in verse #46 : Filthiness, flood wood and rubbish

Alright, so I’ve talked about the text of Joseph Smith’s letter from Liberty Jail for two posts now, and I’m still not done. But, I hear you saying, haven’t you made your point? Well, obviously not, or I wouldn’t be talking about it still, would I? What are you accusing me of, dragging my feet before leaping feetfirst into Walt Whitman? He is the next logical practitioner of the long line, the next successor to Blake. And he is an editor, as well as a writer, is he not?

My point in lingering longer to look at the segments of the letter that were edited into Section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants is twofold: the editing was done skillfully, and shaped to humanize a narrative that would emphasize the abstractions of verses 34-46, give them flesh and breath, and soften the anger driving them. That wasn’t necessary for what became Section 122, nor possible for what became section 123. I discussed in my last post the lines leading into the second excerpt, verses 7-25. Look again at these lines:

and when the heart is sufficiently contrite
then the voice of inspiration steals along
and whispers 7my son peace be unto thy soul —
thine adversity and thy afflictions shall be but a small moment
8and then if thou endure it well God shall exalt thee on high —
thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.[i]

Notice that verse 7 begins in the middle of a sentence, but in Doctrine and Covenants there is no indication of that. Continue reading

Posted in In Verse, Literary Views of Scripture, Mormon LitCrit, The Past through Literature, Thoughts on Language | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

The case of the disappearing comments

I’ve reset the spam filters, so the legitimate comments don’t have to be fished out (except if you post more than 3 links).

If you don’t see your previous comment now, it means I missed it in combing through the spam, and I apologize profusely.

Carry on, then.

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King Josiah


[NOTE: Nothing about this post is intended to impress your seminary teacher. I'm playing loose with the facts which facts are themselves at best loose. Don't argue the past. The past is not the point. The point is the past.]

[NOTE 2: This post was written under the influence of powerful prescription medication. Glancing through it a day later, hooboy but is that obvious.]


So King Josiah becomes king and finds the scriptures and he’s like what? Scriptures? That’s cool. And he gets the people to start worshiping the Lord God and doing away with some of the other gods which is mostly good unless you were into Heavenly Mother then you might find his methods a little too thorough but whatever. His scribes start piecing together what words of God are still around and we end up with some weird things like people being created twice but lots of other things would have been lost forever if he hadn’t acted so it’s probably a net gain. Plus we got Deuteronomy now, so that’s pretty great. Even Jesus quotes Deuteronomy. Continue reading

Posted in Community Voices | Tagged , | 14 Comments

ReReading Job: Book review by Eric Samuelsen

Below is a review of ReReading Job, a book by Mormon critic Michael Austin, reposted by permission from Eric Samuelsen’s blog.

Michael Austin’s Re-Reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem is a terrific book; smart, thoughtful, funny. I honestly didn’t think a literary scholar’s close reading of the (boring) Book of Job would be so compulsively readable. I didn’t think it would be the kind of book I would find myself unable to put down at two o’clock in the morning. Honestly, I thought reading it would be kind of a chore; that I would trudge my way through it dutifully, seeking a nugget of enlightenment in the mucky stream of turgid prose. Instead, I got all caught up in it.

This isn’t a hard book to recommend – go, now, buy it, read it.  But the task of recommending it requires that I acknowledge some barriers at least some of my friends are likely to put up.  First of all, Austin is openly LDS, and gives Job an LDS reading.  For some of you, that’s a problem. You’re likely thinking, “crap, an apologetic reading of Job. Pass.” But it’s not. It’s not, like, a correlated reading of the text; nothing like that at all.  This is Job from the perspective of a very smart, very well read, first-rate literary scholar, who also happens to be LDS, and whose initial personal history with the text (which he acknowledges), was that of an LDS kid struggling to read a boring book he didn’t understand.

It’s also possible, of course, that some of you might buy the book hoping for a correlated reading of the text, hoping, in fact, for something authoritative and definitive and McConkey-ish.  You won’t find that here either. This is a literary scholar reading a poem, reading it as a poem. An inspired poem, to be sure, but a poem nonetheless, a work of fiction, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan is a work of fiction. Austin doesn’t know, for example, if Job actually existed. He doesn’t care; he doesn’t think that’s a significant issue with the text. He wants to engage with the text as it stands, and he wants us to engage with it along with him. And what I’m trying to convince you is that you should, go on the journey the text demands of us.

The fact is, most people (most Mormons, but also most Christians) share a particular reading of Job built largely on the frame story found in Job‘s first two chapters, and final chapter.  Job was a wealthy man, who is tested by God (or by Satan, with God’s permission), is remarkably patient despite his afflictions, and is eventually rewarded by God with even better stuff than he had when the whole thing started.

I don’t want to give too much away, but what Austin wants to persuade you is that the frame story, the suffering patient Job rewarded story is the Disney version. And that all the middle chapters are the meat of the poem, and a profound and powerful deconstruction of the frame story. The body of the poem is entirely different from the frame story, different in approach, in style, in language and in intent. And that’s a good thing.

