No Place Like Home: Magical Ruralism as Cultural Discourse

Introduction

The iconic film The Wizard of Oz (1939) begins with Dorothy (Judy Garland) desperately wanting to escape from Kansas.  At its core, The Wizard of Oz is a film about a magical journey from rural Kansas to the gleaming Emerald City.  This basic narrative of a young person leaving his or her rural home for the intoxicating promise of urban opportunity underlies many works from the canon of modern American literature.  Since the colonial era, negotiations of rural and urban, country and city, have been central to the shaping of American nationalism.  In the United States, perceptions of countryside influenced settlement and colonization, Jeffersonian ideology, visions of the frontier, agrarian fantasies, the aftermath of the Dust Bowl, and a host of other historical developments and attitudes.  Essentially, American history reflects shifting attitudes about rural cultures and landscapes with contemporary rural culture struggling, in a sense, to define itself against urban-oriented cultural paradigms.

Characters like Dorothy Gale are commonplace in modern American literature.  During the first half of the twentieth century, canonical, widely known literary works by Sherwood Anderson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sinclair Lewis, and others portrayed rural American life as essentially alienated from modernity.  Theodore Dreiser’s Carrie Meeber and Sinclair Lewis’s Carol Kennicott yearned to escape small town life in favor of the opportunities and excitement promised by the city. Jay Gatsby, arguably one of the most famous characters in all of American literature, sheds his Minnesota identity to remake himself into a sophisticated, wealthy Easterner.  Gatsby’s lavish mansion is Oz-like in its colorful extravagance and absurdity; he is so obsessed with the pursuit of urban excess that his fantasies ultimately destroy him.  Gatsby’s dream hinges on a complete departure from his rural origins—to win Daisy, he must become a wealthy, sophisticated Easterner.  This narrative of departure works as a kind of twentieth century rural “grand narrative” in that canonical works of American literature legitimized and codified the inferiority of rural culture within the broader context of modernity.  This rural grand narrative hinged on presenting rural life as stifling, boring, and lacking in opportunities.

The question of how rural culture has responded to this grand narrative throughout the late twentieth century and beyond requires further scholarly attention.  While various theories of postmodernism address what Frederic Jameson calls the “cultural logic of late capitalism,” work on rural narratives and culture from the postmodern era is sparse.  In Knowing Your Place: Rural Identity and Cultural Hierarchy (1997), Barbara Ching and Gerald W. Creed argue that postmodern scholarship and society as a whole tend to marginalize rural culture and suggest that “the urban-identified can confidently assume the cultural value of their situation while the rural-identified must struggle to gain recognition” (4).  This “struggle to gain recognition” is a defining feature of rural cultural discourse from the postmodern era and beyond.  In his recent study of Midwestern regionalism, From Warm Center to Ragged Edge (2017), Jon K. Lauck describes how dominant culture in the twentieth century turned away from once-celebrated rural regionalisms: “For the past half century, the prevailing forces and trends in high and popular culture and in the American academy have not been conducive to the study of midwestern history and have cut against a focus on the Midwest as a particular region” (2).  I argue that re-enchantment emerges as the means through which rural culture has attempted to “gain recognition.” A study of postmodern rural narratives and cultural artifacts reveals historical re-conceptualization wherein marginalization of rural space is acknowledged and transformed through magical rural imagery. The conditions of multinational capitalism form the driving force behind the marginalization of rural culture, and postmodern rural narratives respond to these conditions through re-enchantment of pastoral images, forms, or other rural symbols.  I call the cultural discourse that emerges magical ruralism.  In the discussion that follows, I describe how place has functioned in pastoral and modern rural narratives as a way to show how postmodern rural literature and culture more generally can be read as responding to the conditions of postmodernity through re-enchantment of mythical, pastoral, or modern (often industrial) forms.  I trace how postmodern texts by Tim O’Brien, Stephen King, Louise Erdrich, E. Annie Proulx and others exemplify the use of magical ruralism in literature.  Various cultural artifacts, including roadside monuments, are surveyed as a way to show how magical ruralism is a discourse evident in both literature and culture more broadly.

 

Rural Grand Narratives

Because magical ruralism surveys a broad range of examples not limited to literature, a broad definition of “rural” informs my analysis. The Oxford English Dictionary (2011) provides multiple definitions of “rural,” including “as living in the country as opposed to the town or city” and “of, relating to, or characteristic of peasants or country people; simple, unpolished; rustic.” Definitions of “rural” consistently characterize “rural” as alienated from sophistication. As described above, many grand, canonical narratives of the early twentieth century reinforce the idea that one must abandon rural life in order to achieve modernity and sophistication. In The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979), Jean-Franҫois Lyotard argues that postmodernism involves the collapse or revising of the grand narrative. Attempting to understand the tension between rural and urban culture is a kind of grand narrative in itself.  As Raymond Williams explains in The Country and the City (1973):

On the country has gathered the idea of a natural way of life: of peace, innocence, and simple virtue.  One the city has gathered the idea of an achieved centre: of learning, communication, light.  Powerful hostile associations have also developed: on the city as a place of noise, worldliness, and ambition; on the country as a place of backwardness, ignorance, limitation. A contrast between country and city, as fundamental ways of life, reaches back into classical times. (1)

The qualities Williams assigns to the country—peace, innocence, and simplicity—are familiar elements of what might be termed the primary rural narrative form: the pastoral.  According to Terry Gifford, a pastoral narrative features a rural or country setting, often juxtaposed in some way with an urban setting (2).  A traditional pastoral work represents the rural country environment as idyllic, simple, and desirable.  Of course, the pastoral narrative is familiar when viewed in the context of the grand narrative underlying American history and nationalism.  In The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America (1964), Leo Marx explains that rural landscape figured prominently in how early America was imagined as a garden of unlimited potential:

