Our Aeneid: Twilight as Sexual Mysticism

You have said that the series is a “Mormon woman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream.” How so?

I mean that very literally because its inspiration came in the form of a dream that Stephenie Meyer, a cradle Latter Day Saint and BYU graduate, had on June 2, 2003. That dream—comprised of Edward and Bella’s time in a sunlit mountain meadow, which eventually became chapter 13 of the first book—is a snapshot of the allegorical meaning of the series: a Harlequin version of Mormon ideas about God and man. Harold Bloom of Yale University once wrote that Joseph Smith, Jr., the LDS prophet and author of The Book of Mormon, is America’s only religious genius. I agree.

Malcolm Muggeridge said that sex or eroticism is “the mysticism of the materialist,” and Mormonism is the spirituality of our times in this regard. It is no accident that Meyer wrote a book suffused with religious content within the romance genre (meaning a love story in this context) that includes a heroine’s apotheosis after marrying the image of Joseph Smith, Jr., and being transformed by childbirth into a super-powered near-immortal. Bella’s story is actually a mythic version of Mormon soteriology.

It is likewise no accident that Americans resonate with this message. Sex, after all, is by and large our religious faith and sole extra-personal experience—after reading and moviegoing, of course! In several ways, Mormonism, though a 19th-century anachronism, is America’s de facto religion in that it’s preoccupied with proper sexual relations. In this sense, Meyer has written the Aeneid for our naturalist, desire-driven culture.

– John Granger in an interview with Salvo. Read the entire interview here.

Also, Doug Wilson is in the process of reading through the first novel of the Twilight series: You may read his amusing and insightful take on the book at Credenda.org.

“More Like Not Running Away”

More Like Not Running Away: A Novel (Mary Mccarthy Prize in Short Fiction) More Like Not Running Away: A Novel by Paul Shepherd

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The initial impression was that this would be a long version of Faulkner’s “Barn Burning”, but after the first 30 pages, Shepherd seemed to find his own stride and the narrator Levi begins to develop into a real character. Mr. Shepherd’s phrasing is taught and somewhat stylized without ever feeling hurried or put-on, leaving a quasi-biblical aftertaste, like a McCarthy-infused aperitif.
Despite a few incongruities of characterization here and there, my only real complaint with this otherwise excellent story is the ending: I suppose it could be defended as realistic, but having successfully made me care about the narrator’s father Everest, the complete lack of redemption (and the seeming implication that this isn’t that big a deal) was frustrating to me: I felt a little put on. I thought I had a heavy-weight novel on my hands, only to have the last few punches thrown by a bantam-weight from Connecticut. Nevertheless, an enjoyable and beautifully written debut novel, and a few afternoons well-spent.

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In Which We’ve been Reading, Mostly

As Led Zeppelin so aptly put it, “It’s been a long time.” We’ve been basking in the glory of not having a schedule and so forth.

1. We got our annual ACCS conference on 2 weeks ago. Plenty of good stuff was flung about, and we were edified like nobody’s business. Particularly by Doug Jones, about whose talks we will have more to say at a later date. While at said conference, we used up a chunk of our book allowance on the following:

Small is Still Beautiful, by Joseph Pearce (link on the sidebar).

The Violent Bear it Away, by Flannery O’Connor.

What to Listen for in Music, by Aaron Copeland.

Art for God’s Sake, by Philip Graham Ryken (son of Leland Ryken).

2. We also finished a number of books this past week. Here’s the 12 peso version of our thoughts:

Long Way Down, by Nick Hornby. Fun, light reading, though not as good as High Fidelity. As with How to be Good, Hornby is very strong in his characterizations and incidental commentary about the human condition. However, when it comes time to conclude the book, to comment on the transcendant, Hornby isn’t sure what to do. in How to be Good, he tried to pull off a lame conclusion that didn’t stick (much like Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Ray). In Long Way Down, Hornby wisely walked away without any commentary at the end. It makes for a weak ending, but it’s better for a song to fade out on a repeating chorus than to suddenly end with whoopee-cushion noise.

My Antonia by Willa Cather. Great writing and characterization, though her understanding of men is imperfect, and one is occasionally pulled out of the story by her oddly feminine descriptions of male thoughts. Nevertheless, this is an enjoyable, if a little maudlin at times, story of the American midwest in the early part of the 20th century. Not the great American novel, but one could spend a few summer hours less productively.

Tristessa by Jack Kerouac. Mercifully short. Kerouac is pretensious and tedious, with a few momments of glorious luminosity. A gifted writer with little discipline.

Art for God’s Sake by Philip Graham Ryken. Not as good as I had thought it would be, having a piece by Mokato Fujimura on the cover. Should have listened to LaVar Burton. Not a terrible book, but very simplistic and a little too reliant on Beauty theology for my taste. As a scholarly book, this is weak. However, Mr. Ryken is a pastor first, which makes me suspect that the goal of this book was to speak to the average Christian in the congregation who doesn’t think that art is a legitimate profession, and that we as Christians don’t really need to waste our time understanding art. For that person, this is a fine start. For me; well, it has a beautiful cover.

3. Further, we are beginning some books, most notably Ulysses by James Joyce. We are simultaneously reading Homer’s Odyssey in the hopes of having a clue about what is going on.

