American Comparative Literature Association Annual Meeting
April 19-22, 2007 in Puebla, Mexico
The Politics of Representation: Human Rights Violations, Witnessing, and Transnational Readership
In the discussion of human rights violations, the emphasis on violence and repression often portrays the violated as victims needing to be rescued by the “west” or by the rich “north.” Scholars and members of violated communities have challenged this representation to show how “victims” can be the site of both oppression and resistance. The drive is toward how texts, with their transnational readership, became sites of revitalization of the image of different victim groups as agents of their own history. Targets of human rights violations have turned against the elite politics of representation of human rights abuse which have depicted the violated as mere “victims.” In a classic example, the lower caste woman turned bandit turned Parliamentarian “Phoolan Devi” attempted to block the release of a film about her life produced by Channel 4 in the UK.
In light of the vehement criticism of the cultural politics of the elite-subaltern relationship, this panel seeks to examine the politics of representation. Instead of confining ourselves only to the text, the panel will also examine how such representational politics inflects the political in the material world of human rights activism. Thus papers might also consider the influence of these texts on legal and public opinion, as seen in the courts, political discourse, and media. In other words, we would like to situate texts and textual traditions in the material politics of human rights and explore how textual representations of violence enable the disenfranchised to exert “pressure on sign systems that uphold existing political and moral hierarchies,” as Bishnupriya Ghosh says. Well-known examples include such texts as I, Rigoberta Menchu and India’s Bandit Queen whose circulation marked and influenced the real world of activism, but the panel is open to discussions of texts from any cultural or linguistic context.
Although we are looking forward to examining new interventions in this topic, the following questions might also suggest possible routes of exploration:
• How do we responsibly archive violence in postcolonial contexts so that we do not strengthen the imperial claim that certain juvenile nations need to be parented by others?
• How do we avoid commodifying violence for a global market thriving on profit from texts on postcolonial violence that enhance the self-righteous claims of the discipline of the “north”? Instead, how are we to mobilize sensitivity and accountability in a transnational readership that rallies against such violence? How can that readership co-operate in acts of resistance with the disenfranchised, thus avoiding a patronizing ideology of protection?
• Is there an ethical imperative for writers and scholars depicting and studying violence in postcolonial contexts to trace how postcolonial violence is generated out of cumulative structures of oppression that place the pre-colonial, colonial, and postcolonial in a continuum as agents of violence?
• Can the representation of violence in Northern Ireland, indigenous Australia, and the 9/11 and post-9/11 United States take us further than the literal and geopolitical connotation of “post-colonial” to re-signify the term itself?
• How does integrating the “small” voices of women in the project of historical violence galvanize a politics of human rights representation that makes audible the “smaller” voices of children, the aged, and the disabled during geopolitical upheavals?
• Can historic injustice against certain communities be addressed within the boundaries of the post-conflict nation-state, or is the only forum for reconciling the rights of violated groups with those of the state the transnational venue of human rights politics?
This panel will meet on two or three consecutive days (depending on the number of papers), and presenters are strongly encouraged to plan to attend all sessions of the panel. This is a unique conference format that allows a small group of researchers to pursue a particular topic in depth within the context of a larger conference.
For questions about the panel, please contact the seminar organizers:
Annedith Schneider (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Basuli Deb (email@example.com)
For more information on the conference and to submit paper proposals, please visit the official conference website at http://acla2007.complit.ucla.edu/.
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