Beginning in Jefferson’s time, the cardinal image of American aspirations was a rural landscape, a well-ordered green garden magnified to continental size. Although it probably shows a farmhouse or a neat white village, the scene usually is dominated by natural objects: in the foreground a pasture, a twisting brook with cattle grazing nearby,     then a clump of elms on a rise in the middle distance and beyond that, way off on the   western horizon, a line of dark hills.  This is the countryside of the old Republic, a chaste, uncomplicated land of rural virtue. (141)

As Marx documents, land was a crucial factor in how the early American republic defined itself against Europe.  Fascination with “unsettled,” remote landscapes spurred westward expansion as individuals searched for arable land, gold, or other early symbols of the American Dream.  Rural life occupied a prominent position in the cultural hierarchy of the early American republic as evidenced by its role in both the formation of a national mythology and in its ability to inspire the general population.
At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Frederick Jackson Turner famously declared the closing of the American frontier.  This is a crucial moment in that Jackson’s speech symbolically suggests that the promises of happiness and riches linked to the pastoral and frontier myths are no longer accessible.  Modernity and modern literature would only confirm this, and a number of fundamental examples of the modern American novel can also be read as rural grand narratives.  In his book The Midwestern Ascendancy in American Writing (1992), Ron Weber notes that many seminal works of modern American fiction were penned by Midwestern authors and made use of Midwestern settings as microcosms of “American life.”  Weber points out that the pinnacle of this “Midwestern ascendancy” was the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Minnesotan Sinclair Lewis in 1930.  In the canonical texts that Weber addresses in his study, including Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925), Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919), Lewis’s Main Street (1920), Babbitt (1922), and Arrowsmith (1925) and others, the Midwest is portrayed as “cut off” from civilization and as hopelessly conformist.  The Great Gatsby suggests that Gatsby’s dream is of a kind of sophistication not available in Jay Gatz’s Midwestern home.  Similarly, in Winesburg, Ohio, George Willard as author and artist must flee Winesburg—a town portrayed by Anderson as a place where dreamers turn into “grotesques.”  In L. Frank Baum’s novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), which is especially important to the forthcoming discussion of magical ruralism, Kansas is described as a colorless, exhausted world.  Like the urban areas in The Great Gatsby and Winesburg, Ohio, the Emerald City appears as a place where dreams supposedly come true and wherein the “drab” qualities of small town Midwestern life might be countered.
These rural grand narratives provide context for how rural space has assumed a marginalized, inferior position in the postmodern cultural hierarchy.  As foundational examples of canonical texts, these novels also position marginalization of rural space and culture as a central narrative within the field of literary studies.  As Max Weber argues in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), the modern condition is one of disenchantment.  The canonical modern narratives discussed above present rural landscapes and communities as disenchanted and lacking in sophistication.  Magical ruralist texts use re-enchantment as a strategy for countering this cultural marginalization.  Ching and Creed identify a “radical embracing of that marginality by many people in order to contest the late twentieth century’s hegemonic urbanity and it associated socio-political structures” (5).  Magical ruralism surfaces as the cultural discourse where this “embracing of marginality” takes shape, with the supposedly boring and ordinary elements of rural life transformed into something spectacular.

 

Magical Ruralism
Importantly, a major figure in postmodern literature has pointed to a famous rural narrative as a significant factor in his development as a writer.  In his 1992 essay “Out of Kansas,” Salman Rushdie describes the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz as the text that inspired him to write.  The similarities between the film and Rushdie’s use of magical realism are obvious, and Rushdie acknowledges the prominent green hues in the movie as a source for the “green and black” dreams of Saleem Sinai, narrator of Rushdie’s 1980 novel Midnight’s Children (17).  The links between magical realism and postmodern rural literature extend beyond Rushdie’s essay.  In her excellent discussion of the elements of magical realism, Wendy B. Faris writes that “magical realism has tended to concentrate on rural settings and to rely on rural inspiration—almost a postmodern pastoralism” (Zamora and Faris 182).  In both well-known magical realist narratives and in postmodern rural narratives, rural or “village” life is often threatened by the forces of late capitalism.  Magic and fantasy emerge as means through which characters manage the anxiety associated with existing in such an environment.
Both magical realism and magical ruralism are discourses of marginalization, but to equate magical realism and magical ruralism would be to overlook the significant differences that emerge when tracing the sources of marginalization.  Whereas the forces of capitalism have contributed to marginalization and displacement of indigenous populations and villages worldwide, colonialism and its legacy play a significant role in how magical ruralism and magical realism differ.  In suggesting that both magical realism and magical ruralism are discourses of marginalization, I am not suggesting that the sources or effects of marginalization are equal.  In his article “Magic Realism as Postcolonial Discourse” (1995), Stephen Slemon describes magical realism as a postcolonial discourse historically associated with the Third World (Zamora and Faris 408).  Slemon points out how overuse of “magical realism” can prove problematic: “the concept of magical realism itself threatens to become a monumentalizing category for literary practice and to offer centralizing genre systems a single locus upon which the massive problem of difference in literary expression can be managed into recognizable meaning in one swift pass” (Zamora and Faris 409).  Magical ruralism offers an alternative lens, related to magical realism, through which cultural responses to the marginalization of postmodern rural space and culture can be approached.  Magical ruralism differs from magical realism in that magical ruralist texts enchant or re-enchant decidedly rural forms and materials, both natural and unnatural.  Like pastoralism, these rural “raw materials” are largely Western, often secular forms and concepts.  As with many magical realist texts, ordinary forms and materials assume magical or supernatural powers in the magical ruralist text.  In her article “Scheherazade’s Children: Magical Realism and Postmodern Fiction,” Faris explains that “magical realism combines realism and the fantastic in such a way that magical elements grow organically out of the reality portrayed” (164).  Magical ruralist texts tend to draw from a more recent past than magical realist texts; although this is not true of all magical ruralist texts, many of the examples I survey below reveal a re-enchantment of machinery, commercial imagery, or other post-industrial material.  Magical realist texts often make use of a more distant, pre-industrial past, including “non-Western cultural systems that privilege mystery over empiricism, empathy over technology, tradition over innovation” (Zamora and Faris 3).

