The Aesthetics of Humanity The Influence of Literature on the Concept of Human Rights

deadline for submissions: 
October 10, 2021
full name / name of organization: 
NeMLA2022_Baltimore

NeMLA 2022, 10th-13th March 2022 (Baltimore, Maryland)

The Aesthetics of Humanity. The Influence of Literature on the Concept of Human Rights (Panel 19345)

Chair: Isabella Dr. Ferron (Università “La Sapienza”, Rome) 

This panel aims to analyze the relationship between literature and Human Rights from an interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspective, starting from the historical period between the mid-18th century, i.e. the period in which events such as the American and the French Revolution unfolded, world travel and scientific innovations helped develop and broadly spread an early vision of the modern idea of Human Rights. 

The debate about Human Rights is not a novelty, and their conceptualization goes back to Classical Antiquity (Greece and Rome), but one may assume that in the Age of Enlightenment the debate gained importance not only from a political point of view, but also from a literary and artistic one. Both visual (e.g. theatre performances) and verbal representations (philosophical and/or political essays, novels etc.) of the human condition illustrate how the idea of Human Rights became a focus of public opinion. Within this process, literature and more generally art contributed to the spread of the idea – this being the basic topic of our panel. 

In the literary works from this period we can hardly find a novel or drama explicitly dealing with Human Rights, but over the course of time literature – which started paying more attention to the role of the individual as the member of a community – helped develop the idea of Human Rights as we know it today (s. Richard Weisberg, Poetics and other Strategies of Law and Literature, 1992). Literature and art – with their logic and absurdities – can shed light on human nature and existence; therefore, they can crucially contribute to our understanding of humanity and of the principles defined as Human Rights, while also making the concept of personal rights relevant.

Starting from an analysis of the relationship between literature, art and Human Rights based on a critical reassessment of existing approaches, as well as on new theoretical and practical perspectives, the panel will attempt to identify certain communicative strategies. This will also imply an analysis of the language used to refer to human rights in literary production from the years between the early 19th century and the contemporary age (e.g. engaged, postcolonial and migration literature). 

A range of questions can lead to a better understanding of these issues: Where can we find literary and artistic works that, by engaging with everyday life themes from an aesthetic perspective, explore – or at any rate allude to – Human Rights, fostering an interest in this topic? What can be considered the most suitable literary form for the spread and popularization of Human Rights? What kind of language was and is used to make Human Rights more popular? Ultimately, what are the aesthetics of Human Rights, and what mode of textual, intellectual, critical-theoretical, sociological and philosophical investigation may we bring to bear on the culture of “rights”?

This panel invites papers exploring the role which literature and art have played in the spread of the modern idea of Human Rights, broadly defined. Possible topics include but are not limited to Western culture and literature, and juridical and philosophical thought. We also welcome papers providing comparative and cross-cultural analyses. 

Please consider submitting an abstract for the following panel 19345 at the 2022 Northeast Modern

Language Association Conference to be held from March 10-13, 2022, in Baltimore, MD. Abstracts are

accepted September 30, 2021.

Submit abstracts at the NeMLA portal: https://www.cfplist.com/nemla/Home/login

For any questions please contact: isabella.ferron@uniroma1.it