Editor’s Note

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Contemporary issues manifest in narratives, driving them to utopian or dystopian conclusions. Barnita Bagchi describes utopia as an imaginative creation of a possible world, while understanding “the fictiveness and the perpetual state of incompleteness that such worlds enshrine.” The state of the world has never been described as utopian, but many might attribute dystopian to the current sense of warped truth and turn from empathy perpetuated in the social consciousness. A lack of truth is ironic, because the shift in politics has largely resulted from the idea of “narrative as truth.”

Storytelling and iconography play a large part in how humans perceive the world around them, particularly narratives of any kind. Narratives can become a tool for positive and negative purposes. While several of the world’s politicians utilize them for manipulation, narratives can also illicit positive change. The researchers featured in this volume demonstrate how imagery, difference, and interpretation can challenge the current scholarly narrative to include greater perspective.

Variance leads to innovation. Difference encourages greatness. Without knowledge of varied perspectives, empathy is simple to dismiss. What is needed is an expansion of empathy, and the knowledge that difference isn’t synonymous with dangerous.



Editor’s Note


Many an interdisciplinary researcher will question themselves, and rightly so. Altogether, disciplines are merely puzzle pieces, that when combined, lead to a bigger picture. As suggested by Allen Repko and Rick Szostack in Interdisciplinary Research: Process and Theory, to ignore one or more of the other pieces would make for a fairly haphazard puzzle by denying “the focus [on the particular] problem or issue or intellectual question that each discipline is addressing” (7). In order to construct the larger picture, there are calls for unbiased research. Not surprisingly, interdisciplinary can, at times, be confused with neutrality.

Even if neutrality were attainable, it might not result in good research. As Katrina Griffen believes, “preferences and inclinations can fuel a person’s enthusiasm or provoke attempts to comprehend the facets of the universe” (3). When taking a biased stance toward research, it’s a sort of driver. Understandably, too much bias is bad, but a nugget of bias can be beneficial to research. A certain kind of bias guides passion for knowledge. If everyone were neutral all the time, their dispassion would lead them nowhere.

Perhaps neutral or objective is not a word that should be placed alongside interdisciplinary studies, but rather, an open-mind. The terms might seem similar, but they are different. Neutrality or objectivity is assuming a stance from a distance, and how can anything be learned from a distance? However, keeping an open-mind allows for proximity, while utilizing the nugget of bias necessary for research results. Admitting to and assessing disciplinary and personal bias can help toss out the bulk of it. Yet, Griffen contends that it’s impossible to get rid of bias, and scholars should avoid pretending it’s not there. Not taking all the facts into account is a sort of bias all by itself. It is the mission of Penumbra to encourage transformative ideas and storytelling, which means calling for greater interdisciplinarity of research.

Interestingly, there is a bias towards interdisciplinary scholarship, which as Tom McLeish notes, is often seen as a periphery concern. Scholars should strive to synthesize foundational knowledge with multiple facets, to lead them to a larger and illuminating summation. Indeed, identifying bias allows for richer interdisciplinary conversations, and a niche from which to begin research.


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This issue of Penumbra includes seven critical articles, two essays, two short stories, and various poems. The work comes to us from scholars in academe and out, established and emerging writers and artist in the U.S. and abroad, individuals using traditional and experimental styles to explore the power of critical and creative expression as it relates to the interdisciplinary approach.

In his essay, “The Power of Poetry: Story, Symbol, and Incantation”, Robert Ratliff examines three elements fueling the healing power of poetry: story, symbol, and incantation by breaking down the meanings of these basics, and shedding light on how poets who possess an understanding of them can use this knowledge in making their own poems more powerful. Similarly, Dr. Dana Kroos’s “How to Find a Blackhole in Your Kitchen” is an all-encompassing series, condensed with emotion and beauty, including photographs of enthralling carvings, with accompanying poetry. “Harry’s Last Trick”, by Dusty McGowan, echoes the epic narrative as shown by Kroos, and places it in short story format. In another deviation on storytelling, Matt Grinder offers his essay, “Discourse on Anxiety: An Analysis of Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.” His research suggests the rift between men and women has been a social construction that began taking profound roots in the nineteenth century Western conception of what social spheres men and women should occupy, as exemplified in Gilman’s work.

Rollin Jewett’s poem, Junk and Treasure, focuses on the unwanted material possessions, and the true meaning of treasure. Another poem collection by Jose Duarte, is untitled, based on the work of C.S. Lewis to examine imagination and form. Sherri Moyer reviews Magdelana Kubow’s article, “Women in the Church: A Historical Survey”, to assess the arguments made about why women are not ordained in the Roman Catholic Church today.

