Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Low-Tech Man in a Modern Mormon World...

This week I became an official Modern Mormon Man.

That's right. In addition to this blog and Fenimore's Ghost, I will be writing for the group blog Modern Mormon Men. My first post as a permanent contributor went up today. It's entitled "Why I Read Realistic Mormon Literature."

If you haven't already been there, I recommend checking out Modern Mormon Men. And not only because I'm part of the team. It is a great place to go for thoughtful and funny posts on Mormon culture and life. Since I've been following the blog, it has also tackled a variety of contemporary issues currently on the minds of Latter-day Saints from a number of different angles.  So, check it out. I'm excited to be a part of it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Forgive My Momentary Bursts of Cultural Envy; or, Why Mormon Literature Needs Its Own Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of books by African-Americans to prepare for my qualifying exams next year. Somehow I got through high school and college without ever having to read Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man or Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God. So I get to read them now along with Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Harriet Jacob’s Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, Hannah Crafts’ The Bondwoman’s Narrative, Frances Harper’s Iola Leroy, and many others. Over the next two weeks I’ll be tackling four or five more African-American titles until I move on to something else.

So I haven’t had a whole lot of time to think about Mormon literature. Except when I get these momentary bursts of cultural envy for what scholars of African-American literature and history have been able to do with African-American literature. Not only have they promoted great twentieth-century works, like those of Hurston and Morrison, through diligent critical attention, but they have also poked around the nineteenth century and turned up some fantastic “lost” novels written by forgotten African-American writers.

Henry LouisGates, Jr. is the name that keeps popping up in my studies. Aside from tossing the phrase “SignifyingMonkey” into the stewpot of American literary criticism, and appearing often on PBS and Oprah, he is best known for his discovery of The Bondwoman’s Narrative and Harriet E. Wilson’s Our Nig, two of the earliest African-American novels written. 

Essentially, what Gates and others have done is uncover—and, in some instances, reconstruct—a rich tradition of African-American literature where once none existed in any clear form. Thanks to their work with nineteenth-century African-American texts, we can now see the literary DNA that contributed to the genetic make-up of the last sixty years of African-American literature.

In the world of Mormon literature, we’ve got a similar endeavor going on in Ben Crowder’sMormon Texts Project, which seeks to resurrect previously published Mormon writing from before 1923. So far, the project has only released one work of fiction—B. H. Roberts’ Corianton—but its website shows that more are on the way. Already in the queue are Orson F. Whitney’s long poem Elias: An Epic of the Ages and Emmeline B. Wells’ historical novel Hephzibah.

Of these two, Hephzibah interests me the most. It takes place in Nauvoo and features one of the earliest representations of Joseph Smith in fiction, so it’s a forerunner of novels like Virginia Sorensen’s A Little Lower than the Angels and Orson Scott Card’s Saints. I haven’t read it yet, but I look forward to the day its made available on the Mormon Texts Project website, where all title are free.

Crowder and the Mormon Texts Project volunteers are providing a valuable service for future Mormon literary studies. If you are looking for some way to promote Mormon literature, and don't want to write a guest post for this blog, volunteering for the Mormon Texts Project is one way to do it. It may not be as eternally rewarding as, say, FamilySearch Indexing, but it’s important work all the same.

Of course, the Mormon Texts Project is only doing half of what Gates has done for African-American literature. For while it’s great that we are gaining easy access to all of these lost texts, their value is only so much unless we read, talk, and write about them in a way that makes them relevant to today’s Latter-day Saints and their literature. Such efforts, I'm sure, would uncover the hidden double helices of literary DNA binding contemporary Mormon literature with its largely forgotten roots.

Some are already underway, in fact. Next year, Peculiar Pages will publish an edition of Nephi Anderson’s Dorian that contains several recent critical essays about the novel. These essays, written by a new generation of Mormon literary scholars, promise to invigorate a dialogue about the novel that’s been all but silent since the early 1920s. With any luck, the dialogue won’t stop there.

Other important work is being done. Ardis E. Parshall’s blog Keepapitchinin’ routinely publishes lost Mormon fiction and poems from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and provides readers an opportunity to comment on them. The texts aren’t always the brightest spots in Mormonism’s literary past, but they have value and charm.

