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Meditations on a Fractured Terrain: Human Rights and Literature

From: College Literature
Volume 40, Number 3, Summer 2013
pp. 15-37 | 10.1353/lit.2013.0033



In this ‘state of the field’ essay, the authors assess the problems of language with which literary approaches to human rights must grapple: problems of referentiality in the poststructuralist context, of instrumentalization in the post-9/11 context, and of meaning-making in the aftermath of violence. Goldberg and Moore argue for a reading of human suffering before it becomes codified into various legal definitions, yet within historical context. With close attention to Carolyn Forché’s rendering of Hiroshima in “The Garden Shukkei-en” (1994), H. L. Hix’s 9/11 poems, and two texts that reflect upon the vacuum-bombing of the Sanaya Gardens apartment complex in Beirut in 1982—Mahmoud Darwish’s Memory for Forgetfulness (1995) and Osama bin Laden’s “Speech to the American People” (2004)—the authors posit the void created in the moment of the bomb’s explosion as a figure for the aporia at the heart of language in the aftermath of violence, inviting readers to meditate upon what can be made from those voids that gestures toward renewed cultures of human rights or, alternatively, toward future violence.

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