Magical ruralist literature typically reveals a central anxiety concerning rural life and/or rural landscapes.  Re-enchantment of rural raw materials functions as a response to that anxiety.  In Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods (1994) and in Stephen King’s story “Children of the Corn” (1977), rural raw materials are re-enchanted in a way that both re-conceptualizes history and manages anxieties concerning rural space.  In both texts, enchantment is linked to commodification, in the sense that tourism plays an important role in both narratives.  In In the Lake of the Woods, the Lake of the Woods in Northern Minnesota—a definitely “remote” location—is presented as a locus of subjectivity, mystery, and supernatural power linked to re-enchanting of rural Midwestern landscapes.  “Magic” works in the novel as a depictive re-conceptualizing of the dominant, popular constructions of remote Midwestern space as empty and vacuous—in the novel, remote space as empty and vacuous is aligned with rural space as landscape of spectacle, which is in turn related to the hyper-violent nature of postmodern society.  Importantly, the lake is also linked to protagonist John Wade’s apparently “magical powers”—Wade, a Vietnam veteran and probable PTSD victim—is nicknamed “Sorcerer,” and the novel details his ability to make people disappear.  The subsequent disappearance of Wade’s wife conjures ghostly imagery and references, calling to mind relevant moments in Winesburg, Ohio as George Willard looks upon the deserted fairgrounds in “Sophistication” and notes that “there are ghosts all around,” and reminiscent of the ghostly voices that permeate Masters’s Spoon River Anthology.  Enacting a pastoral journey to the lake forces Wade and his wife into a confrontation with anxiety that eventually culminates in an unsolvable mystery potentially fueled  by rural magic.

In King’s “Children of the Corn,” two Eastern tourists, Burt and Vicky, are driving through Nebraska on their way to California.  The story makes clear that Burt and Vicky are anxious about their encounter with rural landscapes—they point out how “boring” and monotonous the surroundings are, for example.  Importantly, the story complicates whether or not the couple’s eventually horrific discoveries and experiences are even real, as Burt at one point wonders whether he might be dreaming (King 267).  Quantic and Hafen describe the Great Plains as a “state of mind” (xxi) which informs the dreamlike quality of Burt and Vicky’s confrontation with rural space.  Just as the ghost-like baseball players in Phil Alden Robinson’s film Field of Dreams (1989) seem to originate in the corn field, so too do the beings that torment Burt and Vicky. Like O’Brien’s novel, the story revolves around a confrontation with remote space; unlike the modern rural grand narratives discussed earlier, In the Lake of the Woods and “The Children of the Corn” assign magical properties to rural space.  Burt notices that the corn is “perfect” and “impossibly” free from weeds.  The corn also takes on a supernatural, intoxicating quality, as Burt “became aware of the corn fragrance in his nose now, all around him.  The wind through the tops of the plants made a sound like voices.  Soothing.  Whatever had been done in the name of this corn, it was now his protector” (King 269).  Upon getting lost in the cornfield, Burt oscillates between feelings of comfort and feelings of intense fear, with the sacred and the profane coalescing in the image of a crucifix made from corn husks, which Burt describes as “fabulous art” and which Vicky describes as “hideous.”  Again, the marginalized status of the Midwest is re-conceptualized.  King presents the rural Midwest as a landscape of spectacle and as a re-enchanted, postmodern Arcadia of sorts where rural raw materials assume magical properties.
This re-enchanted Arcadia is also populated by species of images, to borrow garden terminology, that are both natural and mechanistic.  As Leo Marx points out, the “garden myth” is bound up in the idea that gardening represents a kind of ideal fusion between nature and machinery.  This is perhaps best symbolized in the work of Willa Cather and in the famous image of the shadow of the plow in the setting sun that Jim Burden describes in My Ántonia.  Relatedly, Marx explains that Ralph Waldo Emerson saw “genius” as stemming from uniting the nature and the machine.  Texts invested in magical ruralist discourse tend to engage with these ideas and to revise related images through postmodern strategies of historical re-conceptualization (Hutcheon) and pastiche.  In the postmodern world the “rural,” like the notion of “wilderness,” is largely illusory or simulated, and it is difficult to posit that an ideal harmony between nature and machine can truly exist when nature has grown increasingly difficult to separate from “the machine.”  In the work of E. Annie Proulx and Louise Erdrich, Cather’s image of the plow in the setting sun is revised and re-worked in ways that evidence the inseparable nature of “the rural” and “the machine” within the postmodern world but that also attempt to expose the unique, magical nature of the rural machine.