4. We have no idea why we are using the first person plural to refer to ourselves. But it’s not going to stop.

5. Here are some music updates, for those who care.

The Smashing Pumpkins come out with a new album on the 10th of July. The singles and the buzz sound promising. As do the set lists from their recent shows. Start looking for tickets now. The best band of the 90’s is back.

Silverchair has a new record out called Young Modern, and it is worth a listen. It is produced by Nick Launay, mixed by David Bottril (I Mother Earth, Muse, Tool) and the orchestral arrangements are written by Van Dyke Parks (The Beach Boys, U2) who also did the arrangements on Silverchair’s 2002 magnum opus Diorama (if you don’t own that record, you are a philistine). Though frontman Daniel Johns still has some work to do as a lyricist, his song-writing keeps getting better and better. Young Modern is expansive, experimental pop-rock at its best. You can listen to the record here.

Post Stardom Depression is a band from Seattle that has been giving our buddy Casey’s band The Magic Mirrors a helping hand. If you are into straightforward hard rock ala Alice in Chains, check them out.

6. Doug Jones is our hero, and he recently preached a semi-controversial sermon at Christ Church in Moscow, ID. Extremely important for Christians who want to understand modern America and especially the so-called “war on terror” from a Biblical perspective. Click on the Christ Church link, go to “sermons/lectures”, then 6/17/2007 “Whose Freedom are You?”. It is worth the time it takes to listen.

7. We catalogued our books. Nearing a thousand. We’ll be buying a storage unit soon. “Gurulib.com” is a great service. And Free.

In Which We Share what our Friends are Doing

Bands our Friends are in:

1. Vanity Band – Brain child of friend Joel Nass. They had a video which did very well in a recent Music Nation competition (top 5, I believe), which was excellent. If it had come on MTV5 (or which ever one they are actually showing vids on nowadays), I would not have changed the channel. Very indie-cool music. And Joel is hot.

2. The Magic Mirrors – Friend and former bandmate (not to mention best man) Casey plays drums with these guys. If you like a classic rock vibe, you might dig their stuff.

3. The Cubes – Friend’s little brother J.T. fronts this quartet. He is a talented singer and songwriter. I’ve never seen this band live, but I did a show with J.T.’s previous band Edward Bugg, and the songs he had written for them were their best stuff and legitimately enjoyable. He used to sing from behind the drum kit, but not at all like Phil Collins.

Photographs our Friends are taking:

1. Joel Nass’ wife Amber Garvey is a superb photographer. And I don’t mean that in a “my-ringo-site-is-really-popular” kind of way: She’s an artist. Hire them to do your next wedding. And make sure to check out her portfolio galleries.

2. Isaiah Eiyre took the pictures at my wedding, as well as our engagement pictures (a few are posted below). Isaiah has long, artistic-looking hair.

Picture 1
Picture 2
Picture 3
Picture 4

Books our Friends are writing:

1. Nate Wilson isn’t so much a friend (in the slumber-parties and friends-forever necklaces sense) as a decade-long acquaintance. But he has written some books, and we think they are swell. He has two bible-story books (book one, book two) and more on the way from Cannon Press which are genuinely great, as well as the first in a series to be published by Random House called Leepike Ridge, which looks very promising. Nate’s dust jacket picture is funny.

2. I hesitate to be so forward as to call Dr. Peter Leithart a friend, but he was at various times my pastor and college professor, he baptized my daughter and knocked me over in a pickup game of basketball. Point being, there are few people on this earth I respect more. And he’s written another book on the all-important subject of baptism. Buy it. And while you’re at it, buy every other book he’s written. You’ll thank me.

In Which Chinese Children Manufacture Doctors (and other Links)

1. McSweeney’s! If for some reason you aren’t hip to this groove, you should become so.
They do lists as well as fiction. Here are a few of my favorites:
a) What I Think the Illegible Gang Graffiti That Was Spray-Painted Onto My Apartment Building Actually Says
b) Clint Eastwood Film or Gay Porn?
c) Other Names Sting Could Go by, as Suggested by My Thesaurus

2. John Barach praises Chocolat, proving once again that my wife knows better than I.

3. This is Margaret Sanger, evil and scary as Hell.

4. I understand the appeal of rolling back the prices for cheap tupperware, but Wal-Mart Doctors? All kinds of not good.

5. Reading Dr. Peter Leithart’s A Great Mystery with the wife, which is a collection of wedding homilies. Brilliant as always, Leithart’s book is made doubly fun for us since we had the privilege of being present at most of these weddings. Though about marriage particularly, it is very devotional as well. Pick it up.

In Which Links are Shared

While procrastinating, I enjoyed these sites most:

1. Buddha invented a new fiction genre and we dig it.

2. Relief Journal is a new fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction journal for Christians who hate CBD and still secretly shop at Hot Topic stores. We are awaiting our copy of the first issue. Review forthcoming.

3. This is funny. The Comic for 4/14.

4. Check out Makoto Fujimura’s latest post. Made me want to go to a baseball game. And I hate baseball.

5. Though I’m also not Martin Luther’s biggest fan, this was interesting.

6. And while I’m on Dr. Leithart’s site, you should really read this.