Rajini Srikanth | Quiet Prose and Bare Life: Why We Should Eschew the Sensational in Human Rights Language

27.1 Human Rights and Literature

Abstract

Several scholars observe that sensational depictions of human rights violations enter international circuits of activist discussion and action. However, sensational narratives eclipse the everyday deprivations that accumulate to become a multigenerational legacy of want, stunted potential, and psychological emasculation. This essay examines whether it is even possible for us as readers and consumers of text (both fictional and testimonial) to eschew the sensational and focus on the quotidian and everyday deprivations and disenfranchisements that also constitute human rights violations. Texts discussed include Ghassan Kanafani’s story “Men in the Sun” and testimonials by South Asian migrant workers in the Middle East, which graphically underscore abuse and suffering, as well as Mohammed Al-Azza’s film “Everyday Nakba” and the “understated” depictions of the Japanese American internment by Hisaye Yamamoto, Mitsuye Yamada, and Julie Otsuka.

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September 19th, 2015

Loes van der Voort | Incorporating the Impossible: Female Suicide Terrorism in Before We Say Goodbye

27.1 Human Rights and Literature

Abstract

The novel Before We Say Goodbye (2004) is endorsed by Amnesty International for contributing to a better understanding of human rights values. It tells the news item story of a Palestinian girl blowing up herself and an Israeli girl in a supermarket. Through exclusion, alienation and destruction, inclusion of both (groups of) individuals in human rights discourse is being sabotaged by the Israeli state, as well as by the Palestinian individual, who are polarized in the tension of being at once each other’s victim and perpetrator. This paper explores this complex web of human rights violations and finally explains how, and at what cost, the representation of the suicide attack that addresses the seemingly irresolvable dichotomy is precisely what makes this novel a claim for human rights.

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September 19th, 2015

Alexandra Schultheis Moore | “Not to Arouse Your Pity”: Situated Engagement and Human Rights in Dangarembga’s “The Letter”

27.1 Human Rights and Literature

Abstract

This essay reads Tsitsi Dangarembga’s short story, “The Letter,” for the ways in which its play with epistolary form challenges normative human rights discourse and literary expectations. I develop the concept of situated engagement examine how the text at once locates itself in the context of the Apartheid state’s repressive apparatus abstract and refuses the reader’s empathic identification. Instead of a narrative of personal suffering, the story demands recognition of the right to stake a political claim to self-representation, a conclusion with implications within the South African context as well as in terms of reading human rights literature more generally.

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September 19th, 2015

Daniel Listoe | A Double-Negation: Allegory and the Re-inscription of Human Rights

27.1 Human Rights and Literature

Abstract

This essay explores the intersection of literary form and appeals for human rights. It focuses on how the form of allegory, or what Walter Benjamin calls the “expression of convention,” highlights the authority of those genres that work to confirm or deny human rights. To this end the essay draws on the writings of the Hungarian Holocaust survivor Imre Kertész, the South African novelist J.M. Coetzee, and the American writer and critic Paul Auster. The essay argues that these authors demonstrate the necessary double negation of rights and human accounts: the representation of those who cannot represent their experience and therein the representation of what they cannot show.

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September 19th, 2015

Elizabeth S. Anker | Bodily Vulnerability, the Human Rights of Immigrants, and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful

27.1 Human Rights and Literature

Abstract

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful (2010) follows the final months in the life of its protagonist Uxbal as he dies from prostate cancer. Uxbal is a middleman who brokers the labor of unauthorized immigrants, yet as he confronts his mortality he also contends with the human rights abuses that have enabled his livelihood. This essay explores how Uxbal’s bodily disintegration and vulnerability foster his growing respect for human rights. As it argues, Biutiful unfolds an “embodied human rights imaginary” that serves to challenge the dual expectations of human dignity and bodily integrity that inform liberal articulations of human rights. Moreover, such an embodied conception of the human is incarnated in the film’s cinematographic form, style, and aesthetic.

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September 19th, 2015