aspect too much, we get HaleStorm Entertainment or EFY CDs as our Mormon art. Until recently, I worked at the BYU Bookstore, and I have to admit looking at how ridiculous the latest LDS novels were was a pastime of mine. The latest shipment from DB or Covenant always seemed to be bubbling over with Mormon culture, but little essence. It was always frustrating.

    My personal problem is that I don’t feel equipped to pull off something people would read and say it’s Mormon. I’m still wondering if it would be something considered “good.” I’m sure there are writers out there with the confidence to try, and I think that’s what really matters. They shouldn’t necessarily try to make the GMN, however- they should just try to make something great.

  42. Mahonri Stewart

    The things is with Orson Scott Card, not only has he not been excommunicated, he’s been practically embraced by the institutional Church. You know who wrote the Hill Cumorah pageant? Yeah, Card. The sesquicentennial musical put on by the Church, _Barefoot to Zion_? Card again. Currently, one of the main features of the Church owned _Mormon Times_ in The Deseret News? Card. So Card not only kept his membership in the Church, but he’s a trusted resource for it.

    How did he do this, despite writing what some consider “scandalous” material? He’s always come out vocally in support of the Church and its leaders. He never turned his heel against the Brethren. Interesting… loyalty allows a person more freedom in the Church, not less.

  43. Th.

    .

    This is a very good point. And why, whenever people ask me if being a Mormon artist makes me “afraid,” I feel like I have to explain to them what Mormonism is all about. Mormonism is not about clenching the bar of soap as hard as you can.

  44. Eugene

    That “scandalous” material came early in Card’s career and has pretty much disappeared down the memory hole. He is now known within the church less for what he writes than that he is a writer and a loyal team player. And all the power to him, if that’s what he wants to be. But he’s not an exception that proves the rule. He’s the very personification of the rule.

  45. Eugene

    Mahonri seems to be arguing that Card’s loyalty guarantees him acceptance despite producing “scandalous” material. I would argue that that Card’s acceptance is a product of him not producing any “scandalous” material (that anybody can remember).

    Seriously, when’s the last time a novel by Card resulted in any kind of discussion on this or any other “Mormon” forum? Card today isn’t the Mormon Chaim Potok or Salman Rushdie. He’s the Mormon George Will. Hey, that’s cool too, but we’re talking about narrative fiction.

    It is a common “artistic” fallacy that since big ideas cause controversy, causing a controversy means you are in possession of big ideas. But one thing about this correlation is very true: if nobody notices, the biggest, best idea in the world won’t matter.

    That’s why religions (and politicians) proselytize (campaign). And proselytizing brings big ideas into conflict with each other and inevitably causes conflict.

    There are successful writers who are Mormon and are widely read, but who never pop up on the Mormon radar screens because they don’t write specifically to or for Mormon audiences, and so can be ignored. That’s what makes Stephenie Meyer unique. Everybody took notice.

    Regardless of what she intended, her “Mormoness” was connected to–and read into–what she wrote. What she wrote thus “mattered.” Litmus tests were applied. I don’t doubt Meyer’s “loyalty” for a split second, but her books were still removed from DB’s shelves.

  46. Th.

    .

    I don’t know. I know plenty of people who are shocked to hear Card is LDS because of a bit of language here or even perceived disrepect in the DB-published Sarah (great book). It may not be that scandalous, but it all depends on whose version of ‘scandalous’ we are using.

    My point is that Church discipline isn’t done American Idol style.

  47. Elizabeth

    William, this is a foundational piece of Mormon literary criticism. You are practicing what you preach by creating a gem that deserves to be remembered and implemented by a rising generation of literary artists. By placing the Mormon literary arts within the context of the greatest Mormon literary artist Joseph Smith, you have thus opened up some significant creative room and have helped relieve me of my anxiety about creating something great and Mormon. Thank you.

  48. Wm Morris

    Thanks, Elizabeth. Orson F. Whitney got there first but couched his proclamations of Joseph Smith’s genius in post-Romantic terms. I’m just doing the same thing but situating it in a more socio-cultural view of literary production.

  49. Eugene

    I repeat the above challenge (if for no other reason than that I am honestly curious): how many people in the average ward know that Card’s written books for DB (let alone read any of the books)? versus how many people have read Twilight? If they’ve been reviewed or discussed on AML, for example, I’ve completely forgotten by now. Which is my point. If people have to be told that Card is LDS, then he’s really flying under the radar. As is said about Apple computers: security through obscurity.

    Actually I think (artistic) church discipline does work a lot like American Idol. Unless you believe that the church has Orwellian spies watching every niche of the Mormon publishing business (a fun thought), the church becomes aware of these things either because of their sheer popularity, sheer annoyance (immature “artists” kicking against the pricks just to cause a commotion), and/or because enough people complained to their bishops, who mentioned it to their stake presidents, who happened to know a GA or two, and the wheels started turning (again, probably out of sheer annoyance).

    It’s not like Sheri Dew woke up one morning, smacked herself on the side of the head and said, “Dang, I just hate that Twilight book!” Rather she was at the end of a long Rube Goldberg machine that got around to rapping her on the head. It’s easy to blame Correlation, but Correlation is on the receiving end these raps as well. Which is why, at church magazines (at least The New Era), they finally said, “Screw it,” and stopped publishing fiction.

  50. larry

    he’s not mormon — but i think we’ve agreed that’s not the point. we’re looking at novels that have something fascinating and deep to say about mormonism. so what about david ebershoff’s “the 19th wife?,” a great long rolling ride of a book with well-researched history and a wonderful, if not easy to reckon with, story?

  51. larry

    i just happen to have read, and reviewed, the book, because i am a newspaper editor in pasadena, and ebershoff is a pasadena native — a mere episcopalian, i have always been curious how a mormon would find the story and the writing. i mean, i just find it superb stuff as a novel reader, and can’t imagine it would be offensive, or only to the breakaway polygamist sects. but truly, you ought to take a look. best, larry wilson

  52. ET

    Wm, thanks for the comments about the artistic legacy of Joseph Smith. I just want to say that if/when I ever finish my novel, I think I would find more value in having you all read it than any number of publishers or editors. After all, if my novel is of no worth to my friends, it is of no worth to me…

  53. Wm Morris

    We’ve all wasted years of our life, Theric. You especially.

  54. Wm Morris

    (or in other words — it’s time to start worrying about the Great Mormon Novel again. I was just kidding)

  55. Jonathan Langford

    I figure any time I’m *not* wasting is both (a) pure profit, and (b) greatly surprising.

  56. Dallas Robbins

    Larry, I agree w/ your assessment of The 19th Wife. And excellent novel that seems to frustrate certain expectations, but overall I find the book very interesting. And I didn’t find it offensive in the least. Is it a classic? Probably not. But it is a novel that should be getting more attention by the LDS literary community. If there hasn’t yet been a full fledged post-modern Mormon novel, I think The 19th Wife opens up a lot of interesting possibilities.

  57. Th.

    .

    If there has been “a full fledged post-modern Mormon novel” I’ll betcha it couldn’t find a publisher.

  58. Dallas Robbins

    Th., I think it could be argued that The 19th Wife is very post-modern, especially in it’s structure and use of multiple, competing, sources. I haven’t had time to develop my idea to any extent, but sometime in the next few months I’m going to give it a crack.

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