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Martin Kevorkian, Chair CAL 226, Mailcode B5000, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-4991

Fall 2009

E 397N • Literature and Human Rights

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
35560 M
3:30 PM-6:30 PM
JON 4.208B

Course Description

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.


READINGS: (subject to change/selection - in part in response to the speaker series schedule)

Victor Hugo. Notre-Dame of Paris (from the "Rights of Man and Citizen" to the “Universal Declaration”)

Clea Koff. The Bone Woman (forensic criticism: Rwanda and Bosnia/Kosovo)

Henning Mankell. Chronicler of the Winds (social justice and story-telling: Mozambique)

Ghassan Kanafani. Returning to Haifa (refugees, refoulement, and the “Palestinian exception”)

Jean Hatzfeld. The Antelope's Strategy (Rwandan genocide/transitional justice)

Ruth First. 117 Days (political detention, torture, truth and reconciliation: South Africa)

Ishmael Beah. A Long Way Gone (child soldiers: Sierra Leone)

Moazzam Begg. Enemy Combatant (Guantánamo)

These “primary” readings, topic-specific, will be complemented in each case by a compilation of recommended/required human rights reports, international covenants and legal instruments, documentary resources, and essays by human rights/social justice advocates, critics, and practitioners – in order to emphasize particular narrative and rhetorical strategies as well as the longer historical account of the emergence, consolidation, and critical review of the associations and collaborations made and unmade by the connections between “literature and human rights.”


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