In Erdrich’s The Beet Queen, Karl describes an air seeder as “a miracle” (101); the novel also presents the local beet refinery as “Oz.”  Importantly, both the air seeder and the beet refinery are machines in the garden; neither is a natural form, yet both are clearly symbolic of rural culture.  The novel engages with the difficult place of the rural within the postmodern world, as the butcher shop where Mary Adare works and which unites all of the characters in the novel is threatened by an increasingly apparent desire for “one stop shopping” and the “big box store.”  Although Quantic reads the novel as evidencing the “unbearable” nature of the “closed garden” (98-99), I argue that Erdrich’s work is actually invested in a kind of re-enchantment of the uniquely rural materials that do remain and that do serve as important ways in which rural Midwesterners understand their own identities, even when these objects—air seeders and local beet refineries—are related to machinery.
A similar strategy of historical re-conceptualization and recycling of familiar “garden” images is used by E. Annie Proulx in her collections Close Range: Wyoming Stories (1999) and Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 (2004), wherein remote Wyoming landscapes are juxtaposed with often strange, fantastic imagery that is often related to a revision of “machine in the garden” imagery.  In her essay “Making Space: A Notebook,” Sandra Lim describes remote Wyoming landscapes as a way to reflect on the relationships between time, place, and poetry.  Lim writes, “To arrive at any one place in a poem is like witnessing the poet come to his or her own senses: you see a vivid and reasonable hallucination before you” (Lessley and Snider 77).  This “reasonable hallucination” evokes the blending of rural reality and magic typical of magical ruralism and illuminates this blending as it surfaces in Proulx’s stories.   In “The Bunchgrass Edge of the World,” Aladdin, a rancher, is given a magical moniker as a result of a green-shaded lamp arriving in the mail from Sears on the day of his birth.  In this way, the rural rancher is a product of both a kind of frontier landscape but also of a capitalistic commodity.  The symbolic space where these two factors meet overlaps with the space of enchantment.  The story also details Aladdin’s sister Ottaline’s conversations with a run-down John Deere tractor.  Both Ottaline and the tractor are presented in the story as similarly “ugly,” marginalized, and “broken”; the voice of the talking John Deere, not dissimilar from the voice in Field of Dreams, essentially voices the concerns of both the tractor and Ottaline as outsiders.  Giving the tractor a voice, although the story later reveals that the tractor cannot actually talk, works as a kind of re-enchantment of a symbolically “outdated” rural machine.  At one point in the story, Ottaline asks the tractor, “Are you like an enchanted thing? A damn story where some girl lets a warty toad sleep in her shoe and in the mornin the toad’s a good-lookin dude makin omelettes?” (138). Ottaline demonstrates a clear awareness of herself within a broader narrative.  The quotation also draws on fairy tale imagery and situates Ottaline as a character within her own fairy tale.
Proulx employs magical ruralist strategies in blending re-enchantment and postmodern narrative technique.  In her stories “A Lonely Coast” and “The Trickle-Down Effect,” Proulx engages in a kind of pastiche of Cather’s plow image that, I argue, inverts and re-enchants that image that, on its own, is no longer a viable ideal in the postmodern world.  “A Lonely Coast” begins with a question to the reader as to whether or not he or she has ever seen a burning house off in the distance while driving at night on a remote highway.  “A Lonely Coast” goes on to describe the spectacular, unique qualities of that image, emphasizing that it is unique to the type of landscape found only in Wyoming or in similarly remote areas:

You ever see a house burning up in the night, way to hell and gone out there on the plains? Nothing but blackness and your headlights cutting a little wedge into it, could be the middle of the ocean for all you can see.  And in that big dark a crown of flame the size of your thumbnail trembles.  You’ll drive for an hour seeing it until it burns out or you do, until you pull off the road to close your eyes or to look up at the sky punched with bullet holes, see them trying for the stairs, but mostly you don’t give a damn.  They are too far away, like everything else.  (189)

“The Trickle-Down Effect” makes use of a similar image.  Deb Sipple is hauling a load of hay bales back to Wyoming, driving through the night and throwing cigarette butts out the window.  Unknown to him, the cigarette butts are actually landing in the hay, igniting the bed of his truck.  Proulx describes the image of Sipple piloting the rig back into town as “the closest thing to a meteor ever seen in Elk Tooth” (54).  These images can be defined as magical images.  At its most basic level, a “magic” entails a power or happening contrary to natural law or logic.  Additionally, the Oxford English Dictionary (2011) defines “magic” as “an inexplicable and remarkable influence producing surprising results; an enchanting or mystical quality; glamour, appeal,” and further as “the art of producing. . . apparently inexplicable phenomena; conjuring.”  Both images from Proulx characterize isolated rural landscapes as theater for spectacular phenomena; the burning house and ignited hay bales are extraordinary to the point of conjuring illusions of oceans and meteors.

I argue that both images represent a kind of re-working and re-enchantment of Cather’s plow in the sun image in that they depict fantastic, distinctly postmodern, distinctly rural juxtapositions of nature and machine.  Postmodern rural space is constructed through the discourse of magical ruralism not as a resurrection of the “real” pastoral garden or of the frontier, but as a re-enchanted, postmodern space of spectacle.  Indeed, part of the value of the work of Erdrich and Proulx, for scholars, is in how both authors’ narratives cast postmodern rural culture and space as inherently different and perhaps even strange in the presence of experiences and imagery that are not available in urban areas.

Giants on the Earth: Rural Landscapes of Spectacle

“If you build it, he will come.”  In the film Field of Dreams (1989), this message from an unknown, disembodied voice drives Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella to plow under his corn to build a baseball field.  Kinsella is anxious about his rural life; originally from California, Kinsella has moved to his wife’s home state of Iowa to try his hand at farming.  Despite mockery from his fellow farmers, Kinsella follows the voice’s advice and watches in disbelief as dead former baseball players, including Kinsella’s father and Shoeless Joe Jackson, inexplicably emerge from the cornfields to play baseball on Kinsella’s “field of dreams.”  By the end of the film, the baseball field has become an impossible portal of sorts, where those who believe in its magic can travel through time and space.  However, the film ends with a clear message: the magical baseball field and the family farm can simultaneously survive only if the Kinsella family starts charging admission.  Young Karen Kinsella, the voice of a new generation, prophesizes that “people will come,” and the closing image of the film shows a long trail of car headlights piloting through the dark Iowa countryside toward the magical farm.

