Fall 2017 - WL 204 D100

Rights and Activism in Literature (3)

Class Number: 4442

Delivery Method: In Person


  • Course Times + Location:

    Th 2:30 PM – 5:20 PM
    AQ 5007, Burnaby

  • Exam Times + Location:

    Dec 9, 2017
    12:00 PM – 3:00 PM
    AQ 5018, Burnaby



Focuses on literary responses to political oppression, censorship, displacement, terrorism or warfare. Thematic interests may include human rights, gender inequality, racism or class exploitation. Breadth-Humanities.


We live in an era in which human rights are trumpeted everywhere, and everywhere abused. The current global migrant crisis is only one of several areas of concern alongside instances of ethnic purification, gender equality, or the effects of environmental degradation. This course investigates instances in which the boundaries between humans and the moral entitlements they claim for themselves have become blurred or effaced, and so call for a different kind of activism. What debates over rights can be dramatized through literary explorations of the human other?

We begin with de Duras’s novella of racial discrimination in post-revolutionary France before turning to the modernist era with Kafka’s satire of immigrant survival in America. We then read Camus’s existentialist-inflected short stories of the ethical fallouts of human outlooks, and close with a short novella and a play: Touch concerns the world of a young Palestinian girl, and Puig’s prison fantasy looks at the theatre of imagination linking a political prisoner to a gay fellow inmate. As a means of joining human rights issues to minority rights, queer theory, and society’s others, we will watch three celebrated films: “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” Zhang Yimou’s “Red Sorghum,” and “Ex Machina.”


  • Short presentation: Alterity 10%
  • Participation and Attendance 15%
  • In-class Essay 20%
  • Take home Essay 30%
  • Final Exam 25%



Claire de Duras, Ourika, MLA 978-0873527804

Franz Kafka, Amerika[The Missing Person], Schoken 978-0805211610

Albert Camus, Exile and the Kingdom, Vintage978-0307278586

Adania Shibli, Touch, Clockroot Books 978-1566568074

Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spiderwoman [play],  Norton 978-0393311488 

Michael Freeman, Human Rights: An Interdisciplinary Approach, Polity Press 978-0745639666


FILMS: (provided) Kiss of Spider Woman (Brazil) / Red Sorghum (China) / Ex Machina / The Missing Picture (Cambodia)

Registrar Notes:

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