Because the case Satan makes in the frame story is particularly insidious. If God rewards good actions and punishes bad ones, if that’s all that’s going on, then nobody is actually good. We’re lab rats in a Pavlovian experiment based on a sophisticated reward/punishment binary. Is Job good? If he’s only good because he expects to be rewarded for being good, and expects as well to be punished if he isn’t good, then his supposed goodness is entirely illusionary.

Job’s friends insist that he must have sinned, for why else has he suffered such dreadful misfortune?  But he knows perfectly well that he hasn’t sinned and that the bad things that have happened to him are entirely arbitrary. And he isn’t remotely patient about it. He’s furious, and repeatedly and powerfully curses God for allowing him to suffer so. Job’s suffering is inexplicable, and one of the purposes of the poem is to suggest that inexplicable suffering is part of mortality.  We need to get our heads around that reality.

I don’t want to go on and on. Suffice it to say that Austin writes in a clear, fresh, clean, readable prose blessedly lacking in theoretical jargon or supererogatory turgidity. That I’ve spent more time thinking about this book than any other I’ve read for awhile, and that it made me re-read Job.

I just have one tiny quibble. I don’t think Job‘s a poem; I think it’s a play. That opening scene is theologically weird, but it’s dramaturgically sound; neat way to frame a tale. And most of it’s in dialogue. I have no idea what Job’s performance history might be, if it had one, but it would certainly work as a play, and many of the best literary works that it’s inspired are plays.

But that’s also not a crucial point. This is a great book.  Buy it. Read it. Now.


Posted in Literary Views of Scripture | Tagged , | 3 Comments

This Month in Mormon Literature, October 2014

The Church PR film Meet the Mormons opens to good box-office and mixed reviews, while the film 16 Stones received poor reviews. Chris Crowe’s new YA novel is written entirely in haiku verse. There are also new juvenile/YA novels from Amy Finnegan, Becca Fitzpatrick. Jessica Day George, Shannon Hale and Dean Hale (starred review), Jessica Martinez (starred review), and Robison Wells. Also national novels by Brenda Novak and Brad R. Torgersen. Mormon literary giant Douglas Thayer has a new novel published by Zarahemla, and Paul Edwards’ RLDS mystery is published by Signature. There are lots of contest winners and announcements, and blog posts about Mormon super heroes in Marvel comics, and the Osmonds’ rock phase. Mahonri Stewart has a new play. Keep up on the “Wither AML?” posts on this blog. Mormon humor icon Cal Grondahl earlier this year had his status at the Standard-Examiner change. Please send news and corrections to mormonlit AT gmail DOT com.

Grondahl Sacrament meeting

News, contests, and contest winners

[I messed this up, misreading a Tribune article from January. I am correcting it, but will leave the discussion of Grondahl's work.] Utah cartoonist Calvin Grondahl was one of as many as a dozen newspaper staffers let go in January at Ogden’s newspaper The Standard-Examiner, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. Since that time Grondahl has continued to contribute two cartoons a week to the paper as a contractor.  Continue reading

Posted in This Week in Mormon Literature | 12 Comments

Social Media and AML 2.0

While the blog is still up and running, I want to post briefly about AML’s revamped social media presence. As many of you already know, shortly before General Conference, Christopher Cunningham and I took over AML’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Since then we’ve been posting news and announcements related to Mormon letters to keep existing followers informed and attract new followers to the accounts. So far everything is going well, and we are pleased that people are interacting with the accounts.

If you haven’t already done so, please follow the accounts and let other interested parties know they exist. It’s my belief that some of the most interesting discussions about Mormon literature are happening on social media, and I hope to use these accounts to spur more discussion. I also hope that they will become significant factors in attracting new and long-lost members to the AML fold. Young Mormons especially are on social media, and I believe many of them have much to offer our organization and its future.

Eventually I’d like to set up AML Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Vine accounts (and maybe Google+ for the five people who use it). For the time being, though, we’re going to stick with Facebook and Twitter—unless someone else would like to take the lead on one of these other platforms. Then I’d be more than happy to help you set it up. (I also have plenty of ideas for what you can do with them!)

Finally, if you know of blog posts, news reports, or announcements that ought to be shared with the AML community, please feel free to tweet them to the account (we’ll retweet them!) or post them directly to the Facebook page (we’ll make sure they get shared!). Also, if you are already connected with us personally on social media, you can direct message items/suggestions to either Christopher or me via our personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. (I think I’m connected with most regular participants on this blog, but if not, feel free to friend me. I promise to flood your News Feed with Enid comics, images of old-timey daguerreotypes, and irony.)

Thanks for following AML on social media. Like many of you, I’m optimistic about AML 2.0 and the ways technology can make it more relevant and accessible to members old and new.

Posted in Blog Business, Electronic Age | Tagged , , | 11 Comments