Implicitly, rural life can persist only if it is willing to re-cast itself as a landscape of magic and spectacle to be consumed by urban outsiders.  Many actual rural communities have embraced “re-enchantment” as a way to spur tourism and economic activity.  In her book The Colossus of Roads: Myth and Symbol Along the American Highway (1984), art historian Karal Ann Marling studies the cultural significance of various Midwestern roadside attractions, including the Paul Bunyan and Babe statue in Bemidji, Minnesota; the Jolly Green Giant statue in Blue Earth, Minnesota; and Pierre, the Talking Voyageur Statue in Two Harbors, Minnesota.  The Blue Earth Jolly Green Giant functions as a bricolage of mythical, modern, and postmodern.  As a completely green, towering figure, the Jolly Green Giant resembles various mythological characters, including the Green Man, the Green Knight of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and, to a contemporary visitor, perhaps even the Incredible Hulk.  Built in 1978, the Blue Earth Jolly Green Giant statue contributes to characterizations of the rural landscape as a landscape of spectacle. The statue re-conjures the magical, idyllic conditions of Fitzgerald’s “green breast of the new world”; this is evident on the company’s present-day website, which currently features a video of the Green Giant happily strolling through green rolling hills while a family eats Green Giant vegetables (GreenGiant.com).  Marling describes how the statue is also imagined by the community of Blue Earth, MN as a way for the community to assert its uniqueness to a largely urban audience: “Like the Paul Bunyan of 1937, the Jolly Green Giant of 1978 is a resonant mark of local presence, a magnet drawing the traveler off the highway, into the mythical realm of the American Midwest” (4).  This example shows how magical ruralist artifacts often paradoxically respond to the conditions of postmodernity while simultaneously appropriating capitalistic and/or commercial forms or agendas.  As a kind of secular “god” figure, the Blue Earth Green Giant is a pastoral image in that the character is literally made of green leaves.  However, the statue also glorifies a processed commercial product.  Unlike magical realist texts, which are often read as “writing against” or challenging hegemonic forces, the Blue Earth Green Giant seems to satisfy these forces through re-enchantment of pastoral and commercial imagery.  Countless other unusual monuments and roadside attractions exist throughout rural America and function as examples of magical ruralist discourse: like the baseball field in the film Field of Dreams, these texts attempt to characterize rural elsewhere as unique destinations worthy of interest.  Geographer Jeffrey Hopkins argues that the kind of “place promotion” evident in such roadside monuments functions as a “postmodern imperative” (66) for many rural communities.  Re-enchantment works as both an imaginative and commercialized narrative strategy.

 

Implications for Scholars and Beyond

Even as the digital age has closed the gap, to some extent, between rural and urban space, the differences between rural and urban culture continue to shape not only artistic and popular imaginations, but also the everyday lives of individuals throughout the United States.  As Minnesota-born Mark Wunderlich writes in his essay “Famous Mushroom,” “Growing up queer in the rural Midwest, I knew there was no life for me there; I would have to leave, and I would most likely have to move to a city.  In an urban place I could make friends, find a society in which I belonged, and live a life of culture and books and like-minded comradery” (Lessley and Snider 269).  A quick glance at the 2016 United States Presidential Election electoral map reveals distinct trends in the voting patterns of “red states” versus “blue states.”  The electoral map is a useful symbol for understanding the intriguing position of rural studies in the twenty-first century.  While general cultural, ideological, and socioeconomic differences certainly persist between rural and urban spaces, these differences are complex, shifting, and shaped by narrative and historical forces.  Negotiating the challenges that can come with growing up in a rural area with the natural affections and nostalgia linked to one’s sense of “home” is often both bewildering and transformational.  In turning to the rural, scholars will encounter a trove of examples for how rural culture has responded to its perception, both self-defined and externally defined, in the era of late capitalism and beyond.

Specifically, Midwestern and Great Plains literary studies continue to explore the concept of Midwestern regionalism.  Magical ruralism provides a theoretical pathway for new scholarship on rural cultural discourse.  In defining magical ruralism, I have chosen texts situated in rural Midwestern settings and published squarely within the postmodern era; the surveyed texts call into question how both individuals and communities make sense of postmodern rural existence.  In focusing on Midwestern and Great Plains texts, I hope to advance discussions of the nature of Midwestern and Great Plains regional literatures in the era of late capitalism and beyond.  While situating magical ruralism within the context of rural American literature as a whole is beyond the scope of this article, the discourse is grounded in yet not confined to Midwestern and Great Plains literature.  Indeed, rural, agrarian landscapes and cultures exist throughout the world, and magical ruralism can provide a lens through which scholars might examine cultural responses to the conditions of postmodernity from various perspectives and regional contexts.
Magical ruralism is also relevant to broader discussions of urbanity, scholarship, and the management of human resources within the field of literary studies.  While rural states house some of the most prestigious English programs in the country, including the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, rural colleges and universities simultaneously struggle to attract and keep quality faculty who may not want to live in a remote location.  Scholars from rural states may feel pressured to leave their home regions for large and/or urban universities in other states, where both prestige and opportunity are more plentiful.  Ching and Creed explain, “In the West, few intellectuals have deep rural roots, and for those who do, education often severs these connections.  The traditional pedagogical agenda, with its emphasis on enlightenment through the liberal arts, has long been opposed to the supposed essence of rusticity—lack of cultural sophistication and a preference for practical know-how over erudition” (10).  The goal is not to generalize practitioners of education at the college and university level as hostile to rural concerns and citizens, but rather to point out the real implications, for our field and beyond, of the popular attitudes toward rural space and culture in the postmodern era and beyond.  For any scholar who has ever discounted a job due to its remote location, or for any rural student who has wondered why no courses in “local” literature appear in a curriculum, the question of how the academy shapes, contributes to, and historicizes rural culture is relevant.

Finally, magical ruralism is borne out in real economic and community development strategies.  As Hopkins demonstrates, “place promotion” has emerged as an economic strategy for many rural and remote communities.  In examples like the Blue Earth Green Giant, “Oz” has become an economic strategy intended to bring tourists to rural communities.  Karen Kinsella’s prediction that “people will come” reflects a strategy of survival for rural communities: magical ruralism is a theoretical lens for approaching rural literature, but also a broader cultural logic wherein magic and re-enchantment collide with and often attempt to counter historical forces.

 

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Works Cited

Anderson, Sherwood.  Winesburg, Ohio.  1919.  New York: Penguin, 2005.

Baum, L. Frank.  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  1900.  Penguin, 2008.

Cather, Willa.  My Ántonia.  1918.  Mariner, 1995.

Ching, Barbara, and Gerald W. Creed, eds.  Knowing Your Place: Rural Identity and Cultural Hierarchy.  Routledge, 1997.

Dreiser, Theodore.  Sister Carrie. 1900.  Norton, 1994.

Erdrich, Louise.  The Beet Queen.  1986.  HarperCollins, 2006.

Faris, Wendy B.  “Scheherazade’s Children: Magical Realism and Postmodern Fiction.” Zamora and Faris 163-190.

