Sunday Lit Crit Sermon #86: Ramona Wilcox Cannon on the spiritual in literature

Literary theory often leaves out any spiritual element or claim—something that separates religious thinkers and writers from others. I believe that the role of spirituality in literature is particularly important in Mormonism, since we believe in personal revelation and that such revelation is relevant to everyday tasks, such as writing and consuming literary works. I believe, therefore, that spirituality must be an important element of any Mormon literary theory.

Nor is my belief unique. For example, Ramona Wilcox Cannon decried the lack of spirituality in the following article in 1926.

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Seers and Stumbling Blocks: John Turner’s _Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet_

For those Latter-day Saints uninitiated in the intricate details of Mormon History, John Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet would be a complete shock to the system. Most Mormons are aware that Brigham Young was a man who many took offense to because of his frank talk, combative tongue, and indomitable will. However, many are less aware of how truly radical and assaulting he could be in his most extreme moments. Condoning and covering up (if not authorizing) moments of extreme violence. Deeply disturbing racial and gender prejudice. And his language! I’m not just talking “damns” and “hells” here… sensitive Mormons will be shocked to find a prophet of God using profanity, vulgarity, and racial slurs that they would wash their children’s mouths ten times over for using (and these were often speeches he gave in public! Or in letters that were meant for the President and Congress!).

Fortunately, I do know my Mormon History well enough not to have an honest and forthright biography like this shake the foundations of my belief system. I was familiar with the vast majority of the events and context of the history (and also knew enough to recognize moments when Turner was abridging information and knew which”side” he was taking in certain thorny historical debates). Having been the research assistant and co-writer on a play about the Utah War and the Mountain Meadows Massacre, not to mention the writer of a number of other Mormon History plays that included Brigham Young as a character, I had to get to know Brigham Young pretty intimately. My persistent interest in and study of Mormon History really does make it hard for people to surprise me (I love it when antagonistic anti-Mormons try to shock and rattle me with Mormon history facts and I can tell them, “I know. And did you also know that…”).

So that background helped me in the more disturbing episodes of the very informed journey that Turner brings his readers on. However, Turner, capitalizing on the new opportunities that the Church’s more freeing attitude about its history and archives have afforded, did bring me to depths even my amateur Mormon historian experiences hadn’t made me aware of.  There were times that I had to stop, digest what I had read, and do an internal check on how it fit into my belief system (and if there was anything in that belief system I had to modify as a consequence). There were times that I was disturbed by what I had read and had to backtrack through my mind and heart and fortify my faith by connecting it to other just as real facts and context that were part of the fabric and tapestry of Mormon History. But those kind of facts can rub the soul raw after a while and leave you feeling sensitive.

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Pillars of Fire

for Stephen Carter in partial fulfillment of a promise
but especially for greenfrog, who showed me a bit of backbone

When a subject and object look at one another, there is no subject and no object, there’s only relation, the scope of which extends beyond either creature’s ability to fully grasp it.  You can’t grasp it, but you can step out to meet it.  If you do, prepare to catch on fire …

When I was in my early twenties, two events ignited my life.  The first involved a disagreement with a close friend whose feelings of friendship toward me had cooled.  I was changing, growing up a little, I guess.  I think my friend no longer felt needed, and feeling needed was important to her.  My feelings of deep friendship hadn’t changed, yet somehow that didn’t matter, not to her.  Why not? I wondered.  Why shouldn’t my feelings matter to her? Continue reading “Pillars of Fire”

Bradly Baird on the artifacts of LDS memory

The following guest post is from AMV commenter Bradly Baird. ~Wm

The Artifacts of LDS Memory: Arts, Transformation, Liminality, and Spirituality

I sit here at the close of another September 11 listening to two remarkable pieces of music — Richard Danielpour’s An American Requiem and John Adam’s On The Transmigration of Souls — both written to commemorate the victims of the attacks. The stirring music and “memory space” created in my mind combine and make for a highly emotional interaction. I am deeply moved.

The experience also calls to mind the power of the arts as a transformative agent upon the human psyche. I am sure everyone can recall those moments of experience when, after having read an incredible book, listened to extraordinary piece of music, or experienced a performance of unusual power, they feel completely different, transformed, and in possession of new perspectives.

I have had many of these deeply transformative experiences with the arts myself over the years. I remember new perspectives gained from seeing Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Sunday in the Park with George, hearing David Diamond’s Symphony No. 2, reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, experiencing Auguste Rodin’s unbelievable sculptures, or seeing the Utah Symphony play Michael Torke’s Verdant Music. These are moments with the arts that will be with me forever. Continue reading “Bradly Baird on the artifacts of LDS memory”