Part Seven: On Tolkien Studies And Mormon Studies

Tolkien Studies Compared To Mormon Studies


Well, Daymon, here we
are again.


Yeah.  Again.


I see you’ve been busy
writing this and that, Articles of Faith, Contests, and probably
god-knows-what-else.  Arguing with
apologists, which is just insane, by the way.


I thought you were writing all that stuff.  No?
There must be another Daymon around here, then.  A real jerk, sometimes, too.  Anyway, where were we?


Last time you called
amateurs maggots, I believe.


Ah.  Well, Farmer


Explain the difference.


Farmer Maggot is of the crafty old rural folk, goodhearted
and courageous.  Helps the hobbits pass
through the Shire.  But not really the
go-to guy for, say, fighting off Nazgul.


So, you’re saying
someone is a Nazgul?  Who?  Let’s call someone a dirty name.


No, I’m saying there’s a division of labor in any research
field; at least, in a functioning one: your Gandalfs, Maggotts, Aragorns, and
hobbits.  Let me draw a contrastive case.


Tolkien Studies, then?


Sure.  You be the
Mormon Studies guy, and I’ll be the Tolkien Studies guy.  MS and TS, OK?


Wait.  Which one am I?


The Mormon Studies guy.


But I’d rather be the
other one.


Next time.  Now, let
me outline what for most scholars is probably a laughable notion, maybe even
more so than Mormon Studies might be.  Ha
ha.  What does Tolkien Studies consist


Um, nerds with fake
ears, camping out in “Rivendell”?


Let’s see.  You can
take a class on Tolkien and Translation at Harvard, taught by a linguistic
anthropologist. [link syllabus]


Maybe TT learned all
this learning there?


Maybe, though I don’t believe Nazgul Rhetoric was on the syllabus.  Just kidding, TT.  Anyway.
To supplement your Harvard education, assuming you have any money left,
you can also take classes on Tolkien at Bethel U, Rutgers, Atlantic Baptist,
St. Francis College, Victoria U of Wellington, U of Vermont, U of Central
Lancashire, U of Auckland, Denver U, Rice, Crichton College, and the U of
Calgary.  A very international offering,
which list would seem to compare favorably with anything offered in your field.


Well, we have a chair
at Utah State, and another at Claremont.
And a program at Wyoming, and sort of a program at UVU (for now), and,
well, there’s BYU.  And Mormons studying
history, religion, and so on.  CES?  And, I took a class at Penn on Mormonism.


Yeah, I taught it.


Well, you
assistant-taught it.


Got me.  We had four
students, three of them LDS.  Not a
promising sight.  But you guys have
things at Yale and so on, in American Religion, and American History, which
should not be ignored.


Yeah, I guess so.  It’s just, I’d like something focused only on
Mormons, you know?  Without all the
comparative business, reading about all those other religions, histories, and
so on.


Well, you have chairs.
We don’t have that in Tolkien Studies.
But what does a chair mean?


I think you’ve
addressed that already, so maybe we can move on?


If you insist.  I
suppose the truth about chairs not organically growing out of a blossoming
field is sometimes hard to bear?


Whatever.  Anyway, what else do you have, with all your
“fiction” escapist non-sense waste of time studies?


You are referring to my field, or yours?  Just kidding.
Tolkien studiesists upon graduation can obtain credit toward a masters from
the Mythgard Institute.


Good Lord!  Mythgard, how absurd!


It’s credit is good in the UK, Europe, and in the US, and it
is accredited through the U Wales Institute, Cardiff.  Now, if you prefer a more mainstream
institution, you can, like many before you, and as Mormons have long done,
conduct your graduate work at, say, Chicago, Berkeley, Harvard, or any other
program, and write your thesis or dissertation on Tolkien or his writings.  But I warn you, if you think a lit review in
Mormon Studies is a pain in the ass, wait until you see what you’ll have to
read through, the piles upon piles, if you want to get grounded in TS.


Well, in MS we have
the Journal of Mormon History.


A legitimate scholarly publication, for sure.  What else?


Um, a Claremont one,
tied to the graduate program.  FARMS, I
mean, Mormon Studies Review.
Dialogue.  Sunstone.  BYU Studies.
The Ensign.  Utah Historical
Quarterly, um, Book of Mormon Studies.  Some
others.  There’s some religious journals,
too.  And an online journal.  Not a blog, I mean a real online journal.


Wait, The Ensign?
Come on.  Those others are all
good solid places to publish, though, I don’t know about…anyway.  Let’s see, in TS you’d have, just focused on
Tolkien and his writings, to keep up with Vinya
and Parma Eldalamberon,
both published by the Elvish Linguistic Fellowship, which also has an online
journal called Tengwestie.


Just a handful of
nerds calling each other Elrondos and Almarien, I bet, prancing around in
cloaks, wearing fake swords.