In keeping with perception and change, Jose Duarte shares his untitled poetry collection based on the work of C.S. Lewis. Next comes a fictional piece from Dr. Matt Weber, who combines science fiction variations and post-apocalyptic themes to underscore the use of weapons in this timely satire of violence and the police.

In conjunction with domestic affairs, Jacinda Lewis proposes new methods for dealing with sex offenders in “Trends in Substance Abuse Treatment and Applications for Sex Offenders.” Likewise, Dr. Kendra Preston Leonard offers political commentary about her year in Syria in her poetry collection, including the piece Highway Drone. More on domestic policy comes from Olatunbosun F. Leigh in “America’s Drug Policies: What Works, What Doesn’t.”

Once again, Robert Ratliff shares his writing, this time in the form of a poignant creative non-fiction, “The Dead Television.” Picking up on the emotional elements of Ratliff’s work, Dr. Sandy Feinstein’s poetry collection boasts strong selections, such as Learning to Write in Two Languages and 40 Martyrs Church.

Danielle Johnson writes of the need to study magical ruralism in “No Place Like Home: Magical Ruralism as Cultural Discourse.”

“Mr. Big Stuff” is the last short story featured in this issue, written by the illustrious Alex Pilas. Likewise, the last poetry collection comes from Michael S. Begnal: Five Homage Poems.

The last critical article underscores philosophy and a need for a post-structural analysis in “Kant We Hegel Our Way Out of This? The Problem of People in Postcolonial Studies” by Charlie Gleek.

Adding greater perspectives is the mission of this journal. Indeed, the above submissions encompasses a myriad of disciplines, such as art, history, literature, education, law, and more.

Overall, by distilling issues among different perspectives, the spectrum of possible solutions and/or theoretical approaches becomes clearer. Additionally, the formalities of methodologies and epistemologies will help to sharpen learning skills, and narrow focus by acknowledging and moving past bias. Part of that focus is what Repko and Szostak term “telescoping down”, which is a “strategy that forces us to think deductively, to move from the general to the particular,” and then later we will understand “how the parts interact, and […] identify gaps between the disciplines.”

As emerging scholars, the ultimate goal should be to see what has not yet been seen, to explore what has been missed.





Editor’s Note

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Interdisciplinary encompasses several concepts, chief among them progression. At times, progression comprises radical change. The idea of equality for all men, regardless of class, was certainly a radical idea when Rousseau published the Discourse on the Origin and the Foundation of Inequality. He believed in waking up to a better world, one featuring revised versions of nationalism, freedom, and brotherhood. However, that’s just the word that hints at Rousseau’s cultural blindness: brotherhood. Instead of rally for the rights of everyone, he focuses on what he knows to be true, the rights of men. Other modes of research countered his claims. Specifically, Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women calls out the hypocrisy in Rousseau’s arguments for egalitarianism. For if forward motion is truly the epicenter of progression, marching off without half of the human race is no way forward at all. Likewise, in the academic world and beyond, the unification of all modes of research and creative expression through interdisciplinary approaches is intrinsic to greater understanding. This issue of Penumbra proudly highlights gender issues in an effort to be the other voice reaching for reason, much like Wollstonecraft.

Another part of interdisciplinary may be defined in a collectivist sense. Self and interdependence are outlined in Gish Jen’s Tiger Writing. She relies heavily on stories about her father (and his family and cultures) to inform readers about herself, as reflected through others. Understanding and practicing interdisciplinary research is quite similar to Jen’s description of interdependence, which leads to instances of “in between”. According to Silko as quoted by Delores Bernal, “in this universe there is no absolute good or absolute bad; there are many balances and harmonies that ebb and flow.” The ability to remain in flux, while also reaching back to a constant, is strength-building, and integral to the interdisciplinary approach.

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This issue of Penumbra includes four critical articles, two essays, one short story, and various poems. The work comes to us from scholars in academe and out, established and emerging writers and artist in the U.S. and abroad, individuals using traditional and experimental styles to explore the power of critical and creative expression as it relates to the interdisciplinary approach.

In her essay, “‘So . . . who are you now?’: Performing Women in Stage Beauty’s English Restoration”, Tico Tenorio examines gender and performance through the lens of Judith Butler, contextualized through an analysis of the 2004 film, Stage Beauty. Similarly, Misti Chamberlain’s “They Aren’t in the History Books: Women Artists in History” focuses on gender, specifically on the omission of women’s contributions to art history books, as she seeks to highlight certain women artists. “Welcome Home Sisters! : A Personal and Political Education”, another gender-critical piece by Kris Hege, is an academic and personal reflection on the radical feminist education–the pedagogy, curriculum, and community–of the 40th Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival that took place in August 2015. In one more expansion on gender from a different perspective, Nancy Pratt offers her essay, “The Truth Women Tell: Arthritis, Heartache, and a Mercedes”, to show unity and individualism of the woman’s experience at an age when art, media and society often completely ignore women of a “certain age”.

