From slavery to Guantánamo: Writing lives, seeking rights
MetadataShow full item record
The relationship between human rights and literature has attracted much scholarly attention, especially in the last two decades. Despite efforts by the United Nations (1945) and the widely ratified Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), in the twentieth and twenty first centuries the world has witnessed numerous wars, genocides, segregations and terrorist attacks in unprecedented forms. Since the 1990s, victims of rights violations or witnesses to those atrocities have started to voice their stories more often through narratives, and the genre of human rights literature has been expanding with imaginative literature and life writing such as auto/biographies, memoirs, testimonies, diaries, and, last but not least, prison narratives. Indeed, the UN and NGOs have been soliciting these stories, which have significant roles in national truth and reconciliation commissions and war tribunals, while also "constraining the kinds of stories that can be told" (Schaffer and Smith 137). How might human rights and literature co-operate with each other on scholarly and practical levels? How does literature shape, and how is it being shaped by human rights? How do particular literary forms enable particular rights discourses? These questions around rapidly emerging field of literary human rights also frame my dissertation. More specifically, in my dissertation I examine human rights narratives in the U.S. that elaborate on times of war, crisis and rights abuses and pursue narrative and rhetorical modes that seek justice, recognition and redress. I basically focus on three historical periods with three tragic cases where the U.S.' commitment to fundamental human rights has been violated: The Antebellum era and the institution of chattel slavery, the World War II and Japanese American Detainment and, finally, the so-called war on terror and indefinite custodies at the Guantánamo Camp. Through a study of literary representations of these calamities, I examine whether or not there are any set or privileged narrative modes to represent human rights violations in the American tradition from the nineteenth century to our contemporary times. Re-reading American history and literature not from the prevalent exclusive civil rights standpoint but from an inclusive human rights lens (an approach that has been long-missing in the field), my dissertation offers some fresh insights to American studies, American rhetorical studies as well as transnational human rights studies in terms of expanding the extent of human rights discourse by applying it to American settings.