Nerds, I don’t know.
But many of the linguistic and literary articles are hard core, I mean,
serious linguistic research.  And ELF is
part of Mythopoeic Society, a legitimate scholarly circle.  But that’s not all, my dear self.  The Tolkien Society publishes Amon Hen, Mallorn, its annual proceedings, and there’s Quettar, and, of course, international conferences held at
Oxford.  And the Tolkien Studies journal published by West Virginia University
Press.  Now, in order to keep up with
just this side of TS, you’d have to be able to read from work published in
English, Spanish, Portuguese,


Yeah, well, MS is
global too. 


Let me finish: Polish, Italian, German, Dutch, Swedish,
Norwegian, Finnish, Czech, Bulgarian, Chinese, Lithuanian, and, also,
Croatian.  Probably Russian, Hebrew, and
others, as T’s work has been translated into many tongues.


Almost as many as
Joseph Smith’s, I suppose.  Now, that’s
fine, but aren’t these all amateurs?
Don’t you hate amateurs?  I do.


No, I don’t.  Amateur means they have a choice to do
what they do; so they do it out of love, often.
And many of the listservs and publications are managed by sites with
.edu addresses.  So, just because one doesn’t
make money writing about Tolkienism, that doesn’t mean one doesn’t know a lot
about linguistics, literature, mythology, history, poetry, Quenya, and so on.  But that brings us to the logic of practice,
which –




Don’t worry about it.
Smith’s work hasn’t yet been translated into Quenya, Sindarin, or any of
the other fifteen languages Tolkien wrote about as a linguist.


As far as you
know.  So?


So, you can read parts of Genesis, and the New Testament, in
Sindarin.  [link genesis]


You got us there.


You can take classes in Sindarin, Quenya, learn the Tengwar
and Cirth, all offered for free; though, tutors are willing to take your money
to teach you, as well.


Priestcraft!  You guys have priestcraft!


They aren’t priests.
That’s a difference we might get to. Now, you guys have podcasts and


Yeah, with thousands
of listeners.


That’s great.  I’ve
heard you on there; I didn’t need to buy your book after hearing it.




Never mind.  TS has
Professor Corey Olsen, whose podcasts have been downloaded over a million
times.  And then


Wait, a million?


Yep.  Then there’s, middleearth radio, dunedain radio,, a
social networking site,,,, all full
of user-contributed content; and many comprehensive wikis, encyclopedias, and,
of course, online games.


That’s not really
Tolkien Studies, though.  The games.


No, but pretty cool.
All your Book of Mormon derived stuff is pretty lame, cartoons, and
boardgames, dumpy action figures, living room kitsch, blatant propaganda badly
executed, most of it.  A shame what’s
been done in the name of that book.  And
that awful movie where Nephi wore a watch –


That was the Liahona!


Oh.  My point is, if
you want to see a thriving amateur driven community


You mean fan-driven.


The term can be applied to Mormon Studies, as well, you know.


No, we don’t have
fans.  We have Mormon Studiesists.


What’s the difference?


Well, there’s a big
difference.  I’m sure.


The difference is something we can bring out, maybe.  What TS doesn’t have is the requirement that
you “believe” in certain truth claims, that you don’t consume certain things,
or watch certain movies (except maybe The
Chronicles of Narnia
).  It’s a
voluntary research body, without a church.
And though there’s the Tolkien Estate, and New Line Cinema and the like,
we don’t have a corporate headquarters that generates mountains of material
designed to script our voices, and so, we don’t have a Priestly Caste
subsidized by donations.


We?  You’re not really in Tolkien Studies.


No, but we’re playing, remember?  You’re not in Mormon Studies, either.


Right.  I forgot.


Anyway.  This is an
important contrast.  Because one studies
art and the artist, and the other studies a religion comprised of humans living
and dead; a certain clarity of purpose is seen in one, absent in the other.


Let me guess which one.


No.  To study a
religion is fine, unless you allow what you are studying to define the subject
for you, without realizing how such things are actually constructed.


Why is that a
problem?  Jewish Studies is similar.


Perhaps.  But “Mormon”
is a thing created by language, without folks using that word and applying it to
people, things, ideas, and so on, there is nothing to study.




So, it means that your subject is a “symbolic sign” as
Peirce would say, and that means, all that is required in order for your
subject to exist is, one, the word itself; and two, agreement between a few
people that the word stands for some other thing, a Mormon.  That’s it.
Then they all can go around sticking and unsticking that label until
they have a thing with enough material around it, that it can be subjected to
“academic” study.


And what comes of


It means that all the powers of modern culture enter into
the construction of Mormon: capital, legislation, armies, social compulsion,
mass media, and so on.  What happens, as
I’ve laid out in a few other writings, is that some construction of Mormon is
taken as a subject, as “the” authentic version; and rather than explore
self-critically how that subject comes into existence as a researchable entity,
your Mormon Studies folks seem to insist that they are studying some real
thing.  And when this is done, the
creative powers are confirmed, and given translation into academia.


That’s too simple.


