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

Fall 2005

E 397N • Literature and Human Rights

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
33785 MW
12:30 PM-2:00 PM
PAR 305

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 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, 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 a changing contemporary international order.


The topics of the course will be organized around selected "literary" works:

I. From the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen to the UNUDHR:

Victor Hugo. Notre-Dame of Paris

II. Forensic Criticism:

Clea Koff. The Bone Woman

III. Immigration/Asylum:

Benjamin Zephaniah. Refugee Boy

IV. New Plots: Intersections of Character and Setting

Henning Mankell. Secrets in the Fire and Playing with Fire

V. Courts of World Opinion

Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo. Guantanamo: 'Honour Bound to Defend Freedom'

Our sources will include--in addition to the Declaration of Human Rights, UN documents, and other international instruments--historical materials and contemporary reports from such organizations as Amnesty International, Index on Censorship, Human Rights Watch, Committee to Protect Journalists, PEN International, NGOs, as well as autobiographies, field reports, and prison memoirs. In addition, particular attention will be paid to archival resources and new forums--from UN conferences to WWW sites--in our investigation of the changing role of human rights discourse in the "post bi-polar world order." Electronic information technologies are central to this inquiry and students will be expected to have active computer accounts. Films, both documentary and feature, will also provide material for our examination of "writing human rights."


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