“More than a ‘Subspecies of American Literature’:
Obstacles toward a Transnational Mormon Novel”


Although there's not much in Scott Hales new essay (published in The Journal of Transnational American Studies) that's not also to be found in his dissertation, it's a lot shorter than his dissertation and much easier to find. And I appreciate its simpler focus---in this case on the need for the Mormon novel to move beyond the perception of being purely American. He again talks about On the Road to Heaven, Salvador, Redemption Road, and Elders---each of which have their pluses and minuses, but which average out by the criteria presented here as, respectively, -, +, -, +.

I recommend the essay to you if you're jonesing for some good MoLit criticism. Here's a lengthy excerpt from the conclusion to get your whistle wet:
The challenge of the transnational Mormon novel seems to be how to avoid constructing utopian spaces that function simply as another form of colonialist expression that promotes what it understands to be “change” and “social betterment” transnationally while remaining sadly unaware of its own cultural assumptions and prejudices.

How is such avoidance possible, though, when most Mormon novels are being written by white American authors whose transnational ties are decidedly limited? David A. Shuler’s thoughts on historical colonialism, international development efforts, and Mormon expansion into developing nations offer some possibilities with application to transnational Mormon novels. As Shuler notes, “implement[ing] change in a cross-cultural relationship is challenging and can even be dangerous,” particularly when “the environment and context within which we initiate change . . . is different from our own and is unfamiliar, or worse, unknown. . . . the best way for Mormons—or any people—to promote change in the lives of others is to “recognize and respect agency” and be “aware of [personal] motives, predispositions, and areas of ignorance.” As Shuler observes, “We must be aware of our impositions, meaning how our cultural values may differ from others we try to help, and how forceful we are, or can be, in influencing their ideas and actions and ultimately their lives. We should question our methods and our assumptions, including any change [to] orthodoxies that have not been humbly and thoughtfully challenged” (281–82). In their efforts to imagine transnational Mormonism and promote global betterment, therefore, Mormon novels must reflect constantly on their cultural work and the kind(s) of transnational Mormonism they construct and promote through utopian spaces. Furthermore, they must be mindful of the ways they depict and appeal to non-Western Mormons, whose “cultural values” and “Mormon” identities may be radically different from the values and identities of American Mormons. They must be aware also that giving voice to the Other—including the Mormon Other—is always a problematic endeavor. Utopian spaces, after all, are experimental constructs where ideas for social betterment are culturally determined and often ephemeral. What might function as a utopian space for one people might be dystopian for others.

To be sure, it is altogether likely that the next one hundred years of Mormon literature will better reflect the recent international growth of the LDS Church,particularly the experiences of those who have grown up in the Mormon faith in international settings and transnational situations and better understand the needs of their various regions and cultures. . . .

Accordingly, the Mormon novel will likely remain little more than a “subspecies of American literature” if it long resists or overlooks seeking after these “shared kernels of humanity” and continues to present transnational landscapes as America’s foil, a place where American missionaries go to be tried and tested before they return home with honor.
Of course, this just makes me more anxious for Scott's analysis of City of Brick and Shadow.

But it also makes me think about my short story "The Great Mormon Novel of the 21st Century" and wonder whether it's a step towards the transnational novel Scott's imagining or mired in the Americentricity we hope someday to grow out of. As the author, my opinion of the story is irrelevant. What matters is what the story actually does for readers.

So! To encourage that conversation, for the next month (until April 7), you can download "The Great Mormon Novel of the 21st Century" from Smashwords for free with the following coupon: TH84W.

I don't mind if you hate it. That's okay. (Of course, you're welcome to like it as well. That's perfectly fine.)

So while I may be sad to be a boring white male American Mormon writer. Where are all the Mormon writers who are different on at least three of those other four points? Why are they so hard to find?

In the meantime, I suppose you're thtuck with what you've got. . . .

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