It’s a summary of other writings which I’m not going into
here.  Look, the Priestly Caste
constructs a subject for MS, and to oppose that construction is to offer a
challenge to priestly power, not merely to provide an alternative reading of an
identity.  Gay Studies, Women Studies,
Ethnic Studies, and so on; these wrestle with identity, for sure, and have
their heavy hitters, big funders, and so on; but they can’t really threaten a
scholar with eternal damnation for wanting to include, say, sex indeterminate
individuals in their study of “Women”.


That’s only if you
believe the Priestly Caste, the damnation threat, I mean.


And that’s the problem: that “belief” in statements not
restricted to the research corpus are allowed into the research process,
because “Mormon” is what it is: a symbolic sign.  For example, you can study Tolkien’s theory
of art without being read as proselytizing or opposing that theory, or be read
as wanting to include hobbits into the race of elves.


So, you can study
Joseph Smith’s theology from an objective perspective.


Perhaps, whatever “objective” means.  But your reading of that is informed by
nearly two centuries of discourse addressing your subject, and many many people
with an interest in your research concluding very specific things.  These people sit on boards that oversee editors
who control publication channels, presses, blogs, and so on.  They read, fund, complain, write-back, call
you names.  No new blog or journal is
free from that, unless it recognizes and explores how “Mormon” is created.


Not all the people.  I mean, not all the people are biased.


I didn’t say all the people.
But you better believe that MS is not composed of, funded by, and
addressing itself to some exclusive clique of scholars with no horses in the
race, as it were.  Anyone can say they
are concerned with only the Truth, but anyone is also free to define what they
mean by The Truth, and often what they mean is, what they’ve already worked


It’s not all


I didn’t say that.
Apologetics is just a genre, wherein scholarly posture, style, and
conference presentations are mobilized to conceal the decontextualization of
the findings of others outside the community, all for the purpose of arriving
at conclusions already decided upon by the community one addresses.  Apologists are just doing Public Relations,
often stealing from the work of others, and translating it inside a very narrow
circle of, um, “readers”.  Not a Priestly
Caste, but servants of it, albeit often doing more damage than good.


What do you mean?


I can’t get into that right now, but let’s just say FARMS
made relevant the counter-claims of archaeologists.  Now, if you’re an eighteen year old kid, who
are you going to believe?  The guy at
Yale, with books and breadth and depth of knowledge, or your neighbor the
software salesman presenting on “symbolism” at a conference where they bear
testimony to the truth of something, before they begin presenting on that
thing?  Which sort of reader do we thereafter
retain in Mormonism?  But that’s for


Alright.   So,
your TS has no Priestly Caste.


And no Correlation: no awareness or absurd imagining that
there’s some secret committee that sits around and ensures that everything said
in one venue, tv station, or kitsch-shop is all approved by the Lord.  And


Go on.


And, there is no explicit rules by which they, that
committee, conduct their work.  That is
to say, the end result is tossed around among Mormons, but how they got
there?  Not so much.  Not even the guys on the committee are
trained in any way.  That is, if you
wanted to get a Masters in Correlation, there is no curriculum.  It’s a game of guessing what other people,
Priests, might find inspirational, true, or offensive; and so, a game of
guessing how a text affects others, and how they might read into an author’s
spirituality, or some other abstract quality seemingly manifested in a
text.  That’s the paranoia that shapes so
much of your MS, though you’ll have to read my other work to flesh out the
logic, evidence, and implications.


I’ll get around to
it.  But I read a summary from a guy who
heard about it.  And, wait, that was my
work.  And –


And, what?  Tolkien
Studies is fortunate that its subject is an art, not a religion, and so the
truth claims are easily bracketed from the beginning, and the research can move
forward.  There is no wrestling with
Faith versus Scholarship, with how I can please Mammon and not displease God
simultaneously.  Just students who love
the subject, study it, and write about it.


You’re a
Pollyanna.  What about the money being
made?  Doesn’t that induce bias?


Bias?  That’s not my
favorite word.  No, it doesn’t.  Peter Jackson has an interest in a review of
his work being favorable, but not really in ensuring that proto-Quenya is
taught to seven year olds, or that scholars writing about Tolkien come to some
conclusion.  There are firewalls built
into TS, because its subject is an art.
You can believe in it, or not.  It
doesn’t really affect the scholarship, because there’s no one patrolling, and
no one to imagine is harmed, and no one to fear because they claim, or others
claim, there is an eye, lidless, wreathed in flame, o’er watching your




I prefer fans to apologists covert, and to apologists proudly
out of their FAIR closet; and I think the research, that is, the Truth, prefers
fans, too.  They at least can admire,
without finding something proves their case.
Patriotism may be the refuge of scoundrels, and Faith an easy cover for
Power; but Art is the last refuge of Truth, perhaps.  And science.


So, that’s sort of
like what Bloom was advocating for the study of religion, I think.


The art thing?  Yeah,
but a little too late.  Once art takes
that step to becoming not merely representing and creating, but also concerning
itself with holding together the relationship between what is doing the
representing and what is being represented –


The Truth of the work


At that point there is no turning back.  Drama to Mysteries.  Actors to Priests.  MS is constructed in that latter dynamic; all
the chairs and graduate programs and fellowships, and journals and sincerity,
these don’t alter that fact.


