Mormon Criticism: Great, but how?
A couple of responses. First, I think that Jake and Andrew are proposing the same thing. Literary criticism of all kinds exists within the same sphere. Each type of criticism is informed by other types, and all exist within the same sphere, contributing to the dialogue. Mormon criticism function in the same way, commenting on and drawing from various other forms of criticism while contributing to the dialogue at large. The purpose of the humanities is to analyze and explore the human experience. As I think you have pointed out in your essay, Mormonism stands in a unique place as it purports to have determined an absolute truth and purpose for the human (earthly) experience already.
That is not to say that Mormons or Mormonism already knows all truth and has already gleaned all knowledge; rather, it simply purports to have located the correct source of that truth and knowledge
(intelligence, if you will) — God, through the proper channels of revelation via the Holy Ghost (a fullness of which is only receivable through the proper ordinances and covenants of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).
A likely reason why so-called “Mormon criticism” has not yet taken off the ground is because this seems irreconcilable with many other forms of literary criticism, many of which point away from truth that can be circumscribed into one great whole, and towards endless Derridian “play” that is constantly pointing at something else. And yet, many forms of criticism do the same exact thing: for example, Marxist criticism (originally, at least) purported that truth to be class conflict (and later iterations shifted the focus to concepts such as base and superstructure; nevertheless remaining one truth that the critical concept was based off of).
My critique of “Mormon criticism” would be to ask what it does, and what will it contribute? Meaning: how does it act? How does it look at the world? When analyzing a text, what modes of analysis will it employ? Burton’s essay, I feel, did a good job of explaining what Mormon criticism should not do (e.g. assimilation, rejection, delineation) but did not spell out what it SHOULD do. Where is the starting place? Is it simply with use of another critical theory, while adding scripture quotes and referencing Hugh Nibley?
Second, what will it contribute? Will it add anything to the contemporary dialogue? Will other scholars recognize it as saying something worthwhile to them? Clearly, the LDS perspective would be to say, of course it will add something worthwhile; it brings the light and truth of the gospel. My response would be to ask, how will it do that? Missionaries today are taught to carefully plan lessons. We as Mormon scholars must do the same if we are to present “Mormon criticism” to the world. Essentially, this comes back to the “how does it act” question. What is “Mormon criticism” doing, and how, that will justify its inclusion in today’s canon of criticism at large?
Finally, what does it contribute to a Latter-day Saint’s individual progression? Does it simply repeat platitudes and bring to light obscure quotes from the Journal of Discourses? “Mormon criticism” must shine some light on gospel truths beyond that which would be heard in a Sunday School class. If it fails to do so, then I would recommend sticking to the Church’s curriculum.
Essentially, what “Mormon criticism” needs is a plan of attack. Thus far, what has been said, essentially, is that, in order to discover additional truth and further spread the message of the Restoration, Latter-day Saints need to explore the world around them using gospel techniques, instead of the techniques of the world, or at least that those techniques need to be filtered through a gospel-centered lens. This is all well and good, but how? Perhaps the next step is to give it a try. Pick a text, and hammer at it.
Thanks again for your contributions to this discussion. Very interesting.