In Tents #81: A Note on Hermeneutics

Hermes was the messenger of the gods, so the branch of philosophy dealing with how to interpret messages from God, and interpretation generally, bears his name.

When Jonathan Langford asked me to do a column I thought it would be an exercise in re-interpreting the stories of Jesus’s debates with the Pharisees, an opportunity to point out things like Mark’s first mention of the Pharisees. They ask three questions, and Jesus answers them without rebuke. The first question is not addressed to Jesus, but to his disciples:

And when the scribes and Pharisees saw him eat with publicans and sinners, they said unto his disciples, How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
–Mark 2:16-17

It’s a charming answer, especially since the story doesn’t say he was preaching to his dinner companions, or calling them to repentance.

Continue Reading →

in verse # 21 : unblank verse

The imp of the perverse — a constant companion — suggested as a title for this installment “blankety-blank verse,” but as its topic is the Elizabethan sonnet, the title above presented itself as an amiable contrast to my last installment.  You will recall from my last post [link] that both the English sonnet and blank verse were inventions of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-47).  However, The new Princeton encyclopedia of poetry and poetics credits Sir Thomas Wyatt (1503-1542) with bringing the sonnet from Italy and adapting it, “showing an immediate preference … for a closing couplet in the sestet,”[i] as in this sonnet which he translated from the Italian of Petrarch:

The long love that in my thought doth harbor,
and in my heart doth keep his residence,
Into my face presseth with bold pretense
And there encampeth, spreading his banner
She that me learns to love and suffer
And wills that my trust and lust’s negligence
Be reined by reason, shame and reverence
With his hardiness takes displeasure.
Wherewithal unto the heart’s forest he flieth,
Leaving his enterprise with pain and cry,
And there him hideth, and not appeareth.
What may I do, when my master feareth,
But in the field with him to live and die?
For good is the life ending faithfully.[ii]

The Italian or Petrarchan sonnet features an octave rhymed abbaabba (or, in Anthony Burgess’s hands, an invocation, Abba Abba[iii]) Continue Reading →

What Does The Book of Laman Think It’s Doing?

Michael Austin is a board member of BCC Press.

Mette Harrison’s The Book of Laman, published in July by BCC Press, is the sort of book that is almost always misunderstood badly by people who haven’t bothered to read it. This is because it looks like it is doing things that it is not actually doing, and the things it is doing are so unexpected that you pretty much have to read the whole thing to understand them. I  want to talk about what those things are, but first, let’s spend a few minutes talking about what they aren’t. 

First, this is not a work of satire, There have been other books published with the same premise–the early portions of the Book of Mormon told from Laman’s perspective–that have been satirical, and the idea of telling a story from an antagonist’s point of view seems to lend itself to an ironic treatment. But this is not what Harrison is doing. She is taking the Book of Mormon and its characters extremely seriously throughout. Continue Reading →

Review of Mahonri Stewart’s The Drown’ed Book

Reviewed by Hillary Stirling

Photo by Emily Bawden Drew

In Mahonri Stewart’s The Drown’ed Book; or the History of William Shakespeare, Part Last, I felt as though I was watching a play the English-speaking world has been waiting 400 years for. Though William Shakespeare became so famous, we have precious little knowledge about his life. We’re not even entirely sure about the order his plays were written in. We have a handful of facts: names of family members, when they were born, when they died, and a few documents beyond Shakespeare’s literary works. Much has been made of his will and the fact that he left his “second-best bed” to his wife. From these bare threads of William Shakespeare’s known history,  Stewart weaves a rich tapestry that even The Bard would delight in. Continue Reading →

The Aborted Legacy of Mormon Art, or Why there will be no Mormon Shakespeare

The following is a guest post by Mette Ivie Harrison. Mette is a former BYU “Benson Scholar” and high school seminary Scripture Chase champion. She now writes Mormon mysteries about Bishop’s Wife Linda Wallheim starting with The Bishop’s Wife. She is an All American triathlete and holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University. She is the ward historian and nursery teacher, has five children and lives in Layton, Utah. Her most recent published novel, The Book of Laman, was published in July by the By Common Consent Press.

In 1888, Orson F. Whitney, gave a speech entitled “Home Literature” in which he claimed “We will yet have Miltons and Shakespeares of our own.” At the time, Mormons were struggling with the US government on many levels, including polygamy. Church leaders were imprisoned for the practice, the holy temples were being threatened with desecration or even destruction. Mormons had already faced a long history of persecution, being chased out of Kirtland, Ohio and then Nauvoo, Illinois, the prophet Joseph Smith being martyred in 1844 in Carthage Jail. The Mormon pioneers fled to the Salt Lake Valley in part because it was not part of the United States at the time. Mormons intended to create their own government of Deseret and their own identity, but it was difficult to get the legitimacy they craved for their own faith community. Put into this context, Whitney’s speech makes the goal of a Mormon Shakespeare or Milton that much more poignant and urgent. Continue Reading →

Melissa Leilani Larson: The Theatre of the Uncomfortable

Michael Austin is a board member of BCC Press.