It’s not solved by
really sincere effort?


No, because the problem is not that one doesn’t believe in
MS enough.  The problems are
otherwise.  And until MS arrives at a way
to construct “Mormon” independent of the cultural processes which gave rise to
Mormon Studies, and to its subject, there is a clear distinction between my
pretend field, and your pretend pretend field.




Ignoramus.  There is
no reason to worry about who is an elf, a hobbit, or Nazgul.  Social classifications and identity politics
have been blocked at the door of TS, and yet the requirement to classify and
construct a Mormon is at the heart of, is the first word, of your MS.


Um, I just think if we
really try sincerely to be objective that’s good enough.


Fine.  Until that hope
comes true, we can turn away from certain vulgar and foolish practices, and
give no ear to lying voices, and to those looking for servants.


That’s too
metaphysical for me.


You’re the MS, and I’m the TS.  I guess that makes sense, unfortunately.  Now, did you order that book on Sindarin


Which one?


It’s published by the University of Utah Press.



Next time, I’m going
to ask you about the division of labor, the ways in which amateur researchers
can step into the study of Mormonism, and the ways they ought not.


Fair enough.  I’ve put
that one off far too long.  Consider, for
your homework, which disciplines are “prodigy-rich” and which
“prodigy-poor”.  That’s an easy way into the
division of labor and logic of practice of research.


And you don’t mean
signs and wonders, as prodigies?



The Question Of Translation: Or, How To Write Correlated History

How can we rewrite our history to make it understandable to US Today?

This is an often asked, and rarely answered question I’d like to give a try at answering.  My main concern is that anyone be able to:

1.  Identify a problem area of Mormon History (particularly when it comes to one’s “faith”)

2. Look over the published literature most readily accessible to one’s eyes

3. Write a book/blog/article which confirms exactly what we’d like to believe about that problem area, which is: Not a Problem Area, Perfectly Normal By Our (secular/orthodox/business) Best Practices Today.

My inspiration for this important task by which we Mormons might set about erasing our own history was a review of a book by a Mr. Brant Gardner.  Now, first, the good thing to know about Mormon Studies is that one need not actually bother reading a book before:

1.  Writing about the book in public

2.  Using the (title of, summary of, or whathaveyou from the) book for one’s own argument, posturing, and rounding up of friends on your side, and

3.  Calling the author names that would make one’s primary teacher faint.

The great thing about this is that one can draw from those who’ve also not read a book, save a little cash, and simply argue against or for another person’s summary of a book (as arguing against the book itself), a book they’ve apparently not read.  So long as one’s community, or peers, all conspire in this magic circle’s drawing, you see, no one need ever read carefully anyone’s book, and we can all pretend to have read everything published, because we can trot out a “like” or “don’t like” which can align us personally with others we also like.

I mean, is there really a difference between what a book argues, and someone’s summary/emotional reaction/kneejerk response to having had that book (or some part of it) before his eyes.  I didn’t think so, either.

Thus, one can “do” history just by going over the representations of texts, because what really matters, you see, is that the “ideas” are preserved from text to metatext to meta-metatext, ad nauseum.  That is a way to begin revising in a Corralated Way.  Begin with the mind, and ignore all the other stuff, and make a lot of presumptions and guesses that otherwise require careful research to resolve.

My example of how to do this correctly is a blog post regarding The Abridging Works, which apparently provoked Mr. Gardner to post his version of what I’m saying about “translation,” after having “gone over” the book (an essay concludes the book, “On Translation”).  The ensuing “debate” was fruitless, as expected.

Now, I admitted in my reply that I’ve not read Gardner’s book, though I fibbed a bit and said I planned on reading it, sometime.  Sure.  But why read his book, when I can read this summary of how a person reacted to reading his book?  This guy liked it, so should I (unless I don’t like that guy!).  What was the book about?  Well, that’s why it’s in a book, you see, because it’s too complex to summarize in a review.  Got it?

What I get from the review is that Mr. Gardner says that the “idea” of the Book of Mormon was deposited into Joseph Smith’s head, in the from of “mentalese” which was then translated into English.  This seems like a perfectly sensible claim (when dealing with something attributed to the Gift and Power of God, where does ‘sensibility’ end?  Isn’t finding that line the starting point?  Anyway).  Mentalese competes with another winner: that Moroni whispered the words into Joseph’s ear.  I don’t think I need to point out the problems of the “whisper game theory,” which is only possible to believe at a certain level of abstraction, the same level which can treat “the Bible” as a word which refers to a single thing, an idea; rather than, say, a many times translated, revised, commmented upon, collection of things which have “the Bible” as part of their title.

Ahem.  Let me point out the historical and logical problems of the Mentalese claim, whether made by Mr. Gardner, or by a guy who read Mr. Gardner, or by anyone who’d like to just up and fill in what was never explained by the guy who experienced it, namely, Joseph Smith.