Brandon Marlon’s poem collection includes four pieces focused on narrative, compelling imagery, human desire, and satire. Another poem by Nancy Semotiuk, “Faculty Colloquium at the Country Club”, examines privilege through the lens of race and social justice. Sharon Lin’s “Swiftly” is a story chronicling a young woman preparing for the holiday season, but doubts begin to creep in when she rediscovers a memory from her childhood.

In keeping with memory and experience, Allison Budaj offers her creative essay, “Confessions of a Study Abroad Coordinator”, detailing her journey to becoming a Study Abroad Coordinator and the various obstacles she encountered while leading her first group abroad. Next comes a critical essay from Janis Chandler, who discusses history and gentrification in “Faubourg Tremé: Cultural and Societal Progress in a Neighborhood Faced with Gentrification.” The last critical piece to round off the issue underscores philosophy and relationship evaluated via a literary lens: in “Friendship in Frankenstein: An Artistotelian-Thomistic Analysis” by Greta Enriquez.

While all of the criticism and fiction appearing in this issue were approved for publication following a double-blind review, “Only Time Can Tell” is a solicited mixed-media piece that scholar and Artist Misti Chamberlain graciously shared for the cover of this issue. We found the image to be stunning. Coupled with Chamberlain’s critical article, “They Aren’t in the History Books: Women Artists in History”, a practical application of expanded perspectives is highlighted on a greater scale.

Adding greater perspectives is the mission of this journal, and should be the mission of progression. Varied perspectives fuels ideas and expands knowledge. Furthermore, Delores Bernal believes that a mixed sense of “epistemology exposes human relationships and experiences […also enabling others…] to become agents of knowledge who participate in intellectual discourse that links experience, research, community, and social change.” Where some view formlessness, the contributors and editors of this journal see fluidity. With fluidity comes innovation, in the form of new research and creative endeavors.



Editor’s Note

The need to translate experience into something resembling adequate language is the writer’s blessing or the writer’s disease, depending on your point of view. That’s why Whitman isn’t sure if what sings to him is a demon or a bird. If it is indeed a symptom of a problem, of life not having been really lived until it is narrated, at least that’s a condition that winds up giving real gifts to others. The pleasure of recognizing a described world is no small thing.

—Mark Doty, The Art of Description: World Into Words

“[A]ll perception,” writes the poet Mark Doty in The Art of Description, “might be said to be tentative, an opportunity for interpretation, a guessing game.”

Later, after describing a scene in Perry Grove, New York, Doty laments that his words don’t “come anywhere close to evoking the actual visual or auditory experience.”

These words remind me of the inadequacy of the written word to fully capture what it means to be. Doty continues:

Critical theory is full of discussion of the inadequacies of speech, and it’s true that words are arbitrary things, assigned to their objects in slippery ways, and that we cannot rely on words to convey to another person what it is like to be ourselves.

“What proof do we have,” writes Craig Morgan Teicher, “that / when I say mousse, you do not think / of a stop sign?”

Yet, speech acts — questions, invitations, promises, apologies, predictions, stories and criticism — provide us manifold opportunities to explore, understand, and contend with all manner of social circumstances. “Writing as practice,” says Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones, can “help you penetrate your life and become sane.” While Goldberg does not define what she means by “sane” in that introductory essay, I interpret the word in much the same way I have come to understand what the novelist Toni Morrison intended when, in her 1993 Nobel lecture, she says: “Narrative is radical, creating us at the very moment it is being created.”

This issue of Penumbra includes three critical articles, three short stories, and a photo essay. The work comes to us from scholars in academe and out, established and emerging writers and artist in the U.S. and abroad, individuals using traditional and experimental styles to explore the power of critical and creative expression.


In his essay “The Honor of God with Kierekegaard: A Kierkegaardian View of the Play Becket,” Timothy Charles Hall examines reading of Jean Anouilh’s play Becket through Søren Kierkegaard’s stages of existence. John Giordano’s “The Art of Interdependence: Autonomy, Heteronomy and Social Support in Shannon Jackson’s Criticism of Contemporary Art Social Practices” looks at the connections performance studies scholar Shannon Jackson makes between the culture of  “inter-dependence” that drives theatrical productions and a similar ethic she identifies in participatory social practices that are on the rise in the visual artworld. “Beyond Colonization: Polyphony, Alterity, Humor and Wisdom in Louise Erdrich’s Four Souls,” a work of literary criticism by the poet Kate Reavey, examines the ways in which Erdrich’s storytelling engages the complexities of self, community, and the continual and her characters’ efforts to “practice” the kind of “freedom” Foucault’s ethics demand.