Mormon literary scholarship is decades—possibly centuries—away from where African-American literary scholarship now comfortably sits. What we need to do is step up the efforts, work on projects that matter, and keep moving forward. If you are a budding scholar, and you think it would be cool to study Mormon lit, go ahead and take the plunge. Even if your worried about the relative newness of the field. 

Mormon lit needs you and your brain.

True, you would probably have an easier time finding a job as a Poe or Sylvia Plath scholar. True, there aren’t that many people today who read or care about Mormon literature. True, no Mormon lit scholar will ever be as famous as Henry Louis Gates. Or chat it up with Oprah on a routine basis. Or have a beer with Obama on the White House lawn

But the world doesn’t need another Poe or Plath scholar. It has plenty of those. And Obama has enough people to drink with. And you probably don’t drink beer anyway.

So take the plunge. The world needs more Mormon lit scholars.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Props, Anonymous. Props.

Two weeks ago, when I reviewed Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry, I made mention of the highly-anticipated collection of contemporary Mormon poetry, Fire in the Pasture, which will soon be available to readers like you and me. It promises to be the most important piece of Mormon lit published this year.

I also may have mentioned that poetry and I aren't the best of friends.

It wasn't always that way. Once upon a time, in a town called Rexburg, I used to retreat to my room, turn on Bob Seger's Greatest Hits (I kid you not), and write poems about snowfall and girls who didn't like me. I also had dreams of becoming a successful poet.

This was before I learned that there is no such thing as a successful poet.

Perhaps my best poem from that era was this one. In it I mock Billy Collins, who was poet laureate at the time. Everyone in Rexburg seemed to have a crush on the guy.

Imitating Billy Collins

“Nobody else today writes quite like Collins, and few
  indeed write any better.”
                     X. J. Kennedy

I think I’ll imitate Billy Collins for a while,
becoming the Poet Laureate of my apartment
through small, accessible stanzas almost lost

among bookshelves and dirty dishes.
I’ll start off with a poem about a hunting catalog
instead of Victoria’s Secret, asking

my imagined reader why the hunter chose
to wear the neon orange instead of the leafy cammo
as he reclined in the handy light-weight

camping chair. Then, after I become bored
with that train of thought, I’ll explore the intimate
details of Dish and the Spoon’s illicit elopement

in the not-so-tiny darkness of the china cabinet
as I chop cucumbers and listen to Bruce Springsteen,
who, as far as I know, never sang a song

about a nursery rhyme. If that fails, I’ll write
about turning ten-and-a-half or create a form
called the perpendicularnelle.

Maybe, if I’m feeling particularly daring, I’ll
undress Elizabeth Barrett Browning instead of Emily
Dickinson, counting the ways I make

her husband jealous as I take this liberty
with his Portuguese in all the depth and breadth
and height my soul can reach.

By the afternoon I’ll be a true poet, looking
out of my study window as I write a poem
about my polka face or what I thought about

this morning as I ate my breakfast
in the unmodified silence of my kitchen.
I imagine this will continue until evening,

when my first original thought of the day will come
in a flash of (picnic) lightning--just as I begin
to dream about Buddha beckoning with a snow shovel.

Later, I lost interest in poetry. I think it happened on a day when I heard someone read a poem and groan over its "luscious" L's.  I'm not a fan of the word "luscious," particularly when it is applied to a letter in the alphabet that has no inherent lusciousness about it. And the groaning didn't help either. It just made me want to buy mouthwash.

I have written Mormon poetry, but I never published a good Mormon poem. I did publish a lousy Mormon poem in the student literary journal at BYU-Idaho. It wasn't the worst poem in the collection, but I wouldn't be bothered if every copy of the journal spontaneously combusted.

My only real personal connection to published Mormon poetry is this poem, which Clinton F. Larson, the Father of Contemporary Mormon Poetry, wrote for BYU's centennial celebration. It was inspired by my great-grandfather, Wayne B. Hales, who was a long-time physics professor at BYU. In fact, if you ever take a science class at BYU, it is possible that you will take it in a lecture hall named after him.

This was the case with me when I took a basic chemistry class. Except I didn't spend a whole lot of time in the lecture hall since I quit attending class after the third day. Attendance wasn't technically required and I couldn't understand half of what the adjunct professor was saying anyway. So, I taught myself chemistry and ended up with a satisfactory B.