First: What is the point of the all the hullabulloo regarding the “Gold Plates” if the Mentalese transcript was downloaded into Smith’s brain?  Though the plates were often not physically in front of his eyes, that Joseph had the plates (for a time) does seem fairly important.  Several fellows in the published BoM made quite a stink about preserving the records, hauling them around, keeping them from so-and-so.  And the two stones set in a bow?  Gardner (channeled through the review of his book, ironically) apparently dismisses the stone/s as nothing more than a mind-focuser; but they are called “interpreters”, and were thought to be rather important when it came to interpreting ancient records; that is, of course, if the ostensible downloaded Mentalese version of these tales is to be believed.    In fact, at no point in the published BoM do we have anthing like a theory of Mentalese, which is sort of a problem, in itself.

In fact, one might argue that it was the plates which evidence suggests were “deposited” into a hill, rather than a Mentalese text being deposited into a brain.  But perhaps it’s all symbolic, and Cumorah really means “perietal lobe”, while the hole in Cumorah really was the Pineal Gland.

But if that’s the case, then what were the 3 witnesses seeing, Joseph Smith’s mind?  I think this sort of theory has been trotted out before, but not by apologetics.

One sort of deposit precludes the other being necessary.  Indeed, if such a Mentalese text could be deposited into Smith’s brain, why not simply deposit it into everyone’s brain (including Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, you, me, and so on)?  What about those lost pages from the Book of Lehi?  A Brain Fart?  Forgetfulness, projected onto Martin Harris?  Ah, psychobabble is so good to trot out, and yet, sometimes hides an iron fist in its velvet glove.

In fact, why not simply download the entire archives of Heaven, mentalized into Mentalese, for all to access?  We’d need a search engine, I suppose, but there’s no doubt some form of Google-Mentalese could be drawn up.  And it’d save us publishing costs, having to turn pages, manuals being written, Sunday School lessons on the meaning of a word/phrase from the BoM, talks about it, CES, Missionaries…in fact, I’m starting to see there are many good reasons for depositing the Mentalese edition of the BoM into everyone’s head, whether they want it or not.

Well, what if we aren’t all worthy of such a deposit?

That may be, but now we’ve complicated the question in a way we don’t complicate it when handing out printed texts; does a missionary ask whether an investigator is worthy to hold and read the BoM?  It is an easy thing to trot out speculations to support an initial speculation, and the further we move into Mentalized Abstactions, the easier such a path is to tread.  The end point, of course, is a single universe composed of my mind, contemplating my mind.  Not reality, in other words, as we’ve come to understand it.

Second: What is Mentalese?  I know computer guys like Gardner would have it that language is merely a vehicle for carrying thought, something like a screen for our software, but the evidence is against against such a crude, mechanical perspective.  I am not a computer, are you?

Language seems to be essential to symbolic and creative, inventive and artistic thought of the sort we attribute to most (or some, or a few) humans, and by essential I mean, without it there is no such thought.  Other kinds of thought are possible when language is not present (and never acquired), but not the sort that humans do all day long.  Keep in mind we invented computers, theories of language, philology, calculus, and a few other things my computer refuses to do for me.  Language (as spoken) is another word for a sort of thinking.

That is to say, the “language” we speak shapes the thoughts we have (this is something I’ve demonstrated in my dissertation by doing a history of Mormon theology, though I’ve written what amounts to another book on the subject, not yet finished).  Gives form to airy nothings.

So, though some would like to believe in Mentalese, it remains nothing but a way to fill a hole; that is, a guess based in part on Chomsky’s “deep structure”, a notion which accounts for some of language learning, it seems, but hardly gives us an explanation of language as a spoken, social reality.  If there is indeed no such thing as Mentalese (whatever one calls it: a psychological entity that resides outside language as a social reality), then there is a real difficulty with positing that as an avenue for delivering the Gift and Power of God, that Word.

The logical problem is this: one poses a hypothetical process (depositing in Mentalese) in order to explain a positive, end result.  The process involves a guess which cannot be refined inside the argument it is placed; one can hide this circularity by drawing on hypotheticals from respected disciplines, and without also drawing on the disputes and serious conflicts entangled with the positing of the hypothetical inside the discipline.  That is to say, when one takes a word from a discipline, be sure to not take all the arguments that specialists have over the word’s utility.

Thus, one should draw from summaries, wikis, and popular writings (but cite authoritative texts!) that mention scientific hypotheticals (String Theory/Quantum Physics/Fractal Geometry/Mentalese/Arc of Culture…), and treat these as facts for the plucking and stuffing together.   At a certain point one’s argument requires more hypotheticals, which reaching a certain number become so entangled that they begin to form a seeming coherent, solid, indisputable mass.  You’ll seem like a genius, being able to put together String Theory, Hopi Kiva Rites, Sumerian Philology, and Organic Chemistry.  And who could dispute such a genius?

