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Writing Human Rights

The Political Imaginaries of Writers of Color

2017
Author:

Crystal Parikh

Writing Human Rights

Reading works by American writers of color through the lens of human rights

Crystal Parikh contends that unlike humanitarianism, which views its objects as victims, human rights provide avenues for the creation of political subjects. Affiliating transnational works of American literature with decolonization, socialist, and other political struggles in the global south, she illuminates a human rights critique of idealized American rights and freedoms that have been globalized in the twenty-first century.

Clearly passionate and committed, Crystal Parikh has read broadly and deeply into this very exciting topic and opens up a range of provocative questions.

David Palumbo-Liu, author of The Deliverance of Others: Reading Literature in a Global Age

The legal texts and aspirational ideals of human rights are usually understood and applied in a global context with little bearing on the legal discourse, domestic political struggles, or social justice concerns within the United States. In Writing Human Rights, Crystal Parikh uses the international human rights regime to read works by contemporary American writers of color—Toni Morrison, Chang-rae Lee, Ana Castillo, Aimee Phan, and others—to explore the conditions under which new norms, more capacious formulations of rights, and alternative kinds of political communities emerge.

Parikh contends that unlike humanitarianism, which views its objects as victims, human rights provide avenues for the creation of political subjects. Pairing the ethical deliberations in such works as Beloved and A Gesture Life with human rights texts like the United Nations Convention Against Torture, she considers why principles articulated as rights in international conventions and treaties—such as the right to self-determination or the right to family—are too often disregarded at home. Human rights concepts instead provide writers of color with a deeply meaningful method for political and moral imagining in their literature.

Affiliating transnational works of American literature with decolonization, socialist, and other political struggles in the global south, this book illuminates a human rights critique of idealized American rights and freedoms that have been globalized in the twenty-first century. In the absence of domestic human rights enforcement, these literatures provide a considerable repository for those ways of life and subjects of rights made otherwise impossible in the present antidemocratic moment.

Writing Human Rights

Crystal Parikh is associate professor at New York University in the departments of Social and Cultural Analysis and English. She is author of An Ethics of Betrayal: The Politics of Otherness in Emergent U.S. Literatures and Culture and coeditor of The Cambridge Companion to Asian American Literature.

Writing Human Rights

Clearly passionate and committed, Crystal Parikh has read broadly and deeply into this very exciting topic and opens up a range of provocative questions.

David Palumbo-Liu, author of The Deliverance of Others: Reading Literature in a Global Age

In this ambitious study, Crystal Parikh shows how the literature of writers of color has always been preoccupied with what are now called ‘human rights.’ Her wide-ranging and urgent readings, written with the precision and care of a passionate literary and social critic, reminds us of how much literature matters in imagining and demanding justice and humanity.

Viet Thanh Nguyen, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Refugees and The Sympathizer

Writing Human Rights

Contents
Introduction: The U.S. Good Life, the UN World, and the Human Rights Record
UN International Bill of Human Rights; Toni Morrison, Beloved
1. Other Humanities: The Bandung Spirit and the Right to Self-Determination
UN International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Ernest Gaines, A Gathering of Old Men; Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior
2. “Come Almost Home”: The Impossible Subject of Human Rights
UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Jessica Hagedorn, Dogeaters; Chang-rae Lee, A Gesture Life
3. “A Globe within Him”: Security at the Borderline of War and Torture
UN Convention against Torture; Susan Choi, The Foreign Student
4. Regular Revolutions: The Feminist Travels of Human Rights
UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Julia Alvarez, How the García Girls Lost Their Accents and In the Time of the Butterflies
5. Being Well: Minor Subjects and the Right to Health
UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Jhumpa Lahiri, Unaccustomed Earth; Ana Castillo, So Far from God
Conclusion: An Aesthetics of Kin and the Rights of the Child
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; Aimee Phan, We Should Never Meet
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index