Wednesday, March 25, 2009

And so it begins...

I am now an official member of the Rocky Mountain Modern Literature Association (RMMLA), my first professional association (though I'm awfully close to joining the Association for Mormon Letters (AML), too---I just need to work up the guts or find sufficient motivation or twenty spare bucks to take that plunge; it might just happen soon, especially as I consider the increasing quality of Irreantum, the AML's journal). Part of the reason, well, the only reason, really, I forked out the twenty-five bucks for a one-year student membership in the RMMLA is because I'll be reading two papers* at the convention this fall, one in the Skin as Text session and the other in the AML session (unless both sessions are scheduled for the same time).

As a preview for what I'll be reading, here are the proposals I submitted for your viewing pleasure:

Skin as Text Session

Paper Title: “Between The Dead and the Living: Reading Beneath Sharon Olds’ Textu(r)al Skin” (part of my MA thesis on Olds)

In his review of Sharon Olds’ third collection of poetry, The Gold Cell, Roland Flint asks, “What is [she] […] but our gifted and startling poet of the body?” Within the context of his argument on the “epistemology of [Olds’] touch,” this generalized “our” refers not simply to the readers of Poet Lore (the journal in which the review originally appeared) or even to the American poetry reading public in general, but to the society of fully embodied individuals. On the one hand, this might seem a moot point since all human beings have bodies. On the other, Olds’ “audacious intimacies,” as Flint calls them, provide a daring, if shocking glimpse into the human confrontation with the viscerally charged realities of the embodied life, absorbing our attention, as Olds has absorbed herself and her writing, in the human body’s physical acts and details. To read and truly connect with Olds, then, is to be immersed in bodily space and experience. Through such an engagement with the poet, we see her textually disrobe as she describes the body in ways often considered too crude or personal for mixed company and, in the process, discloses a self seeking to fully possess and express its own corporeality. This paper explores Olds’ textual embodiment in terms of her second collection, The Dead and the Living, a rhetorical space through which Olds textually penetrates corpses ravaged by poverty and war, the body shamed by incest and abuse, and senses placed at odds with the body through cultural mediation and social mechanization. She moves thus all to the end of (re)writing the body’s history and celebrating the flesh as matter worthy, in every aspect and from every angle, of our deepest attention and respect; and to remind us that the body and its essential functions can be, in the most primal sense, sources of ecstasy and identity.

* * * *

AML Session

Paper Title: “Reading the Mormon Gothic: LDS Vampires and the Uncanny” (an extended version of my review essay scheduled to appear in Dialogue this summer)

This paper examines two Mormon vampire texts, Stephenie Meyer’s series of Twilight novels and Eugene Woodbury’s Angel Falling Softly, in terms of psychoanalysis and gothic literature. Although Angel differs from Twilight in form, approach, and audience—Twilight is a sprawling young adult romance published by a national publishing house, a story in which Mormonism plays a largely metatextual role while Angel, a genre-based book printed by an independent Mormon publisher, takes an outsider’s view of Wasatch Front Mormon culture even as it pokes at the boundaries of LDS theology and of the vampire genre—each is firmly linked to the other and rooted in Mormonism in its interaction, however unconscious, with Freud’s notion of the uncanny. Since the uncanny occupies the threshold between the unfamiliar and the familiar, the imagined and the real, in its broadest sense it essentially serves a subversive function in the systems through which we mediate the immaterial and material aspects of our world, including psychology, language, and religion. In terms of the Mormon gothic, as this paper suggests, this repressed and subversive familiarity deals with more than simply the hidden aspects of each book’s vampire protagonists. Beyond that, it suggests that we must confront the psychologically or linguistically or metaphysically repressed aspects of our psyches (as represented by the gothic monster) if we are to move through the silence, solitude, and darkness of spiritual/emotional estrangement into a genuine state of at-one-ment with self and others, including God.

* * * *

So there you have it. My time in the big leagues begins this October.

We'll see how things turn out.

(*Note made 3 April 2009: I was mistaken. Presenters are only allowed to read one paper per convention, and since the AML session only has three presenters and since I'm trying to bolster the AML, I withdrew my paper from the Skin as Text session. I'll have to save that one for another day...)