At any rate, the following poem was written for the BYU centennial and later published in a book appropriately (if not redundantly) called Centennial Portraits: Brigham Young University Centennial, 1975-1976: Poems   

Ethereal
Wayne B. Hales
by Clinton F. Larson


Prize faith that tapers like a spire,
Becoming nothing that one can see
Among myths that flower and aspire
To polarize themselves in higher air
As ethereal meaning that ought to be


Less hypothetical and rare.
What else might their advocates expect?
Why should not the holiest defect?
See how every steeple tapers away,
Inspiring, though some folk stray


From useful faith with conversions
That conceal the gloss of diversions.
But others softly give themselves
Into peace where wishing delves
Like starlight into quiet thought.

Sadly, "Ethereal" is not a good poem. I have read it several times, but Larson always loses me at  "To polarize themselves in higher air." Still, it is nice to be able to say that Clinton F. Larson wrote a poem about my great-grandfather--even if I've never been able to make much sense of it.

Incidentally, my great-grandfather figured into a poem I wrote back when I was still at BYU. I was reading his autobiography and came to a section where he reflects on what it was like to grow up in a polygamous home. Basically, he wasn't a fan of the institution since it left his mother alone a lot of the time. So, I sat down and wrote this:


Polygamy

My third great grandfather
married a second wife in 1856, assured
by Reformation and the promises

of the Brethren. She was nineteen, young
enough to be his daughter. They lived man
and wife and wife in Big Cottonwood

until the crickets came early, the seagulls
too late. By 1870 the wives had neighboring houses
in Spanish Fork: signs of a growing family,

not necessarily discontent. The institution seemed
to work for them. Though family lore is always
suspect, mine provides an image of a road

and three travelers. One generation later
tells a different story: What my great-grandfather
remembers was not one road, but two cities,

two families. His father, a miner in Eureka,
never knew a world without polygamy;
he was but an occasional visitor, a near stranger

to the small home on Center Street.
So my great-great-grandmother, needless
to say, was always alone, always

waiting with her children at the post
office or train station, endlessly anticipating
arrivals, accumulating disappointments.    

It's not a good poem either, but I have fond memories of writing it. And mostly, I feel bad that poetic tributes to my great-grandfather, who died a few months after I was born, haven't been any better. He seems to have been a great man and an excellent teacher. I've never met anyone--in the family or out--who has had anything bad to say about him. 

One of his students, however, did write this poem, which was given to him anonymously. It beats out all the other poems in this post.

Physics Psalm

I have a physics teacher,
I shall not pass.
He maketh me to show my
Ignorance before the class.
He giveth me more than I can learn.
He lowereth my grade.
Yea, though I walk through the 
Valley of Knoledge, I do not learn.
He fireth questions at me
In the presence of my classmates.
HE annoiteth my head with problems.
My eyes runneth over. 
Surely thermometers, barometers, and cyclometers
Shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in Physics 137 forever. 

In his autobiography, my great-grandfather had this to say about the poem: "I told the class that this anonymous, who had a mind keen enough to write this kind of poetry, surely has it in him or her to get a 'B' grade, at least, in this course." 

Which was more than he had to say about "Ethereal."

Props, Anonymous. Props. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

500 Words on the "Nine Old Men of Mormon Literary Criticism"

Serious Mormon literary criticism began sometime in the twentieth century, possibly with Dale L. Morgan’s article “Mormon Storytellers” from the Fall 1942 issue of Rocky Mountain Review.  Essentially, the article is a status update on the progress of Mormon literature, listing titles of dozens of novels that had been published by Mormon authors or written on Mormon subjects since 1881. It also acts as an extended review of several novels now lumped together as examples of “Mormondom’s Lost Generation.” 

Morgan, of course, never applied the term “Lost Generation” to these novels.  It wasn’t coined until 1977, when BYU professor Edward A. Geary applied it to the Mormon writers who grew up during “a transitional time in Mormon country” and wrote about the Church with varying degrees of disillusionment.  At the time, Geary was one of a handful of Mormon academics who were willing to take Mormon literature seriously enough to write about it.  Spurred along by the newly formed Association for Mormon Letters and its annual conference—not to mention the publishing venues of Dialogue, Sunstone, BYU Studies, and even the Ensign—these critics tirelessly established a framework and vocabulary for future Mormon literary studies.      

