Human rights in the twentieth-century: A literary history /

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Bibliographic Details
Author / Creator:Bakara, Hadji, author.
Ann Arbor : ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, 2016
Description:1 electronic resource (253 pages)
Format: E-Resource Dissertations
Local Note:School code: 0330
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Other authors / contributors:University of Chicago. degree granting institution.
Notes:Advisors: Deborah Nelson Committee members: Mark Phillip Bradley; Sonali Thakkar.
Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 78-06(E), Section: A.
Summary:In the second half of the twentieth-century, the promise of universal human rights emerged as arguably the most powerful ideal in international politics. During this same period, global literatures also became increasingly entangled with the cause of human rights, as writers from diverse regions of the world, including Chris Abani, Denise Levertov, J.M. Coetzee, Ngugi wa Thiong'O, Muriel Rukeyser, Seamus Heaney, Adrienne Rich, and Nadine Gordimer, used their work to claim and imagine rights for themselves and for others. My dissertation reconstructs the history of how human rights and literary history came to be entwined in the twentieth--century, set against the backdrop of the Cold War, decolonization, South African Apartheid, and the legacies of European empire, World War II, and the Holocaust. More specifically, the dissertation argues that this entanglement of human rights and global literatures ---- nascent in the 1940s, ascendant in the 1970s and 1980s, and dominant today ---- has transformed both fields in fundamental though still unaccounted for ways. Just as the rise of human rights opened up new avenues for writers to imagine and connect across borders, writers helped redefine human rights for the contemporary world. To develop this claim, I remap the literary history of the twentieth-century into four multilayered studies and chapters: the legislator, the refugee, the prisoner, and the witness. All of these figures, I suggest, hold out significance for the history of writing and rights, and open up space to examine how each has shaped the other. Grounded in extensive research in personal archives and the papers of PEN and Amnesty International, my four thematic chapters explore how the form, sociology, and politics of literature have been variously shaped by the crises and possibilities of human rights. I show, for instance, how the first generation of refugee writers, including Arthur Koestler, Anna Seghers, Bertolt Brecht, and Hannah Arendt, were provoked by the new realities of statelessness to craft literary genres and styles adequate to narrating life outside the bounds of citizenship and the nation. I also interpret and synthesize work by writers such as Ngugi, Wole Soyinka, and Breyten Breytenbach, which flew out of the world's prisons beginning in the late 1960s, circulating with remarkable speed in translations and anthologies sponsored by organizations like PEN the Open Society. And I show how these clandestine documents inspired writers as diverse as Margaret Atwood, Harold Pinter, J.M. Coetzee, and Luisa Valenzuela to join the ranks of human rights NGOS and turn their creative energies to the topic of political imprisonment, torture, and the everyday oppressions of distant strangers. At the same time, however, I argue that just as literature was being shaped in new ways by the idea and practice of human rights, these very rights, long upheld as the "self evident" and "inalienable" possessions of universal "Man," were made poetic and protean as they became the impetus and subject of literature. If human rights before the mid-twentieth century were thought of as universal and immutable principles, the story I tell shows how these rights were made into mutable terrain, open to being shaped and reshaped through human action and imagination. (Abstract shortened by ProQuest.).