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  • Continental Scope and Its Discontents
  • Ankhi Mukherjee (bio)

In a memorable scene in Orange is the New Black, the web television series created by Jenji Kohan for Netflix, the inmate Suzanne Warren, aka "Crazy Eyes," played with manic and poetic fury by Uzo Aduba, recites a Shakespeare monologue to hapless teenage visitors to the prison:

You common cry of curs! whose breath I hateAs reek o' the rotten fens, whose loves I prizeAs the dead carcasses of unburied menThat do corrupt my air, I banish you{And here remain with your uncertainty!… thus I turn my back.There is a world elsewhere}

(Shakespeare 2013, 316–17)

This occurs in season 1, episode 11 of the popular television series. A group of juvenile delinquents is visiting Litchfield, a minimum-security federal prison in upstate New York, and the inmates have been asked to "act tough" to scare the girls away from leading a life of crime. Suzanne is aggrieved that other prisons get to do "Shakespeare and shit" and seizes this as an acting opportunity. Suzanne suffers from mental illness, aggravated now by stressors associated with the degrading conditions of prison life. She receives no care in captivity and is terrified of being returned to "Psych" or the psychiatric unit of [End Page 814] the prison, widely acknowledged to be more tormenting than SHU, or solitary confinement. An adopted child of white middle-class parents who are loving but obtuse to Suzanne's emergent mental health needs, the flashbacks show a jagged process of identity formation marked by painful social alienation, attachment disorders, and borderline personality traits. The adoptive mother does not engage with the pain caused by Suzanne's inarguable blackness in a predominantly white circle of family and friends: in a rare moment of haptic connection experienced by the child Suzanne, we see an African-American nurse calm her down at hospital by offering to fix her hair.

In Shakespeare's Coriolanus, Act III, scene iii begins at the Forum in Rome, addressing the howling crowd to whom Coriolanus has been appealing for the title of Consul, and who have demanded his banishment in ungrateful response. The words lend themselves surprisingly well to Suzanne Warren's improvised theatre. She is the tragic wounded hero to the plebeians, alone (another Coriolanus watchword) in the forced intimacy of a crowd of common people. Suzanne delivers the lines with aplomb, the intense alliteration of common/cry/curs or reek/rotten building up to the exhalation of "my AIIIR." The curious displacement whereby Coriolanus's "I banish you" becomes the coerced and choiceless self-banishment of "I turn my back/There is a world elsewhere" adds poignancy to this mock assumption of sovereign power in Litchfield's ongoing drama of the dispossessed. For this reader, this scene proleptically posits some of the meditations put forth in Thinking Literature Across Continents, by Ranjan Ghosh and J. Hillis Miller (2016): on why literature matters; on its transnational mobility and lability as well as its transcultural knots and glitches; on the unstable and often self-cancelling relationship between pedagogies and performance; on literature as the ground of comparison between disparate entities, whose placeholders, in this instance, are Shakespeare's Coriolanus and Orange Is the New Black's Suzanne Warren. The authors, however, do not discuss Orange is the New Black or any cultural form of literary transmission remotely relatable to this prison drama. And therein lies a glaring oversight of work. Let me clarify that I am not holding Ghosh and Miller responsible for not watching Orange Is the New Black or Netflix or even popular television entertainments (Miller, for one, openly decries the fate of literature in "an age of prestidigitalization" {68}). I will, however, begin my critique of the book by asking why, given the excursive as well as inclusive pedagogies informing this unique transcontinental collaboration, do we end up discussing (again) "The [End Page 815] Daffodils" and Derrida, Beckett, Arnold, Tagore and Wallace Stevens, Sanskrit literary theory and Chinese classics, not undiscovered or non-credentialised authors, texts, and literary milieu? Why does a mode of critique that proudly identifies itself as the "(in)fusion-transnow thesis" (7) not engage with...


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