Field of Dreams.  Dir. Phil Alden Robinson.  Perf. Kevin Costner, Ray Liotta, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones.  Universal Pictures, 1989.  Film.

Fitzgerald, F. Scott.  The Great Gatsby.  1925.  Scribner, 2004.

Gifford, Terry.  Pastoral.  1999.  Routledge, 2010. GreenGiant.com. B&G Foods of North America, 2018, http://www.greengiant.com.

Hopkins, Jeffrey.  “Signs of the Post-Rural: Marketing Myths of a Symbolic Countryside.” Geografiska Annaler, vol. 80, no. 2, 1998, pp. 65-81.

Hutcheon, Linda.  A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction.  Routledge, 1988.

Jameson, Frederic.  Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

Duke UP, 1990.

King, Stephen.  “The Children of the Corn.”  1977.  Night Shift.  Anchor Books,

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Trends in Substance Abuse Treatment and Application for Sex Offender Treatment

Introduction

Interest in sex offenders and their treatment has been the subject of study since 1886 (Schwartz & Cellini, 1995). Since then, many changes have been made in the treatment of sex offenders. Current treatment for sex offenders includes: cognitive behavioral therapy, relapse prevention, behavior modification, harm-reduction, and self-regulation. Specifics in the type and time-frames of treatment are based on the program or clinicians approach, risk level, and community support available (Bumby, 2006). While there are many treatment options available, it is difficult to determine the success rates of these treatment methods. One study determined that out of 130 previously conducted studies on sex offender treatment, only 25 of these studies met the minimum quality control guidelines established for scientifically reliable research (Brockett, 2012).

While sex offender treatment has been compared to other methods of treating mental health issues, there is limited research available comparing sex offender treatment to the “lifelong” treatment model utilized in treatment for substance abuse. Treatment experts have identified a combination of group psychotherapy and a twelve-step program as the “gold standard” in substance use treatment (Korshak & Delboy, 2013). Currently, twelve-step programs provide fellowship, resources, and support. This model was developed by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which originated in 1935. AA currently has two million members’ worldwide and 200,000 weekly meetings (Galanter, 2014).

According to the rational model, policy makers seek to gather and examine all relative data, and after analyzing all the alternatives, construct a plan.  This model is sometimes called “means-end” thinking, and is built on the premise that problems can be solved by examining and choosing the best method to reach a goal. Often the solution that is deemed the “best” is based on cost effectiveness and maximum total welfare (Stone, 2011).

On the surface, this model appears to be the most logical. However, humans are not rational decision makers. This phenomenon can be described as the “human problem”, which asserts that humans are never truly rational because of personal bias, emotions, and world views we are never able to make purely rational decisions (Clemons & McBeth, 2009). An example of policy making that is not considered “rational” are policies surrounding sex offenders and their treatment.

In an effort to construct a more rational approach to treating sex offenders, I will be comparing and contrasting the models of treatment used for sex offenders and substance users and offering alternatives to current treatment models used for sex offenders.

 

Policy Implications

There are currently 747,408 registered sex offenders in the United States (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, 2012). Since 1994, we have required that these offenders make their address, crime, photo, and physical description public record, and thus easily accessible to the general population.

The Jacob Wetterling Crimes Against Children and Sexually Violent Offender Registration Act of 1994 required that offenders of sex crimes against children be registered with law enforcement after release from confinement (Comartin, Kernsmith, & Miles, 2010). Subsequently, Megan’s Law of 1996 stipulated that this registry is made available to the public and included community notification policies. Other legislation, such as The Pam Lychner Sexual Offender Tracking and Identification Act (1996) and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act (2006), increased registration periods for sex offenders and made community notification rules more stringent (Wagner, 2011). By invading the privacy of a sex offender, the general population feels safe. However, studies have shown that allowing public access to the sex offender registry discourages compliance with the registry (Murphy, Fedoroff, & Martineau, 2009).

The passage of these, and other pieces of legislation, has had a negative impact on registered sex offenders. Increasingly, research has shown that sex offenders have been plagued by problematic housing restrictions (Levenson & Cotter, 2005), harassment by the communities in which they live (Pogrebin, 2004), lack of accessibility to forms of public assistance (Travis, 2002), and employment (Wagner, 2011). Additionally, research has illustrated that perceptions and attitudes towards sex offenders are overwhelmingly negative (Olver & Barlow, 2010; Elbogen, Patry, & Scalora, 2003), with one study finding that participants thought it “acceptable” for sex offenders to be physically injured (Wagner, 2011, p. 267).

Some have suggested that the media has assisted in reinforcing myths and stereotypes about sex offenders by over-generalizing them as sexual predators (Katz-Schiavone, Levenson, & Ackerman, 2008). Morrison (2007) aptly summarized that much of the public thinks that registered sex offenders are “incurable, resistant to treatment, and all but certain to offend again” (p. 24). Perhaps not surprisingly, studies examining the public perceptions of sex offenders have found that stereotypes are often not congruent with accurate information related to this population (Church, Wakeman, Miller, Clements & Sun, 2008). In an ideal world, the media would portray objectivity, truth, balance, and accuracy. Unfortunately, there is little evidence to show that the media can live up to these expectations. Regardless of the apparent bias of the media, the general public continues to regard news stories as the “political watchdogs” or “guardians of the public interest” (Schnell, 2001, p. 186).

In the case of Jacob Wetterling and Megan Kanka, there was significant media attention which led to increased emotions surrounding these events. These news outlets play a vital role in drawing attention to political issues and deciding what is “news” and who is “newsworthy.” This attention is a powerful weapon in creating public interest in an issue and can be crucial in generating momentum behind policy issues. Altogether, “some scholars find that the media exert substantial influence in deciding what problems will be given attention and what problems will be ignored” (Oswald, 1994).

