While teaching at BYU, Evenson was involved in a controversy surrounding his first book Altmann's Tongue (1994). While a new professor of creative writing at Brigham Young University (BYU), Brian Evenson published Altmann's Tongue, which included horrific violence such as characters who are forced to eat mutilated tongues and who attempt to cut off their own limbs. Evenson stated that his book contract was a "significant factor" in his being hired, and he included some stories from the collection in his application. A graduate student complained anonymously to church leaders that the work promoted the "enjoyment" of violence, while Evenson argued that his fiction accentuated violence to show its horror and "thus allow it to be condemned." A senior faculty member planned to tell church authorities that Evenson knew that future, similar publications would "bring repercussions," even though Evenson had not said this. Evenson resigned from BYU in 1995, and left the church formally in 2000. His case, along with others, was included in a report by the American Association of University Professors, which argued that academic freedom was stifled at BYU.
Writing style and influences
Evenson's Ph.D is in both literature and critical theory, and his work is subtly philosophical, particularly influenced by continental philosophy. Many of Evenson's recurrent themes of virtuality and "sensation" being traceable to Deleuze & Guattari's Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Altmann's Tongue opened with an epigraph by Julia Kristeva; Dark Property featured quotes in untranslated German from Martin Heidegger; and several of Evenson's books have epigraphs from philosopher Alphonso Lingis. However, Evenson has stated that he intends any philosophical elements to be fully integrated into his fiction rather than promoting any particular viewpoint, and has argued that reading philosophical works directly is more rewarding than reading philosophy that is veiled as fiction.
Some of Evenson's work explores his Mormon heritage, often from a critical perspective or examining controversial subject matter. For example, the main character of The Open Curtain (2006) becomes preoccupied with a murder committed in the early 1900s by William Hooper Young, a grandson of 19th century Mormon leader Brigham Young, while Immobility (2012) takes place in a post-apocalyptic Utah and features some esoteric elements of LDS theology. Nonetheless, Evenson has asserted that he maintains a measure of respect for devout believers in the LDS Church and does not intend to casually offend or provoke them.
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