Such movements in a text, moreover, are not summarizable in a layman’s review, though the words are recitable (e.g., the review of Gardner’s book mentions Mentalese and Eidetic Memory, without engaging with their referents’ existence).   Boo-ya!  Send the book to readers not versed in Mentalese, and hope they haven’t had the download of Celestial Physics/Psychology yet.  Let others then circulate the image of one’s genius by way of summary, and let their sense of humility or playing nice preclude the curtain’s pulling back, for all those who come across the metatexts that stand for one’s book.

So, future Correlated Historian, use words that are circulating popularly, but don’t, for heaven’s sake, muddle up one’s lumping together of these terms by engaging in the fact of their hypothetical nature; and the historical, discplinary reasons that gave rise to the discussion of the hypothetical.  Don’t mention things like: Mentalese was invented on analogy with Esperanto, and was brought forward to free psychology from Skinner boxes; that is, as a hypothetical product of hypothetical deep structure/grammar of the brain/hypothetical mind, which black box was necessary in order to account for the fact that children learn language in a way Behaviorism cannot explain.

So, a black box; a black box (placeholder) rather quickly becomes an actual thing, and five times removed, we end up with using it as an explanation for how the BoM was translated, and that explanation, while not passing muster with linguists or psychologists, is easy to put over self-proclaimed Mormon Studiesists.

But there is a rationale for doing this kind of folk history, and that concerns the way Mormon Studies interfaces with Correlation.

The justifications for Correlation in the 1960s were two: the gospel will be taken to the sort of people who have  a hard time “getting it” (you know, ‘those’ kind of people…”ethnic” types once called Lamanites?); second, that the “gospel” until that decade was a perfectly coherent, ordered, and developed field, so that everything publicly attributed to Joseph Smith through David O. McKay was already Correlated, for it was all in the mind, and in the mind of God.  So, why Correlate?  See point 1: the “lamanites” (and to save money on printing).

Now, keep in mind that correlation would be irrelevent if Mentalese existed, and could be used as a solutions-delivery method by God, The Prophet, or anyone else; even to ‘ethnic’ types.

So, here we have the irony: the existence of the COB, of Correlation, and of the Corporation all are signs that Mentalese is nothing but a hypothesis, and a poor one at that.  The irony is that the supposed existence of a mental language is precisely what is relied on as all the products of Correlation are churned out.  That is: If they can strip down the material to a notional core (seventy words, for example), this can trigger the same notional core in one’s mind, and the Mormons will all be perfectly correlated, one heart, one mind, et cetera, and so on.

But nothing of the sort goes on.  It’s scripts circulating for performance of Mormonness inside some community of usage.

We have people writing books that draw from texts, and from summaries of texts, and reviews of texts about texts…and at no point do we ever seem to have the same notions about the initial text itself.  Brigham Young once said that the BoM would be very different if written a few decades after 1830.  That suggests something not downloaded, except in the vaguest, most generalest sense; in the same sense that anti-Mormons would claim was the source of inspiration for the BoM itself: Ethan Smith’s book; culture; mental problems.  So, ironically, a “mentalese” perspective ends up at the same place an utterly secular guess begins, which is: it’s all in his mind.

As my dissertation attempts to explain, the re-reading of linguistic action as something like Mentalese in Mormon history was both a theological and politcal turn: polygamy can be “believed in” but not “practiced”, intelligences are not discrete, agentive, communicating lifeforms, but rather qualities of mind, for a few examples.  This conversion of speech into “thought” (in fact, “thought” like “sincerity” are merely genres of speech) was precisely the cause of our misunderstanding of our own theology and history, which misunderstanding and relegating to “the mysteries” gave more than a little oomph to the initial editorial committee Lee started calling the Correlation Committee.  So, we find ourselves back inside the hamster wheel of Correlationism.

An alternate theory of translation, it seems to me, ought to be begin with how children read, and with the basic parameters necessary to produce an interpretation deemed “correct”, and that gives us a representation of a book called “the most correct”.

Keep in mind that, one, Smith apparently spoke the words written by a scribe; and two, the published BoM was “correct,” but that what it came from was called the “most correct.”  That gap between the two – the published BoM and the thing written on the plates – is pretty good evidence that Joseph Smith was no mere passive recipient of a thought-ebook-download, and that our ideas about revelation are too easily squished into our ideas of Ideas.

So, how to write a Correlated History?  It’s all in the mind: start with abstract nouns, trot out a few authoritative sciences represented in a few popular, NOVA-circulated words, treat one form of a word as the same thing as another form of a word (“faith” always means “faith”), and with this gooey mess look for all the holes in history you’d like to fill.  Then send your book to others with the same holes, and let them send out stripped down “notional cores” of one’s book.

Part Six: Amateurs Are Maggots?! On Mormon Studies

Part Six
of Interviews With Myself

Amateurs Are Maggots!?!  On Mormon Studies

Daymon, the basic
question I have is this: why do you hate amateurs so much?

