Literature & Human Rights

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MON 3:30 - 6:30 pm JON 4.208B

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Human rights reporting, itself a genre in the contemporary world of writing and rights, entails both documentation and intervention. A recording of facts and events, of abuses of individual lives and national histories, as well as an effort to correct an official record that has systematically obscured those abuses, the writing of human rights draws of necessity on conventions of narrative and auto/biography, of dramatic representation, and discursive practices. Indeed, the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) that was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 1948 translated the standard literary paradigm of individual versus society and the narrative practices of emplotment and closure, by mapping an identification of the individual within a specifically international construction of rights and responsibilities. The Declaration, that is, can be read as recharting, for example, the trajectory and peripeties of the classic bildungsroman. While that Declaration has, since its adoption, been as much abused as used by governments throughout the world, peoples and their representatives continue to appeal to its principles. It is those written appeals, the reports of human rights monitors, the documentation of international organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other NGOs, and the narratives of individuals recounting their efforts to reconstruct a human history, that will form the basis of our discussion of the emergence of a discourse of rights in the 19th century and the altered relationships between writing and human rights at the end of the 20th, and the place of a new body of literature, the active intersection of the cultural and the political, in the changing contemporary international order.


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