I’ve think I’ve isolated a subtle paradox, one summed up in the title and object of study in a class I’m currently taking, “The Literature of Human Rights.” In short: the paradox presents itself as such:
A) The concept of Human Rights is based on a moral/ axiological assertion as to the inherent and essential connectedness of human beings – we’re all humans, we all have these rights, we all deserve to live a certain way, etc.
B) The world of literature, and the study thereof (?), is currently bound and sealed neatly within the purview of a certain postmodernism, one that examines texts and the human subjects that write, read and are embodied or explored within those texts, and as such, one that emphasizes the multiple differences between humans, particularly emphasizing culture as the agent of human subjectivity and the creation of the sense-of-self, even when these schools of literary thought are advocating for a re-articulation of power relationships (feminism, queer theory, eco-criticism, Marxism, postcolonialism, you name it). Therefor a serious reticence to “universalize” the human subject – saying “we’re all the same, we all want/ need the same things, there is something essentially ‘common’ to us all” – is institutionalized.
How then, can we advocate for a totalized, universal “Human Rights” from this platform? And, of course, this postmodernism isn’t solely the property of literary theorists – its disciplinary hegemony is merely a reflection of our modern zeitgeist, that works to define how we define ourselves in our world, and operates as our dominant worldview or way of knowing. The concept of “Human Rights,” it would seem, is fairly at odds with the way we actually think and see ourselves and the world. This makes sense empirically: we witness oppression, subjugation, dissonance and violence in our everyday world at all times and in all places.
Are we trying to convince ourselves of a morality that we no longer have the ability to articulate?
Recently I watched a video of a lecture by Yale professor and literary theorist Paul Fry, who posited that Deconstruction (the flagship of postmodernism) was a school that pointed out not that texts ultimately have no meaning, but that texts are “bristling” with it. But what difference does it make if there are none, or an infinite amount? It’s akin to Syndrome’s monologue in “The Incredibles,” wherein he outlines his master plan of developing and marketing super-powers for mass consumption, because “*when everyone’s super: no one will be.”