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Enabling Fictions and Novel Subjects: The Bildungsroman and International Human Rights Law

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


With adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, the United Nations conscripted, almost by default, the historically Euronationalist forms of the Bildungsroman and natural law to legitimate its vision of a new international order. This essay elaborates the conceptual vocabulary, deep narrative grammar, and humanist social vision that normative human rights law and the idealist Bildungsroman share in their cooperative efforts to articulate, normalize, and realize a world founded on the fundamental dignity and equality of what both the UDHR and early theorists of the novel term “the free and full development of the human personality.” Historically, formally, and ideologically, they are mutually enabling and complicit fictions: each projects, in advance of administrative structures comparable to those of the nation-state, an image of human personality and sociality that ratifies (and makes legible) the other's idealistic vision of the proper relations between individual and society. (JRS)

Research Article
Copyright © Modern Language Association of America, 2006

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