Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Chloroform in Print

Everyone knows the famous Mark Twain quotation about the Book of Mormon being "chloroform in print." For the most part I think he's right; its prose is less than user-friendly and its plot is fairly complicated. But I wonder if it's literary construction is that way for a reason. Isaiah, prophecying of Jesus' incarnation, writes that he "hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him there is no beauty that we should desire him." You could say the same thing about the Book of Mormon.

Maybe this all goes back to Kierkegaards thoughts on aurthority and aesthetics. We don't want to mistake the beautiful for the authoritative, and one way to keep things clear is to make sure the authoritative isn't very beautiful. (I don't say that's the only reason for the Book of Mormon's clunky prose, just one possibility)

4 Comments:

At 11/03/2005 08:11:00 AM,

"aurthoritative" sounds like it is an L. Tom Perry word... in which case, you should write that the "Book of Marmon is chloroform in print"

 
At 11/03/2005 09:16:00 PM,

I don't know if it is limited to the Book of Mormon. My wife just made it through Isaiah chapters of the Book of Mormon, an unpleasant experience by all accounts. But that particular "chloroform" was lifted from another source.

At any rate, I think that the "dryness" of the book lends it to helping me pay more attention to the Spirit while reading. I'm not distracted by heart-pounding, page-turning plot climaxes. If I want to enjoy my Book of Mormon reading experience, the only way I can do so is to try to focus on what the Spirit is teaching me through the reading... because that is the ONLY way it seems to be enjoyable (at least to me).

But when I do pursue the Spirit while reading, the Book of Mormon ceases to be "chloroform" and becomes a lot more vivid.

 
At 11/11/2005 02:49:00 PM,

Interesting idea, Chris, but I have to disagree. I think the dryness of particular sections of the Book of Mormon were not a result of divine design, but of divine necessity---the Lord had to work with what he had and what he had was a bunch of boys with sharp sticks and sheets of metal. And let's face it, most of these boys (okay, men), weren't exactly the literary type. I mean, a good quarter of the book is written by army generals. And Patton ain't known for his eloquence (maybe his lack thereof, but that's another story).

Now on to Twain. Yes, Mark, I disagree with you too. I happen to believe that parts of the Book of Mormon are not only interesting, but beautiful literature. Take Alma 41:14--

Therefore, my son, see that you are merciful unto your brethren; deal justly, judge righteously, and do good continually; and if ye do all these things then shall ye receive your reward; yea, ye shall have mercy restored unto you again; ye shall have justice restored unto you again; ye shall have a righteous judgment restored unto you again; and ye shall have good rewarded unto you again.

Okay, Mr. Twain, show me such where I can find such perfect parallelism in Huck Finn.

Or look at the exchange of letters between Moroni and Pahoran. Talk about a page turner! I'm even tempted to suggest that Moroni's letter rivals Elizabeth Bennet's response to Mr. Darcy's proposal of marriage in condescention and biting criticism (and Chris knows in what great regard I hold this scene). It's good reading!

 
At 11/23/2005 11:50:00 AM,

Actually, my wife and I read the Pahoran/Moroni chapters last night and I guess I must confess that Janelle is right about that part, at least. It is a page turner.

However, I think the Pahoran/Moroni part of the war chapters is an exception. For me at least, the war chapters are incredibly dull; I would actually prefer to wade my way through Isaiah than through most of the adventures of Cap'n Moroni.

But I don't think Chris meant that the Book of Mormon totally lacks "beautiful" passages or that it is un-interesting. And maybe the parts that are stylistically lacking are due to the fact that it was written by inept writers (army generals, etc).

What I took from Chris is that the Book of Mormon is NOT an "entertaining" book. I don't derive any of the same types of "joy" out of reading it that I derive from reading say, Harry Potter or A Tale of Two Cities. I also don't derive a whole lot of "intellectual stimulation" per se from reading it.

I find Book of Mormon reading to be tiresome and boring, IF I have not approached it with the desire to have the Spirit while I read. No spirit, and it is pretty dull. I struggle to fill my reading "quota".

HOWEVER, I notice that when I actively pursue the Spirit prior to reading the Book of Mormon, THEN my reading is VERY interesting and insightful. It does become a "page turning" experience. The Book functions a lot like the Liahona in that respect.

Or something to that effect.

 

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