Semester Wrap-up: Part I

May 12, 2009

The semester is finally winding down and although I have a few loose ends to tie-up, summer is on the horizon. So I thought I’d take a little time and post some reflections on my coursework and research from this past semester. 

A few books that I loved:


1) Human Rights, Inc. by Joseph Slaughter.

Slaughter begins his Preamble to the book with a quote from John Humphrey, principle drafter of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone knows, or should know, why human rights are important.” (2) Slaughter goes on to discuss how the gap between what everyone knows and what everyone should know is relevant to discourses of both literature and law. He focuses on the connections between human rights and the novel, particularly the coming-of-age genre, Bildungsroman.

He writes:

“The novel genre and liberal human rights discourse are more than coincidentally, or casually, interconnected. Seen through the figure and formula of human personality development central to both the Bildungsroman and human rights, their shared assumptions and imbrications emerge to show clearly their historical, formal, and ideological interdependencies. They are mutually enabling fictions: each projects an image of the human personality that ratifies the other’s idealistic visions of the proper relations between the individual and society and the normative career of free and full human personality development” (4). 

It’s a fascinating read that ties together seemingly distinct discourses in interesting and unexpected ways. Chapter three, “Normalizing Narrative Forms of Human Rights: The (Dys)Function of the Public Sphere,” focuses on the ways in which reciting one’s story in a public setting, as ins the practice in some truth commissions, reveals the emphasis placed on storytelling in relation to the formation of the citizen-subject. 


2) The House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada by Eva Mackey.

In The House of Difference: Cultural Politics and National Identity in Canada, Eva Mackey explores the ways in which multicultural and pluralist discourses, while espousing the rhetoric of tolerance, may in fact create a climate of intolerance and resentment. By examining the strategies of power at play in Canadian multicultural policies, Mackey challenges the national myth of an inclusive and tolerant Canadian society. Her explorations reveal how an account of national identity that focuses on pluralism may be a form of managing difference as opposed to allowing for difference to flourish.

Mackey utilizes several methods in order to explore the terrain of Canadian identity as it relates to policies of multiculturalism. She offers a re-reading of historical documents, analyzes iconic imagery (including painting, sculpture and photography) and their circulation, and conducts interviews with people around and about several events celebrating the 125th anniversary of Canadian confederation.  This eclectic approach strengthens Mackey’s points, highlighting the diverse ways in which multicultural discourses takes shape on both national and local levels.

In the context of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, it will be interesting to see how this myth of a tolerant nation will be affected.

kazuo_ishiguro3) Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go, follows the haunting tale of three friends who are “donors.”  The story moves back and forth between the present and the past, recounting Kathy H’s sometimes-tumultuous memories of two dear friends, Tommy and Ruth. Although the novel is set in the 1990s in England, it straddles the boundaries between a world that seems incredibly familiar, and one that is eternally distant. A sense of familiarity is created by the recounting of Kathy’s childhood and youth, including arguments with friends and first loves that will resonate with most readers. At the same time, a sense of distance is created by the realization that Kathy and her friends are part of a system where they are reared expressly for the harvesting of their organs.  The novel provides an interesting context in which to discuss issues of personhood, the ethics of biotechnology and human rights.

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