Media coverage is also an essential part of bringing the issues to the attention of policy makers. Some problems, no matter how large, are unable to generate enough attention, while other crises events generate enough focus and public support to be placed on the policy agenda. Robinson (1999) calls this phenomenon the “CNN effect”. The basis of the “CNN effect” is that news outlets and media can shape policy. Some argue that political elites influence the media to report stories in a way that is favorable to the political agenda. Alternatively, media reports weigh heavily on emotional response and this emotional response impacts voters and lobbyist (Robinson, 1999), and due to the irrational nature of humans, these emotions play a large part in irrational policymaking.

While the majority of citizens desire to be active political participants, studies show that the majority of the population is not consistent with political participation and is often uninformed. Additionally, even when individuals attempt to be more engaged in the democratic practices like attending political events, voting or researching legislation, they are often swayed by the media. The issue of sexual violence is clearly and easily understood by the general public, and requires no expertise on the subject. This issue is also one that is closely followed by the mass public and, like many political issues, is highly emotionally fueled and fear driven. Also, this issue has the potential to polarize interest groups, who play a dynamic role in effecting policy changes. These specialized groups attempt to influence policy changes in two major ways: insider strategies, and outsider strategies. Insider strategies appeal to our emotions by providing personal stories and expert testimony to influence legislation. Alternatively, outsider strategies attempt to enlarge the scope of conflict and political discourse. Often, this includes media coverage of the issue which may or may not be accurate and can be easily manipulated by the media outlets (Schnell, 2001).

To influence true change, it is vital for policy makers to strive towards a common goal, and work together to provide solutions to current issues. One of the ways to encourage alliances among policy makers is to merge disagreements into a more common goal (Stone, 2011). Reducing the prevalence of sexual violence is a goal I believe we can all agree on. However, the approach to achieving this goal is the subject of much debate. On one end of the spectrum is the punitive approach to managing this problem, and at the other end we have the treatment and preventative approach. While both methodologies have their merits, it is important to assess their individual feasibility.

 

Background of Sex Offender Treatment

Interest in sex offenders first peaked in 1886 with the release of Psychopathia Sexualis: eine Klinisch-Forensische Studie (Sexual Psychopathy: A Clinical-Forensic Study). This work by Richard von Krafft-Ebing proposed consideration of the mental state of sex criminals in legal judgments of their crimes. During its time, it became the leading textual authority on sexual pathology. Works by Krafft-Ebing depicted all sex offenders as pedophiles and demented strangers. After this work, Freud (1893) and Schrenck-Notzing (1895) published pioneer works in the area on sexual abnormalities (Schwartz, & Cellini, 1995).

In the 1930’s through the 1960’s, the view of sexually deviant behavior was thought to be a product of a mental disorder and that the offenders were too “sick” to be punished. As a result, the sexual psychopath laws were created as alternatives to the criminal justice system. Sex offenders were involuntarily committed to state hospitals for as long as the individual was deemed a threat to society. The purpose was to cure sex offenders in a shorter time than they would serve in prisons, and to protect society against the sex offender population (American Psychiatric Association, 1999).

In 1954, California’s Atascadero State Hospital became the leader in inpatient sex offender treatment, with the primary treatment method being assertion training. The thought that sexual offenders have difficulty relating appropriately to adults led to regression techniques which were believed to meet their sexual needs. This treatment was conducted by psychiatric technicians rather than professionally trained clinicians and did not have a consistent treatment philosophy or protocol.

In 1981, Theodore Frank was released from Atascadero State Hospital. Within three months of his release Fank kidnapped and murdered a two-year-old girl who was playing in her front yard. This crime unleashed a public outcry against the inpatient treatment model for sex offenders, state legislature quickly declared the inpatient treatment model a failure and repealed the sexual psychopath laws. The view that sexual deviance was connected to mental disorder was discredited, and by 1990, all but twelve states had repealed their sexual psychopath laws (California Coalition on Sexual Offending, 2009; Schwartz, & Cellini, 1995).

The 1990’s marked a turn in the management of sex offenders as treatment programs were transferred from hospitals to prisons. Washington became the first state to recognize sex offender treatment as a mental health profession and to begin the certification of sex offender treatment providers. The Association for the Behavioral Treatment of Sexual Abusers, now known as the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers, was formed and became the national organization for sex offender treatment providers around the world (Schwartz, & Cellini, 1995).

Recently treatment for sex offenders has attempted to implement a more holistic approach. These methods utilize a multitude of approaches including; cognitive behavioral therapy, relapse prevention, behavior modification, harm-reduction, and self-regulation (Bumby, 2006).

 

Background of Addictions Treatment

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 8.2% of Americans meet the criteria for a substance use disorder (Bergman, Kelly, Nargiso, & McKowen, 2016).

One of the most prevalent approaches to treating substance use disorders is the Cognitive Behavioral Model. This model encourages mastery over one’s environment and internal experience by identifying triggers and how this influences their internal experiences and external reactions. This method also teaches assertiveness skills, identification, and avoidance of high-risk people, places and situations, with ways to examine positive and negative consequences of continued substance use. Using this model, therapists and clients work together using problem solving and communication skills to identify, construct and implement a treatment intervention plan (Bergman, Kelly, Nargiso, & McKowen, 2016).

An example of a behaviorally based intervention is AA’s 12-step program. This intervention encourages belief in a Higher Power, recognition of helplessness, the importance of sustained motivation with social support, and complete abstinence. These philosophies have been deeply rooted in substance use treatment in the US. However, the 12-step program has been subjected to criticism when compared to other evidence-based practices due to the reliance on internal rather than external motivators.

Opposite the behavioral model is the method of medically assisted treatment. This model attests that substance use is an illness that is largely outside of individual control and should be treated in the same manner as other medical illnesses.  The US Food and Drug Administration has approved several medications to facilitate medically assisted treatment starting with the approval of disulfiram in 1951. Other approved medications include methadone, acamprosate, naltrexone, and buprenorphine. However, medically assisted treatment does not indicate isolation from therapeutic treatment methods. Ideally, medically assisted treatment would be utilized in conjunction with other psychosocial treatments. However, due to its reliance on chemicals, the medically assisted treatment method could be seen as adversative to behavioral and abstinence-based models (Edmond, Aletraris, Paino, & Roman, 2015).