Shakespeare is great and all, but, on the list of best playwrights in the history of ever, I only consider him #3. In second place is the Greek master Euripides, author of some 92 plays, only 19 of which have survived. Two of them—Medea, the story of a woman who murders her own children in revenge for her husband’s decision to abandon her; and The Trojan Women, a conversation among the noble women of Troy who have been condemned to death or concubinage at the end of the Trojan War—flay me to the core every time I watch or read them.

And in first place is the Norwegian genius Henrik Ibsen, who has been responsible for some of the most uncomfortable evenings of my life. A stage version of Ghosts that I saw in Salt Lake City was two hours of sheer physical discomfort causedby the plot. The Glenda Jackson film version of Hedda Gabler that I used to show students in my World Literature courses was like sitting on the edge of a cliff from start to finish. Continue Reading →

In Tents #80 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives, part 5

This Sunday, August 6, would be my mother’s 98th birthday, but she died in January of last year. Fifty-one years ago her birthday was on a Saturday. That morning our family went to the south Relief Society room of our double chapel on 9th East in Provo across the street from Deseret Towers. The south Relief Society room was the one with the font, and as we sat there in our white clothes some priests (which will have an entirely different connotation to someone unfamiliar with Mormon culture) gave us a demonstration, standing in the middle of the room, of how the baptisms would proceed, how to hold our fathers’ hands, how to lean back under the water.

People born in June were normally baptized the first Saturday in July, but we had been on vacation that day. (That may have been the day we climbed Boot Hill. Disappointing. First, not much of a hill. Second, only six men had been gunned down and buried there. Six was the first 30 minutes of a John Wayne film, not a legendary event in the American imagination.)

Sometime during that first week of August I walked across the street to Beverly Broadbent’s, the Primary president, to pass off the Articles of Faith, including this one,

 We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly; we also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God.

Or maybe it was four years later, when I graduated from Primary, that I memorized and recited the Articles of Faith. At any rate, for half a century now I have associated the word translate with words like BibleBook of Mormon, and scripture. In that time I’ve read a fair number of translators’ prefaces, a fair amount about the problems of taking words from one language and setting them down in another. (And I did some work on the manual for Book of Mormon translators.)

I’m comfortable with the idea that translations are incomplete, that things can be lost and gained in translation, and that translation can have a wider meaning than simply finding word equivalences between languages, such as transforming from a lower state to a higher state.

No piece of writing, my father had said, is perfect.

What if you got a perfect essay from a student?

I guess it would be translated.

Into what language? Continue Reading →

Seven Times Mormon Women’s Memoirs Changed the Conversation (#6 Will Blow Your Mind)

Michael Austin is a board member of BCC Press.

Last week, Tracy McKay published a remarkable memoir entitled The Burning Point: A Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival, and Hope.  I think it is a game changer. Full disclosure: I was one of the main editors of By Common Consent Press on this project. Even fuller disclosure: I became one of the main editors for this book because, the second I heard about it, I knew that it would be a game changer. Here’s why.

In the first place, The Burning Point is a beautifully written memoir. Those who have followed Tracy on her own blog, Dandelion Mama  or as a regular contributor to BCC, know that she is a graceful, lyrical writer with a profound moral depth and a varied body of experience. It is a good book.

But it is also an important book. For one thing, it deals head on with the problem of opioid addiction, which was at the root of the family crisis that Tracy narrates. As this becomes a major epidemic in the United States–and make no mistake about it, it is becoming a major epidemic in the United States–books like Tracy’s will become a more and more important part of the solution. Continue Reading →

in verse #77 : what is poetic about “Poetry”?

So, having all read the poem, tell me what is verse in Marianne Moore’s poem “Poetry”?  And what is poetic about it?  She must have asked herself the same question, because when she reprinted the poem in her Complete poems, she revised it thus:

Poetry

I, too, dislike it.
**Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one discovers in
**it after all, a place for the genuine.[i]

The revisions emphasize concision.

But at what cost?  What is lost?  Well, for one, two of the most famous phrases in Moore’s corpus, if not the corpus of 20th-century poetry:  “beyond all this fiddle” and “imaginary gardens with real toads in them”.

The only structural element I can find in the original poem, the one published in 1920, is in the  Continue Reading →

In Tents #78 The Rhetoric of Baptism Narratives, part 3

June is a month to celebrate–give thanks for–prophetic religion.  And not just because June is the month when Spencer W. Kimball chose to mark the U.S. Bison Ten Eel not with a patriotic panegyric about the joys of living in a free country, but with a stern warning about “The False Gods We Worship“:

We train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching:

“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:44–45.)

Two years later, the second Friday in June, I spent the morning with some other missionaries out at the Martin Harris Farm, cutting grass and getting it ready for the horde of Pageant visitors next month. When we came back to the Hill Cumorah for lunch, Jennie (foreman Ralph’s 9-year-old daughter) ran out of the quonset hut behind the hill, excited, Continue Reading →

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