Wednesday, May 26, 2010

fictionalized, post-edit

i promised a wrap-up to the great mormon novel discussion, so i am going to stay true to my word, despite the fact that it has been suggested that this particular topic has run its course. that may be true, but here are a few final thoughts.

for starters, i feel like i should clarify the definition of "great mormon novel" under which i was working. i am not talking about novels that were simply written by people who happen to be mormon. i think it has been rightly pointed out that there are some fairly good examples of those. and also pointed out, by cousin nan, that some of them might even become classics in their own right once they have weathered the test of time. (orson scott card, your day is coming!) what i am talking about is a novel written by a mormon, yes, but also a novel that captures the mormon experience. a novel that can give the world an insight into what being a mormon might be like. something along the lines of gilead, by marilynne robinson, for example, or the golden compass trilogy.

so, that's one thing.

now. steve suggests that perhaps the most plausible explanation for a lack of great mormon literature is rooted in the lack of a collective mormon narrative. it is true that the mormon church, these days especially, draws from a wide geographic pool of people and traditions, and mormons don't identify as strongly as a cultural or ethnic group as other religions. i also think it is true that, as mormons, we are encouraged to find a way to live the doctrines of the church that makes the most sense to us; we have to live all of them, but our reasons for and ways of doing so vary. so the church can become a more individualistic than group-like experience. i do think, however, that the narrative of the beginning of the church and, in particular, the westward-bound pioneer experience represents a collective narrative on some level, though probably much less so to people joining the church now, and especially in countries outside the united states.

ultimately, i think the answer comes down to this. whether you consider it a collective narrative or just the history of the mormon church, there are things that make us stand out, things that make us self-conscious, things we would just rather not talk about for fear of seeming or sounding more peculiar than we already feel. the need (not unjustified, i might add) to be accepted and thought of as "normal" by our peers is strong enough to disallow any truly reflective examination of our heritage, at least one that other people will see and read and talk about. are we proud of who we are, what we do, what we believe and what we stand for? i think the answer is most definitely yes. but i think we would also like to seem sort of like everyone else.

so. will there never be a great novel that captures the mormon experience? i don't think so. but, i am done talking about it for now.

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