Lately, I’ve taken to thinking about these critics as the “Nine Old Men of Mormon Literary Criticism,” probably due to my on-again/off-again reading of Neal Gabler’s Walt Disney.  The moniker, however, is imprecise and problematic since one of them is female.  Still, I hold to the name since I think it speaks to how so much of early Mormon literary criticism is written from the point-of-view of male readers who had been trained in the academy before feminism became an influential force.    


Over the last five or six years, I have run into each of these critics in my research into Mormon literature.   At times, I have been grateful for their insight; occasionally, I have disagreed vehemently with them or complained about their cynicism or tendency to generalize.  In writing my own Mormon literary criticism, I have even felt a small degree of Oedipal rage against Cracroft, England, Geary, and Keller when their ideas have seemed so contradictory to mine.  Many have been the times I’ve tried to kill Cracroft with a pen.

Yet, like a true critic with an Oedipus complex, I love the “Nine” as much as I hate them.  Such ambivalence is healthy and absolutely necessary to keep a critical tradition going.  While I have not always agreed with their classifications, terminologies, and conclusions, I have always benefited from the foundation they laid during a time when Mormon literary studies seemed like a busted pipe dream.  Now that the “Nine” are mostly retired (or dead), my hope is that their legacy will continue, that a new critical generation—numbering far more than nine—will pick up the slack and continue their work.   

Friday, September 9, 2011

I Make a Pact with You, Sister Snow: A Review of "Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poems"

Over the past two years or so I’ve become an unwitting fan of nineteenth-century literature. During my undergraduate English studies, which began ten years ago this week, I was more interested in reading Medieval epics and William Faulkner than anything by Poe, Hawthorne, or Melville. Not much changed during the two years of my MA program, except that I stopped reading Dante and Chaucer and started reading more contemporary American and Mormon fiction. Even in my spare time, which was rare, I never picked up anything literary written before 1920.[1]

This changed when I started my Ph.D. and took two seminars on nineteenth-century American literature—one on the American Romantics, the other on women writers—that left me wondering why no one had clued me in on the poetry of Emily Dickinson and stories like Hawthorne’s “Roger Malvin’s Burial,” Poe’s “Hop-Frog,” and Melville’s “Bartleby.”

Now, one-third of the texts I’m reading for my Ph.D. qualifying exams are Nineteenth-century American literary texts. My dissertation, of course, will still be on Mormon fiction, and contemporary American fiction will probably remain my primary area of expertise, but I’m actively looking into ways to make nineteenth-century America and its literature a more significant part of my research and studies. I mean, I like to keep my options open.[2]

I bring this up because I am yet to catch the nineteenth-century Mormon literature bug.[3] I have tried—earnestly—to get excited about it, but every time I pick up a poem by Parley P. Pratt, Orson F. Whitney, or John Lyon I get about half-way through it before I lose all consciousness in my brain and experience temporary paralysis in every fiber of my being.[4]

So, it is with some reluctance that I review this massive volume lying open on the floor beside me, Jill Mulvay Derr and Karen Lynn Davidson’s Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry (Brigham Young University Press, 2009). I have neither read the entire book—I don’t know how anyone ever could—nor do I ever hope to. Part of this, I expect, has to do with my ambivalence toward poetry in general. While I have been known to write the occasional poem,[5] I don’t read much of it any more. Fiction is my thing. Poetry is more of a hobby.

Also, Sister Snow—even at her best—doesn’t really write the kind of poetry I like. In fact, no one in the nineteenth century, with the exception of maybe Emily Dickinson and a few other abnormalities, writes the kind of poetry I like.[6] For a reader like me, therefore, the value of a book like Eliza R. Snow: The Complete Poetry is not in the poetry itself, but rather in the work of the editors.

In this respect, Eliza R. Snow shines. Not only does the introductory essay by Derr and Davidson provide an insightful, honest analysis of Snow’s talent, as well as a thorough overview of her life, but it also introduces each of its nine chapters and all 507 of its poems with commentary that is both impressive and essential for anyone who wishes to gain a deeper appreciation for Snow’s work.

