Literature and Rights in the Age of Enlightenment (3/5/2010; MLA 1/6-1/9/2011)

full name / name of organization: 
Melissa Ganz

Special Session for MLA 2011, Los Angeles, CA

This panel seeks to investigate the intertwined histories of literature and rights in the long eighteenth century. In her provocative study _Inventing Human Rights: A History_ (2007), Lynn Hunt posits a crucial role for literature in the emergence of rights claims, arguing that "[n]ew kinds of reading . . . created new individual experiences (empathy), which in turn made possible new social and political concepts (human rights)." Yet she focuses only on selected novels by Richardson and Rousseau. This panel seeks papers that extend, qualify, and/or complicate her account of the relationship between literature and rights in the Enlightenment. How does imaginative writing in this period contribute to the development of the humanitarian sensibility and the emergence of human rights? Conversely, how do changing conceptions of rights shape novels, poems, plays, and essays? Papers on literary, philosophical, and legal formulations of natural and positive rights, and on questions concerning freedom, equality, justice, toleration, torture, cruelty, and pain are all welcome.

Send one-page abstracts to Melissa Ganz ( by March 5.