Quiet Prose and Bare Life: Why We Should Eschew the Sensational in Human Rights Language
Several scholars observe that sensational depictions of human rights violations enter international circuits of activist discussion and action. However, sensational narratives eclipse the everyday deprivations that accumulate to become a multigenerational legacy of want, stunted potential, and psychological emasculation. This essay examines whether it is even possible for us as readers and consumers of text (both fictional and testimonial) to eschew the sensational and focus on the quotidian and everyday deprivations and disenfranchisements that also constitute human rights violations. Texts discussed include Ghassan Kanafani’s story “Men in the Sun” and testimonials by South Asian migrant workers in the Middle East, which graphically underscore abuse and suffering, as well as Mohammed Al-Azza’s film “Everyday Nakba” and the “understated” depictions of the Japanese American internment by Hisaye Yamamoto, Mitsuye Yamada, and Julie Otsuka.