Right. I think maybe I’ve not made myself clear on this point. The
word “amateur” is neither pejorative, as folks with advanced degrees
might have it; nor positive in evaluation. It is just a word that describes
persons who don’t make the majority of their income from the practice of
researching and writing about Mormonism. That’s it.  And so it allows the discussion of “Mormon
Studies” to be introduced to practical matters of economy and culture.  Hence we can proceed to some analysis
concerning the production of Mormon culture.

So, why do you hate

Jeez. I don’t hate amateurs. If I said Mormon Studies was
populated with Mormons, would that be used against me?  What if I wasn’t a Mormon? “You hate
Mormons!” I’d hear.  Identity
politics can be played in many ways.  Particularly when the identity has no
definition, but many which circulate and oppose one another:  What is a Mormon is answered differently by
different Mormons.  So there’s one
problem with Mormon Studies: it lacks a subject with definition.  That is different from, say, Women’s Studies,
African Studies, even Jewish Studies.

But they argue about definitions all the time.

Right, and that generates a lot of articles, books, and so
on.  But their subject is grounded in
something other than the act of speaking: “Mormon” identity is
speech-dependent.  It comes about by
virtue of the magic of pronouncement, either from a representative of an
institution, or from one’s own self-identification.  And how one defines “Mormon” shapes how one
reacts to “Mormon Studies,” and how one reacts then shapes where one speaks to
other “Mormons.”  The construction of
“Mormon Studies” has not resolved the basic problem that “Mormon” as a way to
classify research activities is inherently bound up with pragmatics, with ways
of speaking and the effects of speaking and writing.  Field-external sources of “power,” say, cultural
or economic capital, can then wield field-shaping influence.

Could you explain that?
“Mormon” is a speech dependent identity?

Not yet.  Later.  Look, I’m looking at what is called Mormon
Studies as an anthropologist.

Ah, so that’s, why you
hate amateurs?

Fine. Yep. I do. Just because I’m evil. If I can see past the
burning boiling hatred, I might try to explain why I think amateurs are,
potentially, a strength in the study of Mormonism.  What seems clear, however, is that Mormon
Studies was and is held to be cast in the image of academic disciplines. But
there may another way to view Mormon Studies, as something other than an
academic field.  Look to Maggot.  Farmer Maggot.

What about journals?
And endowed Chairs? And research? And people saying “Mormon” at
conferences? And, and, and –

Get a hold of yourself, there, boy-o. Anyone can start a journal,
or a blog; and a few endowed chairs do not a discipline make.  In fact, an endowed chair is often a sign of a
lack of academic credibility, and also a way to control the direction of
“Mormon Studies” from within the Ivy Tower; a sort of secular “priesthood” with
all the trappings of priestcraft, perhaps.
Buying cultural capital with economic capital, rather than acquiring it
through the traditional channels by which academic posts develop.

Whoa!  My testimony is hurting right now.  Can we stop?

What are signs of Mormon Studies are all the things which require
either little capital and lots of time, ambition, and, maybe, loneliness (e.g.,
blogs, online ‘journals’, publishing with apologetic venues); or lots of
capital and little background (e.g., funding of endowed chairs): those things
people point to as evidence of a thriving Mormon Studies, as a burgeoning
respectability within academia.  We have
long been seeking respectability, and this is merely the latest, upper-class
effort.  A sort of elite PR, let’s
say.  But I think it may be something
different from an academic discipline, like a —

Hold on.  So, you want to make it out to be like all
the other “studies”, and want to be the President of Mormon Studies,

Huh? No. What I think is necessary is a Mormon Studies which is
grounded in, say, Mormonism, rather than, say, academia. Would a Mormon Studies
proponent ever present on anything driven by the methodology of
“seership”? Or would he ever claim to have seen some ancient text in
vision, and then, published on it in a bible studies journal? Or what about the
use of spirit guides to give us a new history of New Deal? Or a revelation from
Moroni regarding DNA? Never. So, what is called Mormon Studies is a
“Mormonism” rarified, bleached out, fluffy version translated into
the categories of academia.  That’s one
reason it’s like Fundamentalism.  And
like that sect, only a few benefit from the labors of many.

Who benefits from the supposed existence of Mormon Studies?  People benefiting from the claims of an
existing Mormon Studies are those who can funnel real or cultural capital, floating
around Mormonism, back their way: that is, graduate students applying for
fellowships and grants; academics looking to fluff up their cv’s, or escape the
administrative track, and a few authors. Some folks at the COB, perhaps,
looking for a little academic cover to keep them employed despite the ongoing
paranoia of too much history hurting a people’s faith.

Everyone else, maybe, is a patsy in their game: all the amateurs
whose work would be called, say, doctrinal, spiritual, or otherwise fitted into
existing genres of Mormonism, instead find their work swallowed up by the
privileged few who’d claim a Mormon Studies, and make it seem distinct from
apologetics, at least, to those who don’t like apologetics.

