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This chapter gives an overview of the current debates regarding the way human rights has been defined and historicized. It argues that understanding these debates is crucial for an understanding of the ways in which human lights matter to literary study. Referencing the works of Johannes Morsink, Paul Gordon Lauren, Lynn Hunt, and Samuel Moyn, the author moves the through the varied points of origin and genealogies of human rights as we understand them today. The chapter shows that this present concept is by no means unambiguous, and argues that literature and its analysis provides us with one of the best ways to investigate the historical and political tensions that exist at its very foundations.
Most legal and juridical proceedings depend upon fixed positions with regards to human rights claims, especially where violations of rights are concerned, those of victims, perpetrators, witnesses, and sometimes, although to a lesser extent, beneficiaries. However, the social and political realities in which rights are embedded usually prove much murkier. For example, those who carry out atrocities one minute, might find themselves the object of state violence the next; witnesses who receive reparations or are able to sell their stories might seem like less innocent beneficiaries of the events of which they’ve given accounts, and a much broader notion of culpability calls into question the function or efficaciousness of identifying individual perpetrators. This chapter argues that literature is especially well-suited for evincing and elaborating such ambiguities and contradictions that inhere in the history and politics of human rights.
This chapter looks at two nexuses: law-and-literature and human-rights-and-literature. In her analysis of Charles Reznikoff’s book-length poem Testimony: the United States (1885-1915): Recitative (1978), the author brings the law-and-literature paradigm to bear on literary expression of human rights. She finds in the text overlapping ideations of the procedural and the performative, in its juridical and literary dimensions. On the one hand, the text serves to show the limitations of the law and its technologies such as the trial, which literary performance can help compensate for. On the other hand, Reznikoff's poem also proves the necessity for these technologies as organizing principles, especially in methods like citation and precedent, in order to battle the ever present risk of erasure.
This introduction provides an introduction to the entire volume, including an overview of the field of human rights and literature, the aims and objectives of the Companion, and its organizational structure.
This chapter considers how forms of narrative literature, particularly life-writing, serve as technologies in the making of the modern personhood that in turn anchor contemporary human rights. Drawing from Benveniste’s work on the relationship between grammatical personhood and subjectivity, the chapter is structured into “gradations” of personhood, examining their implications on human rights discourse and its subjects. The first-person form common to life-writing, with its centering of the speakerly “I,” operates in the ethical domain of sentiment and empathy; whereas the second-person form of the testimony, with it’s construction of an “I-you,” depends more on a process of interpellation than empathizing. Meanwhile, the third-person form, which may seem less relevant to human rights discourse, provides insight into the ways in which collective bodies, such as corporations, lay claim to human rights. The chapter closes with a reflection on posthumanism and the zero-person or non-human as a potential departure point for probing the limits of the human subject that underlies human rights discourse.
Literature has been essential to shaping the notions of human personhood, good life, moral responsibility, and forms of freedom that have been central to human rights law, discourse, and politics. The literary study of human rights has also recently generated innovative and timely perspectives on the history, meaning, and scope of human rights. The Cambridge Companion to Human Rights and Literature introduces this new and exciting field of study in the humanities. It explores the historical and institutional contexts, theoretical concepts, genres, and methods that literature and human rights share. Equally accessible to beginners in the field and more advanced researches, this Companion emphasizes both the literary and interdisciplinary dimensions of human rights and the humanities.
The Cambridge Companion to Asian American Literature offers an engaging survey of Asian American literature from the nineteenth century to the present day. Since the 1980s, Asian American literary studies has developed into a substantial and vibrant field within English and American Studies. This Companion explores the variety of historical periods, literary genres and cultural movements affecting the development of Asian American literature. Written by a host of leading scholars in the field, this book provides insight into the representative movements, regional settings, archival resources and critical reception that define Asian American literature. Covering subjects from immigrant narratives and internment literature to contemporary race studies and the problem of translation, this Companion provides insight into the myriad traditions that have shaped the Asian American literary landscape.