Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation stands at the intersection between human rights, contemporary postcolonial literature, and medieval folkloric texts, specifically the One Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Nights, by an unknown author. The Nights was first translated to French by Antoine Galland, when it appeared as a series from 1704 to 1715. This was followed by subsequent English translations and other translations into many other languages. Today, the Nights continues to captivate the world’s literary imagination. The dissertation focuses on selected popular textual and visual human rights narratives published from 1994 to 2014. These narratives are by celebrated human rights artists and authors from different parts of the globe: they are both non-Western and Western, but all have spent a significant portion of their personal lives and careers preoccupied by rights and social justice issues, both locally and universally. I focus on the following texts: Dreams of Trespass: Tales of A Harem Girlhood (1994) by Moroccan author and feminist Fatima Mernissi; Women Without Men (2009) by the exiled Iranian artist and director Shirin Neshat; Women Without Men by exiled and celebrated Iranian novelist called Shahrnush Parispur; Habibi (2011) by novelist Craig Thompson; and The Dream of Shahrazad (2014) by Emmy-Award-winning South African documentary film maker/director François Verster. The varied texts tackle human rights issues such as colonization, wars, human trafficking, rape, violence, torture, women’s subjection, environmental justice; freedom of speech and movement; forms of classism; and racism. I attempt to explore how and why these works are employing the Nights’ narrative model, as well as its formal and aesthetic aspects, to enable modern human rights narratives. While the direct connection to the Nights is obvious, I also trace obscure references to the Nights’ stories, genres, and themes. I focus on how “The Story of King Shahryar and Shahrazad” and its plot about storytelling to heal and save lives interplays with a modern sense of rights issues such as violence, genocide, trauma, healing, and legal appeals for justice. I offer a reading of the Nights’ stories referenced in each work to theorize why human rights artists and authors include them directly or obscurely within their narratives. I conclude that these stories from the Nights were chosen for their themes of social justice, discrimination, trauma, torture, judicial discourse, and feminist empowerment. I also conclude that contemporary human rights artists and authors incorporate elements from the Nights in intertextual ways that enable them to construct currently applicable allegories of human rights advocacy.
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