Thomas Wallingford’s “Aether” is a work of speculative fiction in which a man struggles with solitude and his own identity while lost in space. J.M. Parker’s “The Day Trip” is the story of a visit to divorced parents in Israel during the Antifada. In Elizabeth Comiskey’s “Steak and Wine,” a young couple believes they’ve made all of the right choices, and a downed economy changes their lives dramatically.

While all of the criticism and fiction appearing in this issue were approved for publication following a double-blind review, “Tokyo Tropes in Nebulas and Neighborhoods: Five Locations from Eternity to Home in Tokyo” is a solicited work that scholar and photographer Lawrence Karn graciously shared for publication in this issue. We found the images to e stunning. Coupled with Karn’s brief essay, “Tokyo Tropes in Nebulas and Neighborhoods” adds a perspective that found in any of the other pieces we include in this issue.

As our founding editors write in the first issue of this journal two years ago, Penumbra, true to its mission, is interdisciplinary—not just across academic or scholarly silos but across a landscape of perspectives and backgrounds. That is true academic freedom—the pursuit and exchange of ideas and scholarship for their own sake.

A Call Against the Dark

The world is full of propensity towards something, tendency towards something, latency of something, and this intended something means fulfillment of the intending. It means a world which is more adequate for us, without degrading suffering, anxiety, self-alienation, nothingness. However, this tendency is in flux, as one that has precisely the Novum in front of it. The Where To of the real only shows in the Novum its most basic Objective determinateness, and it appeals to man who is the arms of the Novum.

—Ernest Bloch, The Principle of Hope

In September of 2014, the Baltimore Sun revealed that the city had paid more than $5.7 million to more than 100 people who had won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. The city paid another $5.8 million in legal fees related to those claims. Seven months after the Sun published its report, 25-year-old Freddie Gray was arrested by Baltimore police for allegedly being in illegal possession of a switchblade. Gray fell into a coma while in police custody. He died five days later from injuries to his spinal cord.

News of his death resulted in protests and civil disorder in Baltimore. At least twenty police officers were injured, at least 250 people have been arrested, and thousands of police and Maryland Army National Guard troops were deployed to bring order to the city.

A medical examiner ruled Gray’s death a homicide, and the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office filed charges against six police officers.

“[P]eace has lost its credibility,” Baltimore resident Abdullah Moaney, an information technology worker from East Baltimore, told the New York Times. “If it wasn’t for the riot,” Moaney told the Times reporter, charges would not have been filed.

We could not have predicted Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of Baltimore police or the unrest that followed when we began planning for this issue last summer. We agreed then that our second issue of Penumbra would follow the theme of the January conference of the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies program at the Union Institute & University: “Insurrection, Subversion, Rebellion.” The subject was very much inspired by the words of Fanon, who wrote in his 1961 The Wretched of the Earth that the liberation and re-awakening of a people after colonization “is always a violent event.”

We were interested in papers that addressed the role of insurrection, subversion and rebellion in the pursuit of social justice, work that examined physical confrontations as well as the tensions that drive social practice and the arts.

And then in July, Eric Garner died in Staten Island, New York, after a police officer put him in a choke-hold for 15 seconds. A month later a police officer shot and killed an unarmed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Freddie Gray died on April 15, 2015.

All of these cases resulted in protests and civil unrest that brought national and international attention and sparked debates about the tense relationship between law enforcement agencies and African Americans.

A day after a New York grand jury decided not to indict the officers responsible for Garner’s death, “[t]housands of demonstrators poured out in cities across the country … in a show of outrage,” the Boston Globe reported.

We saw outrage on the streets of Ferguson. A state of emergency was declared in Baltimore.


In this issue of Penumbra, we publish scholars who live in the United States, China, and India. Some are well-established and others are newly published. Their critical perspectives are diverse, yet they are all equally concerned with what Bloch described as the “philosophy of the new,” that is the belief that the human condition can and should be improved, that as scholars our work is to wrestle against the psycho-intellectual violence that, according to Fanon, holds “people in its grip.”