One insight, for instance, that I have found most useful in my haphazard reading of the poems is Derr and Davidson’s observation that “Snow’s well-known public role [as “Zion’s poet laureate] complicated and sometimes obscured her self-expression.” Unlike Dickinson, in other words, whose poetry is often marked by the painful nakedness and intense interiority of its narrative voice, Snow, tightly buttoned, keeps her readers at more than arm’s length. Indeed, as Derr and Davidson note, “Contemporary readers” are not likely to warm up to Sister Snow and her poems because her apparent “reluctance to allow a personal, lyric, truly revealing voice to break through the persona of Zion’s Poetess” sometimes makes for chilly reading (xvi).[7]

Of course, reading their commentary on Snow’s poetry, it is clear that Derr and Davidson have great affection for Zion’s Poetess, although they readily acknowledge that not all of Snow’s poetry is of the highest aesthetic quality. “No poet’s reputation,” they write, “is likely to benefit from the publication of that poet’s complete works” (xv). This is certainly the case, for example, when you read a poem like “Lines, on the Death of Bishop N. K. Whitney” (#206), which begins

A mighty man, a man of worth,
            A father and a friend,
Has left the narrow sphere of earth
            His upward course to wend.

and limps along dismally until its predictable conclusion:

The stroke is with a heavy rod—
            But while our hearts deplore
His loss, we’ll own the hand of God,
            That God whom we adore. (404-405)

With poems like this in the mix, Derr and Davidson do a great service to their subject by reminding readers that “Snow deserves—as does any poet—to be judged by her best poems” (xv).[8] That means, of course, that readers are going to have to sift through a lot of Snow’s lesser poems—the trite memorial or missionary farewell pieces—to get at the heart of this book.

Obviously, tried-and-true Snow poems, like “My Father in Heaven” [“O My Father”] (#152) and “Sacramental Hymn” [“How great the wisdom and the love”] (#433), resonate with readers because of their enduring place as hymns in Latter-day Saint worship services. Other poems, like “Your Portrait” (#104), make up for their mediocre construction with keen observations, clever arguments, and unique views into nineteenth-century life. Snow, after all, wasn’t always a great poet, but she had a lot of important things to say about the big issues of her day. In fact, some of her most energetic—and surprising—poems are venomous responses to the United States government and its anti-polygamy crusade of the 1860s, 70s, and 80s:

My Country, O, my Country! My heart bleeds for thee—I mourn
thy corruption and degradation—thy glory has departed—thy fame
is extinguished—thy peace and honor, swindled; and “the dear old
flag” which once floated in glorious majesty, is now slowly and
solemnly undulating at half mast, as a requiem of thy departed
liberty, which thou has sacrificed on the shrine of political
emolument. (“My Country—A Lamentation,” [#424], 816)[9]

In their introduction, Derr and Davidson wisely direct readers to the best of Eliza R. Snow, poems like “A Winter Soliloquy” (#426), “Narcissa to Narcissus” (#51), “To Mrs. Heywood” (#231), and “My First View of a Western Prairie” (#433). For what it’s worth, my recommendation is that readers open the book at random and read until they find something that catches them. Out of 507 poems, readers are bound to find a few they like.  

Admittedly, my opinion of nineteenth-century Mormon poetry is not likely to change in the years to come, yet I am glad to have Eliza R. Snow on my bookshelf. As the only complete collection of Snow’s poetry, it is an invaluable resource for those, like me, who take Mormon literature seriously. Additionally, the fine editorial work of Derr and Davidson make it one of the more significant published contributions to Mormon literary studies in recent years. With any luck, a few enthusiastic graduate students with interests in Mormon poetry will get their hands on it and build upon the conversations Derr and Davidson have graciously begun within its pages.

Post Script: Speaking of Mormon poetry, I was pleased today to see that the cover of the latest anthology of Mormon poetry, Fire in the Pasture: Twenty-first Century Mormon Poets, was released by its publisher, Peculiar Pages.  If the fetching William Blake-esque cover is any indicator of the poetry contained therein, it promises to improve upon the great legacy of Sister Snow.  I look forward to reading and reviewing it.


[1] Unless you count the scriptures, of course.

[2] If you’re interested in my work on the ways the nineteenth century and the twentieth and twenty-first centuries intersect, check out my other blog, Fenimore’s Ghost.

[3] This is kind of ironic since most of the research I’ve done on contemporary Mormon literature—none of which I have published—looks back on nineteenth-century Mormon history. In fact, if everything goes according to plan—and I say this as a kind of teaser—nineteenth-century Mormon history will play a nice supporting role in my dissertation. Mormon literature from that time, however, will not.

[4] For this reason, I’ve made it a point never to read Elias: An Epic of the Ages and walk at the same time.