While abstinence is a large proponent of many substance use treatments, lifelong abstinence is not necessary. In one study of alcoholism recovery, it was discovered that three years of abstinence increased the likelihood of a stable recovery. Another study suggested that five years of abstinence from any substance should be standard practice and that after five years of abstinence the risk of relapse is no longer greater than that of the general population. While the precise duration of abstinence from any substance is still a topic of debate, it has been indicated as an essential part of the recovery process (DuPont, 2015).

In the past, there was a significant stigma attached to treatment for substance abusers. More recently this stigma has been reduced, and access to affordable treatment services has increased. Contributions to these changes can be partially attributed to the implementation of multiple health care reforms within the federal, state and private sectors. Examples of this are, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (Parity Act). These pieces of legislation require health insurers to cover, and health care organizations to provide, prevention, screening, brief interventions and treatment for substance use disorders. Due to the expansion provided by the ACA, an estimated 1.6 million Americans with substance use disorders have gained insurance coverage in Medicaid expansion states (Abraham, et al, 2017).

Together, the Affordable Care Act and the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act assure that care for substance users has the comparable type, range and duration of services as other medical conditions. Additionally, this legislation mandates that financial burden for patients seeking substance use treatment be comparable to patients seeking treatment for an equivalent physical illness.  Illnesses considered “comparable” to addiction are acquired, chronic illnesses. Equally important, this legislation has mandated accessible care delivery such as treatment available within mainstream health care settings including primary care (DuPont, 2015). Implementation of the ACA and its expansion to substance use disorders is still new, and as such, we are unable to determine how it has impacted long-term changes in substance use treatment.

 

Comparison of Treatment Models

Substance use treatment and sex offender treatment have similar backgrounds in that they both were previously addressed in a punitive manner. More recently, access to substance use treatment has been addressed, and these treatment options have become more affordable with the passage of the ACA. While there are medically assisted options for both substance use and sex offender treatment, this option is deemed more acceptable for substance use than for sex offender treatment. Both models utilize group treatment, however, in the case of sex offender treatment these groups are time limited and follow a strict curriculum. Groups for substance treatment utilize an “open-ended” model which allows for participants to be in different stages of recovery, this allows for better peer accountability. Another significant difference in sex offender and substance use treatment is that sex offender treatment is primarily provided in prison settings whereas community-based options for substance users are readily available.

 

Alternative Treatment Design

Bardach (2011), provides many definitions of “alternatives”, and the definition most appropriate for this paper is “alternative strategies of intervention to solve or mitigate the problem” (p. 16). For this paper, the identified problem is the prevalence of sex offenders and the possible shortcomings of current treatment. Attempts to mitigate this problem include examining possible alternatives to current treatment and designing approaches based on harm reduction.

Studies on the topic of treatment return conflicting reports. In one study, combined cognitive-behavioral treatment and relapse prevention was shown to reduce the recidivism rate by 40% (Losel & Schmucker, 2005). In a comparison study of treated and untreated sex offenders, 10% of the treated offenders were rearrested as compared to 17% of untreated sex offenders (Hanson, Gordon, Harris, Marques, Murphy, Quinsey, & Seto, 2002). However, another study found no difference in the arrest rates of treated sex offenders as opposed to untreated offenders (Marques, Wiederanders, Day, Nelson, & van Ommeren, 2005).

Notably, policy changes rarely take place by constructing a plan from scratch (Clemons, & McBeth, 2009). While there is no easy solution to the problem of sex offender treatment, we can use the positive pieces of current models of substance use and sex offender treatment to construct a more complete approach. A primary issue is the limited access to sex offender treatment. While treatment for substance abuse has recently been addressed as a health issue, sex offender treatment continues to be addressed from a punitive approach. To increase the success of treatment, it is imperative that we increase the accessibility to these services. One way of doing this is mandating that health insurance cover these services in the form of prevention, screening, brief interventions and treatment for sex offenders.

As an alternative to the current treatment model for sex offender treatment, I propose that more funding is allocated for researching alternative treatment models. Currently, data has not indicated that changes occur within these groups and research has not been done to compare this model with other types of treatment (Wakefield & Underwager, 1991).

 

Preliminary Implications

In this day of advanced knowledge and research, it seems alarming that there is such limited research on the effectiveness of treatment for sexual offenders, and that the research conducted yields such mixed results. However, current treatment programs were not developed as clinical trials with control groups and scientifically measurable outcomes. As a result, there are no specific standards used to measure success and failure rendering clinical trials nearly impossible to develop. Another limitation to the development of treatment models is the ability to determine success. One measure of success is relapse rates. While this measure works well for substance users it is more difficult for sexual offenders. For substance users, the ability to measure relapse can be as simple as a drug screen, however with sexual offenders you must rely on complete honesty from the participants. Other measure that is commonly used for sexual offenders is rearrests rates. While this measure can be useful at times, it is hard to determine how many sexual offenders may reoffend without being caught, which is further compounded by the number of sexual assaults that are never reported.

 

Conclusion

While substance use and sexual offending are community health problems that impact multiple individuals and families, there are stark differences in the approaches for treating these populations. On its surface, substance abuse may seem to be harmful to self, while sexual abuse is harm to others. However, this view does not account for the community, family and public health impacts of both these issues. There are many similarities and differences in treatment models for substance use and sexual offender treatment and the political influences impacting regulations for treating both populations. Currently, there are limited studies to illustrate proven success rates for sexual offender treatment, and this is an area that requires more extensive research and development. While there are apparent correlations for treating these two populations including cognitive behavioral therapy and group interventions, there are still significant differences in the accessibility and funding for treatment. To comprehensively address this issue, it is imperative that more attention and funding be allocated for research in this area.

 

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References

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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.

 

  • §

 

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.

 

—JONINA ANDERSON-LOPEZ

 

 

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.

— MARIANNA BONCEK

and JONINA (GINA) STUMP