This course will reflect on the conception of human rights as it stands in correlation with categories of the nonhuman. Recent work in the arts, humanities, and social sciences has emphasized the critical importance of recognizing the complex entanglement of human and nonhuman agencies in the formation of our environments, economies, and epistemologies – from our encounters with animal subjectivities, to our increasing reliance on new and old forms of technology; from our complicity in the production of climate change, to the ways in which global capitalism continues to shape our everyday existence. “To be a subject,” as Bruno Latour has recently put it, “is not to act autonomously in front of an objective background, but to share agency with other subjects that have also lost their autonomy.”
What happens to the image of the human person – in the arts and in our lives – when the lines between human and nonhuman agencies are blurred or eradicated? What is the relation of human rights to the nonhuman world of things and other entities, to the realm of materials and forces, to animals and ecosystems, to cities and capital? What correlations exist between the nonhuman and the establishment, preservation, and violation of human rights? Such questions will be approached through an examination of literature and other artwork, taken from around the globe, which address issues of human rights and concepts of nonhuman agency. Material to be considered will include works by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, J.M. Coetzee, Kobayashi Issa and Matsuo Bashō, W.S. Merwin, Mahasweta Devi, Charles Burnett, and Anslem Kiefer, and Georgia O’keeffe, among others. Discussion of primary materials will be supplemented by a selection of relevant critical and theoretical texts.