For the past month, I’ve been working on the first chapter of my dissertation on the Mormon novel. Since I like research and writing, yet value perfection, the experience has been equal parts euphoria and frustration. I feel as if I’m making my argument well enough, but something always nags me to make it better: Find better sources. Write better sentences. Provide better analysis. It wears on me.
But things are proceeding—if not on schedule, which I estimate to be off of by half a month. As of this morning, I am on page 29 (9,149 words) and I have about a third of the chapter left to write. I have a pretty solid outline in my head, a kind of vague outline on paper, and a lot of research notes in a dozen or so files on my laptop. I learn new things every day, but encounter few surprises. Except when I do encounter surprises, which seems to happen about twice a week or so.
Lately, I’ve found myself wishing I had more contact with people who are working on similar projects. My dissertation relies heavily on reading Mormon novels as cultural products of certain historical situations and attitudinal trends. As my recent posts on Nephi Anderson have shown, I’m interested in finding ways in which these novels participate in certain cultural projects or reveal certain cultural attitudes. I’m also interested in how they respond directly or indirectly not only to the Mormonism of their day, but also to other –isms (like progressivism or feminism) that that may or may not have had an overt or obvious influence on their production.
Often, as I’m trying to do all of this, I write something or I have an idea that seems right…but could use a thorough gauntleting from critics who know the field. Hence: my wish for contact.
In one sense, I already have some contact—through my posts on Dawning of a Brighter Day and guest posts on A Motley Vision—with people who are working on similar projects—as well as from those who comment on this blog. But I have the suspicion that there are even more people out there—people like me—who are working on essays, theses, or dissertations on Mormon literature—who have valuable things to say. I imagine them as a silent majority—people like I was a few years ago—who are hard at work on Mormon literary criticism, but not letting anyone know.
I suspect this for a number of reasons:
1) I keep finding these people at professional conferences. They seem equally surprised by my existence. (Is it me or are PhDs in lit underrepresented on the so-called Bloggernacle?)
2) Last month, while I was in Utah, I had the chance to visit John Bennion’s LDS Literature class at BYU, which had about fifteen to twenty students, each of whom—I imagine—are currently preparing end of term essays. As an advocate of Mormon lit-crit, I would sacrifice my collection of Eugene England bobble-heads to get a look at these essays. Just imagine what they could become if nudged in the right direction!
3) Irreantum and other Mormon journals keep publishing essays on Mormon literature by people I’ve never heard of. I would like to have more contact with these people.
4) YouTube has convinced me that no one is special or doing anything wholly original. If I am doing something or working on a project, chances are someone else is working on something very similar. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who gets panic attacks when I come across someone’s work who is eerily similar to my own. Wouldn’t it be nice—so to speak—to be in contact with these people and sort out the differences?)
5) Google Analytics assures me that more people read this blog than comment on it. My hope is that some of these lurkers read this blog because they are interested in the work I do and already do or want to do similar work themselves.
My invitation is for these scholars to make themselves known. Ideally, I’d like a place where critics who are working on problems related to Mormon literature (defined as broadly as you like) can come together to think through these problems, share ideas and insight, offer helpful critiques, and give the kind of feedback professors who are unfamiliar with Mormonism are not able to offer.
I also imagine a place where aspiring critics—think of Bennion’s brood of BYU critics—can go to cut their teeth on Mormon lit-crit and mingle with the experts.
Does this sort of thing interest anyone?
If so, I am extending the hand of fellowship. Speak! Comment! Make yourself known!