The Afterlife of an AML Conference Presentation

This month I couldn’t decide whether to write about the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Contest or about how my 2012 AML Presentation informed my soon-to-be-available book. So I posted both, and will let you take your pick.

In 2010, I gave a talk at the AML Annual Conference about the advantages of having readers who are already steeped in a vibrant mythic system. In the presentation, I outlined four different ways I saw LDS writing using scriptural allusions creatively and effectively in their works to help their audiences wrestle for meaning.

Several months later, Jack Harrell contacted me and asked if I’d be willing to submit a copy of the paper to Irreantum. I had to confess then that I have never actually written a paper for a conference–I always present orally off a loose set of notes. Thanks to Stephen Carter, I was able to send Jack the audio file, and Jack told me that if I’d write it coherently, he’d publish it. So I put my brain back to work on the physics of allusion, and “Wrestling with God: Invoking Scriptural Language and Mythos in LDS Literary Works” appeared in the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Irreantum.

Shortly after I wrote the essay, I started work on The Five Books of Jesus. It’s both a novelization of the core story in the gospels and an artwork that makes meaning through intertextual play.

On one level, I’m telling a story about people who feel a deep commitment to a man they struggle to understand. And I’m creating the specific sorts of human moments that bring a story to life: the way people laugh when they see Jesus staggering around as if he has a plank in his eye while trying to pick a speck of dust out of Nathanael’s, the devastation Mary feels when she finds herself worrying about the cold on her son’s bare skin during his crucifixion.

But on another level, I’m doing the wrestling work my paper advocates. I’m adding meaning to John’s desert ministry by alluding to the thirst described by the prophet Amos. I’m referencing Samuel and David as I build up to repurpose the line “two swords is enough.” I’m bring Passover back into the Last Supper, and a little bit of Pharaoh into Pilate.

Does the book work on both levels? I think so–though I’ll leave that for you to judge when it becomes available for sale in a few weeks. For me personally, though, it’s been interested to take an idea from initial observation to public conversation to formal publication and now into book-length practice.

And if the book does really work, I owe thanks to the people who encouraged me to explore and articulate an aesthetic approach before I ever started the project.

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