Do we have art that responds to Recent Events?


The other night I followed a link to a blog I hadn’t been to in years, Mormon Child Bride. Although it looks much as it ever did, since I was last there, it has changed from a more knowing (not embarrassing) version of what TAMN mocked, to the chronicle of a Mormon feminist’s estrangement from the Church. In connection with Recent Events, she’s putting up a series of guest-post reactions which range from the heavy to the numb.

Shuffling through her old posts, I found this one in which she visits “a member-submission Art Show at the Church History Museum. [She] cried a little … because the art was so beautiful….  The art represented everything I loved about Mormonism. I felt myself being called home. If Mormons could create art that transcends the cultural and yes, even doctrinal inequities and quirks of their own religion, couldn’t there be a place there, for me?”

I suppose some people might argue that making museums her temples was the first proof of her lousy priorities, but I’m not too worried about that argument being made here. And uninvited accusations and judgments are never a balm. Besides, as she says elsewhere, pain is “experience[d] … alone, in the Gethsemane of your mind … [teaching us] that pain is a Christ-like attribute.” Contrast this with her accusation of Mormon fiction: “How many Jack Weyland novels held a funeral where the only LDS person in attendance wore a ‘lovely shade of blue’ instead of black? Symbolizing that Mormons are special because we don’t need to mourn.” But we not only may mourn, we should mourn. And art that ignores suffering and calls it redemption is failed art.

I think this might have been the impetus for this tweet from the BCC account:

Much of what is being written now about Recent Events (and I will not take sides; I don’t pretend to know enough to do so; I see my only possible role as showing forth love) is occasional in nature—and it’s hard to say whether it will maintain its usefulness when its timeliness is gone. Just to take Zelophehad’s Daughters as an example, they’ve posted everything from oniony satire to personal consideration of precedent to why-I-stay-esque essays (I’m oversimplifying, obviously). I’ve chosen ZD for my examples for a couple reasons. First, several of the writers are personal friends of mine, and second because they are at least as emotionally open as everything else I see online. Which is to say these pieces are personal. And that is the primary attribute of most of the writing I’m seeing right now.

This sort of writing is important when wounds are fresh (and, regardless of what you think of Recent Events, to deny the reality of people’s wounds makes you a prick), but as BCC suggests, ultimately, other, “more substantial” works of art are more likely to provoke, whether directly or indirectly, a lasting and cleansing catharsis. This is what great art can do.

But what art do we have to offer? Speaking specifically of fiction for the moment, I imagine people will suggest Dostoevsky or O’Connor, and for cathartic purposes, we don’t need explicitly Mormon texts. Which might be good. Because what do we have to offer?

Rift makes some interesting inroads, but it’s a decidedly masculine work and thus might be counterproductive.

A lot of the 1990s Signature-published fiction was less vested in community and so, unless someone is anxious to leave, it probably won’t provide much salve even if it feels on-topic.

I honestly can’t think of much Mormon fiction off the top of my head that seems like it might be a dogeared favorite a suffering Saint could pull off the shelf and reread in these troubled times.

Can you?

About Theric Jepson

Theric Jepson writes (and writes about) fiction, comics, movies, and other unholy things.
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7 Responses to Do we have art that responds to Recent Events?

  1. Carol Lynn Pearson’s play “Mother Wove the Morning” addresses the Mormon idea of a Heavenly Mother, and theological feminism in general. Also, Joanna Brook’s memoir “Book of Mormon Girl” is particularly relevant right now.

    Thomas Rogers’ play about “Huebener,” the true story about a young boy in Germany who was excommunicated and executed by the Nazis for his activism is also really resonant right now.

    On the John Dehlin/Mormon Stories/ dealing with faith crises side of the equation, I think “Fires of the Mind” is one of the best plays on the subject of faith and doubt, and dealing with that dichotomy from a Mormon worldview.

  2. LilyTiger says:

    I re-read “Refuge” by Terry Tempest Williams at times like this.

  3. living in zion says:

    I found myself drawn to “My Name is Asher Levy” and “The Gift of Asher Levy” the past couple of weeks. Perfect timing for the Recent Events going on in the church. They are fiction about not fitting in the Orthodox Jewish world. I don’t know of any Mormon literature that fits this situation, but these two books do, perfectly.
    I wrote about them on Mormon Mentality a few days ago.

  4. Scott Hales says:

    I’m working on a blog post right now that dovetails with this one, but I’ve been away for the past few days (sorry for missing my scheduled posting slot!), so I haven’t had much time to work on it.

    Interestingly, I’ve been re-reading Orson Scott Card’s A Storyteller in Zion recently, and I’m finding that many of the essays are relevant to the Recent Events–but I can’t really recommend any of them, since I disagree with how he says a lot of what he says–even when I agree with some of his larger claims. It’s a problematic book in many ways, but it shows that the conversations happening now on the Bloggernacle have been had before.

    The Backslider is probably BCC’s book by default–and I think his other novel Aspen Marooney is actually a better novel for today. No one reads that one, though, which is unfortunate. I think it provides a more meaningful look into the struggle of membership in the kingdom.

    The novels Falling Towards Heaven and Sideways to the Sun are probably novels that would resonate with many people, although I have characterized them elsewhere as outdated responses to late-twentieth-century Mormonism. Recent events have caused me to soften my stance, although I still think they speak to an earlier moment. I’m sure there is some short fiction and poetry out there that speaks to the moment.

    The fact may be that the literature of the moment is yet to be written and needs to be written. I know of a few writers who are actually working on it, but I don’t think anything has been published. It could be that the internet has some works on it that are speaking to the moment. It is too bad that Mormon X finished before it could comment on or reflect the now of the present.

    • Scott Hales says:

      To add on to what I just posted:

      It could be that we need a literature now that reminds us why Mormonism is so compelling to us in the first place. If I were struggling with my membership right now, I’d seek out works that expand my view of Mormon doctrine and culture. We don’t have a lot of great examples, but the short stories in Dispensation and Monsters and Mormons do this. So do the stories in A Sense of Order and Long After Dark.

      Mostly, I’d keep an eye out for literature that resists token approaches to doubt and apostasy.

  5. I’m working on a novel right now that will be published next spring. It can’t help but be influenced by Recent Events–even though I came up with the premise many months ago. We’ll see how well it works for others; right now, as I write it, it’s working for me.

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