[5] But never an occasional poem.

[6] For the sake of full disclosure, I should mention here that I once had a dream in which I was caught in a love triangle involving both Emily Dickinson and Eliza R. Snow. I was an undergraduate at the time, probably taking an American literature survey, so try not to judge me too harshly. Since dreams have a way of not ending in any clear manner, I can’t remember who won out. I do remember, though, that Sister Snow’s hair was removable and made of the same material as a wasp’s nest. Analyze that.

[7] I’m resisting the temptation to evoke the surname of Zion’s Poetess here and make a pun bad enough to rival that used in Windows of Heaven, the short 1963 film about Eliza’s younger brother, Lorenzo, who became president of the LDS Church in 1898. In the film—if my memory is correct—President Snow (that is, the actor playing President Snow) cracks a smile behind his fake beard and says something like, “It will take more than a little sun to melt this snow!” I’ve probably botched the line, but you get the idea.  

[8] Having written my own share of dismal poems, I tend to agree with the editors.

[9] Should you continue on with this poem, you will find that Sister Snow warns the U.S.A. that “a day of retribution awaits thee.” And this was after the Civil War.  

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Do We Need to Keep Talking about the Roach?

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about this classic Mormonad.  It’s a variation on a common message about the dangers of inappropriate content in media.  Whoever came up with the image was a genius.  As bugs go, I can handle a fly or an ant in my ice cream.  Heck, I might even eat it for the glory of being able to say that I have.  But a roach is another thing.  They gross me out.  I’d rather shake hands with a praying mantis than eat a roach.

And praying mantises freak the crap out of me.

Genius aside, though, I’m not entirely persuaded by the ad’s argument.  I mean, logically, I know that the roach isn't big enough to contaminate all of the ice cream.  If I was on a desert island, and the roach-infested ice cream was the only thing around that could keep me alive, I wouldn't hesitate to flick the roach away and eat the ice cream.  Doing otherwise would be wasting a whole lot of ice cream.

Of course, I realize that I’m missing the point. The ad is trying to say that even a little offensive content spoils the media and should be enough to make you want to steer clear of it. It's a simple, effective visual argument.  But at the same time, I can’t help reading the ad a different way.  What happens if you focus on the good stuff (i.e. the ice cream) rather than the bad stuff (i.e. the roach)?  Couldn’t the image also suggest that you shouldn’t let a little bug ruin a otherwise good dessert?

***
I know. I know. This is a tired issue. Nothing I’ve said in the previous four paragraphs is original or revolutionary.  In fact, as opinions go on this issue, those expressed above are rather clich├ęd.  Anyone who has ever tried to defend realism in Mormon literature has already expressed them in one way or another.  

***
Sadly, the appropriateness of content is one of those topics that will be forever discussed among Mormon artists.  A few years ago, when I first started writing papers about Mormon literature, I too got caught in the snare of the content debate—mostly because it has been had so many times at conferences and symposiums on Mormon lit. Everyone—from Richard Cracroft to Bruce Jorgensen to Orson Scott Card to Gideon Burton—seems to have written an essay on the issue.  So, when I started work on my master’s thesis on Mormon historical fiction, I thought that I needed to write about it as well—even though it had nothing to do with what I wanted to say about Mormon historical fiction.

I ended up wasting a lot of time.

Admittedly, as an undergraduate English major who was somewhat squeamish about realistic content in art, I appreciated these essays because they helped me learn how to be a Mormon reader of contemporary literature.  But the time I wasted trying to contribute to the debate led me to realize that I have very little interest in writing an essay about defining offensive content. I’ve found my own way through the issue, and I’d hate to presume that my way applies to someone else. 

As I see it, discussions over what is or is not appropriate content do little more than distract readers from more important literary discussions. As a critic, I want to examine aspects of the text that will open it up, not shut it down.  My experience is that conversations about the appropriate use of four-letter words, violence, or sex keep more insightful conversations from happening.  Ultimately, for Mormon criticism to be useful to Mormon literature, it will need to stop obsessing about whether or not the stupid roach belongs in the ice cream. 

It’s there or it's not!

Get over it!

Talk about the whipped cream FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!  


***
(For the record, I’ve always preferred the “poop brownies” analogy to the “bug in the ice-cream” scenario. It’s much less ambiguous—and probably more helpful in the long run for conversations about content in media. )