Merry Renn Vaughan examines the ways in which the author known as Dr. Seuss uses techniques he learned in advertising, as well as through the creation of political cartoons and military propaganda, to critique consumerism and classism. David Pendery writes of “an American artist-moralist tradition,” a tradition that he describes as a coalescence of aesthetic and moral stimuli that has conditioned American arts for decades. Erin McCoy revisits the 1960s and 1970s anti-Vietnam protests and investigates the ways in which the anti-war movement intersects with the fight for an independent Puerto Rico. Also writing about the civil rights movement, Gregory Bailey chronicles Dr. Martin Luther King’s persistent endeavor to address the flaws inherent in capitalism. In his work, the historian Raffaele Florio uses the Virgin of Guadalupe to demonstrate a mediation between two colliding cultures, the Catholic friars and the Maya people. Regina Nelson shares a personal story in order to demystify cannabis use.

The creative work in this issue moves from the whimsical (the poetry of Christopher Mulrooney) to the existential (Prakash Kona’s short fiction). Jjenna Hupp Andrews’s visual series “Nomadic Borderlands” explores “the relationships between our bodies and our exterior world, focusing of the shifting edges of where our body (interior) ends and the outside (exterior) world begins.”

In her review of Koala Boof’s The Sexy Part of the Bible, Aiesha Turman writes that the novel “begins with the individual Black woman, allows her to be at the center of herself, but then pushes against barriers of gender and race to create a new world.”


The violence that spilled onto the streets of Baltimore following Gray’s death has many antecedents. There were the draft riots in New York City in 1863; the December 1915 public rape and lynching Cordella Stevenson; the Memphis 1866 riots in which  white rioters—law enforcement among them—killed 46 black people, raped five black women, and burned hundreds of black-owned homes, schools, and churches. What I mean to suggest here is there was nothing new in the violence that took the lives of Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott.

Victims, all of them, of centuries-old systems of violence. The authors in this issue, like Bloch, write toward “the Novum in front.” Their work considers that, perhaps, our societies can be remade, that they can be made better than they are presently. None of the authors published in this issue provide simple solutions. What they provide are possibilities—for interrogating our assumptions (see Florio), for finding in literature lessons on doing good and making a good life (see Pendery, Turman, and Vaughan), and the power of art to say what cannot be said otherwise (Mulrooney, Bonecek, Andrews).

Editors’ Note

Welcome to the inaugural issue of Penumbra. It is with pleasure and pride that we roll out what we hope will be a significant contribution to scholarship in the twenty-first century.

In the instantaneousness of our world, the click of a mouse often can drive us apart, filtering the information we digest and personal contacts to only to those who fit within our own concept of a public sphere. Through this publication, we hope to move the arrow just a bit from these trends and practices. Penumbra, true to its mission, is interdisciplinary—not just across academic or scholarly silos but across a landscape of perspectives and backgrounds. That is true academic freedom—the pursuit and exchange of ideas and scholarship for their own sake.

As an example of the interdisciplinarity we embrace, please note our extensive interview with Myriam Chancy, a 2012 Scholar-in-Residence at Union Institute & University’s Ph.D. Program in Interdisciplinary Studies, the journal’s sponsor. Chancy embodies the interdisciplinary approach our journal and the Ph.D. program advance; more importantly, she walks the talk. In the interview, you will see how ably and comfortably she moves across the landscape of fiction, history, politics, creativity, criticism, and culture. Her perspectives set the tone for this issue and its additional contents, making for thoughtful and provocative reading.

Many thanks and much heartfelt appreciation go out to so many who helped create and launch this publication. First, to those who have served in editorial roles, Tiffany Taylor and John Giordano, whom we succeeded, and Jeanne Sutherland and Gariot Louima, associate editors. Also, to all the outstanding faculty and scholars who have served in advisory roles, starting with Christopher Voparil, the faculty advisor, who has been there since the beginning. He, several Ph.D. students who envisioned this journal, and the Program’s Task Force have provided guidance and support of immeasurable value.

To all the faculty and students who have reviewed submissions, and those who submitted their work to the journal, thanks go out to you for your commitment to the journal and what it represents. And we heartily thank the Ph.D. Program’s administration that has supported this effort since its inception: Dean Arlene Sacks, Associate Dean Michael Raffanti, Vice President for Academic Affairs Nelson Soto, and Dean Larry Preston.

Our final thanks go out to Toni Gregory, the late associate dean of the Ph.D. program. She was a dogged supporter of our purpose, our mission, and most importantly our scholarly careers. We lost her earlier this year, far too soon; her spirit lives on in these virtual pages. She represented true scholarship from all sides: in her own work, in her teaching and research, and in her advocacy for all of us.

Enjoy this first issue. Please tell us what you think, and share your ideas and input for future issues. And please consider contributing to the journal.

Thank you.