No Thumbnail Available
Middle Tennessee State University
Early-modern England, with its mixture of empiricism and mysticism, greatly esteemed analogical thinking and made literary heroes out of newly translated ancients such as Plutarch, whose Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans was a principal source for Shakespeare’s Roman plays. Updating Plutarch’s methodology in Parallel Lives for the twenty-first-century academy, Volumnia/Kony makes an analogy between the Roman lives of Coriolanus and Volumnia and the Ugandan lives of Joseph Kony, his Lord’s Resistance Army, and the LRA soldiers’ mothers. But Volumnia/Kony disrupts conventional timelines of influence-transfer to consider how lives separated by many centuries criss-cross and constitute each other. Adapting Slavoj Žižek’s speculation that Shakespeare had read Lacan, I argue that Shakespeare, in preparing for the writing of Coriolanus, had obviously watched the viral YouTube video “Kony 2012” and thus was well apprised avant la lettre of the massacres that would play out in Uganda and Sudan. Seeing the Lord’s Resistance Army in Shakespeare’s iambs, then, is neither to hallucinate nor to force an anachronistic reading—the Ugandan soldiers were already there. Volumnia/Kony investigates the relationships among its parallel lives in three chapters. Chapter One, “The Lord’s Coriolani,” tests the concept of “terrorist” as applied to Kony and his child soldiers by reading them alongside one of Shakespeare’s most enigmatical tragic heroes. Chapter Two, “Come Back Home, Killing Machine,” focuses on the United States Army Special Forces’ psychological operations mission in Uganda. The U.S. army’s reputedly ingenious strategy—using mothers’ voices to peaceably recall militants to their villages—has at least one antecedent almost three-millennia old: the Roman embassy led by Volumnia to her betrayed and vengeful son, as recorded in Plutarch’s “Life of Caius Martius Coriolanus.” Adapting Plutarch’s material in dramatizing the maternal petition, Shakespeare draws mothers, sons, and matters of state into a recurring psychopolitical dynamic. A brief coda, “Solidus,” plays fast and loose with time and Bloomian influence theory, using Jorge Luis Borges’ Pierre Menard to examine the literary-mathematical relationship between Volumnia and Kony as signifiers and all that they represent—enduring motifs of maternal-filial bonds and power’s corrupting effects on idealistic revolutionaries. Ultimately, Borgesian, Bloomian, and Žižekian ironies open to, if not quite common sense, at least a restoration of traditional vectors of influence. When Shakespeare penned his works, he willed a future in which every person and every event was destined to be Shakespearean.
English literature, Modern history, Comparative literature