ENGL 084. Human Rights and Literature: Borderzones of the Human

This course examines how twentieth- and twenty-first-century narratives imagine "the human." Shortly after the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, Hannah Arendt argued that the "right to have rights" is not, in fact, universal: in practice, rights are secured by the state. But if human rights operate within the framework of the nation-state, the problems of the contemporary moment do not.  How, then, do we begin to imagine the rights-bearing human in an age of mass migrations, privatized militaries, global flows of capital, climate crises, and the world wide web?  The first section of this class will be devoted to studying the ways human rights advocacy and practice has traditionally depended upon narrative structures (testimony, witnessing, reportage) and the sympathetic imagination in order to raise awareness of atrocity.  The second half of the class will explore how such attempts to narrate the human face new obstacles in the twenty-first century.  Course readings will include a wide array of narrative forms, from novels, memoirs, photography and film to ad campaigns, NGO reports, and Freedom Information Act requests. Primary texts will be supplemented by secondary readings (Jacques Derrida, Hannah Arendt, Giorgio Agamben, Joseph Slaughter, Deborati Sanyal, and Eyal Wiezman) and by research labs that will introduce students to local and regional human rights work.
1 credit.
Eligible for PEAC, ESCH
Spring 2021. Patnaik.
Catalog chapter: English Literature  
Department website: http://www.swarthmore.edu/english-literature

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