So, you don’t hate

No. I despise efforts to remake every aspect of our religion so
that it is respectable to some other power.
We’ve been at it too long, with the complicity of “leaders”
who just wanted to make it into a business. Make it evangelical, vaguely
Christian, feminist or misogynist, pro- or anti-homosexual, corporate, just a
topic for dry historical inquiry, a lame “community,” whatever; but
for god’s sake, the ambition seems to be, don’t let it be Mormonism with all
its kookiness, magic, potency, and demands for charity, honesty, humility,
sacrifice, empathy, serious and cautious working out, and immense discipline;
and truth, don’t forget.  No, this isn’t
Daymon the anthropologist, so much as Daymon the Elder’s Quorum teacher,
talking.  No, for some reason Mormonism
must be translated constantly into the categories of some other tradition: an
academic field, a political party, an economic justification for corporate
capitalism, a monstrosity of a corporation, a chance to play-act at being nice,
whatever. By dumping the term Mormon Studies onto anything of intellectual
value done by Mormons, or about Mormons, or about the products of Mormons, a
handful of folks have merely severed another part of Mormonism away, for their
own benefit and counsel.


So.  Mormon Studies is in
the service of Correlation, for it provides an “outlet” for Mormons
to publish without really dealing with Correlation, all the while still under
the soft regime of Correlationistas, but with the added poison of schizophrenic
Mormon Neo-Con Liberals in Academia (I’m joking, friends!), who can say things
in the name of Mormon Studies that wouldn’t be speakable at Sunday school.  But that’s where the chairs, and journals, subtle
priestly guidance, paranoia of being outside proper speaking circles, and
highly capitalized bodies come into play, as regulators of the genre.

So, what do you think
should be done about all the amateurs? Genocide, or exile?

Look, I’m here now as an anthropologist, not a problem solver. But
maybe I can point to what I would do. Lawyers generally have done good work in
Mormonism, and I don’t mean at the COB. They’ve brought a level of rigor, a
depth of reading, a care for argument into what was previously left to guys
writing pamphlets in order to recruit plural wives, or to ex-Mormons trying to
save your souls, or to overweening “leaders” looking at a red chair,
or to a few academics who thought the Mormons quant enough to be studied in the
same way Native Americans were, in a sort of salvage ethnography. There are
some real gems of scholarship from the early 1900s, from the early 1840s, from
the early 1990s, and everywhere between. What I don’t see is why these must be
named and classified as Mormon Studies, except because it is something which
makes sense inside academia. You don’t need credentials to do good work, but
credentials help when applying for grants, fellowships, chairs, and the like;
all of which are given life through a framing of Mormon Studies, which field is
watered largely by the work of amateurs, who then are excluded from the same
fruits there cultivated.  Amateurs can
present at conferences held at BYU, UVU, Yale, and Claremont, but how many are
offered positions?  Participation is not
always Participation.

So, you don’t hate
amateurs just because they are amateurs, and the word “amateur”
doesn’t hide contempt?

Ah, at last! We can get to the starting point, at last.  There is a logic to the entry points of
Mormonism as a research subject, as a cultural field with products made by
humans.  One could go to graduate school,
and either study Mormonism from some academic perspective, or merely add to
one’s training a few excursions into Mormonism, all the while mostly working
on, say, The Meaning of X, Y, and Z in A Foreign Place or Time.  Or one can enter into the research strictly
as an amateur.  Now, amateurs can do
certain kinds of research very well, the sort that makes demands on time, for
example, by sitting in the archives or just reading everything one can
find.  Here we can begin to identity how
the matter of “genre” (by that I mean, “Mormon” is a speech-dependent thing,
just as a kind of literature is), how genre interfaces with matters of text,
economy, and the production of “knowledge” as a cultural product.  There is a logic to this practice, which I
will outline soon enough, alright?

OK.  Another promise.

I will get back to the whole baptism and Holy Ghost discussion,
eventually.  But first we will wander
over to Farmer Maggot’s Farm, which should not be confused with Maggie’s Farm.  Maggot may have something to teach us about divisions
of labor in Mormonism: specifically, how amateur and professional scholarship
can intersect, and do so without the intervention of a priestly caste, highly
capitalized chairs, and a massive corporate headquarters concerned not only
with copyright and trademark, but also what you say, how you dress, who you
touch, where you tithe, and how you read.
Perhaps Tolkien Studies and Tolkien Fanzines together more closely
approximate what is called Mormon Studies; Jewish Studies or Gender Studies may
not be the most accurate analogs of Mormon Studies.

The basic link? 

A voluntary society loosely affiliated; research that is mostly
text-corpus driven and so offering a few comparative routes of research; certain
easy entry points for research, and yet highly technical scholarship; journals;
podcasts; for-credit courses at major universities; and a membership not
determined by matters of biology, ethnicity, rituals, or even belief in the
truth or falsity of statements made “inside” the community.  Both have their Maggots and their Nazgul, as
well.  But there are telling differences.

Tolkien Studies versus
Mormon Studies?

You got it.  Grudge Match.  Next time.