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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Human Rights and the Arts in Global Asia: An Anthology

Earlier this month, Human Rights and the Arts in Global Asia: An Anthology was released at Windup Bird café. Edited by Theodore W. Goossen and Anindo Hazra, this anthology of literary and dramatic works introduces writers from across Asia and the Asian diaspora. The landscapes and time periods they describe are rich and varied, including a fishing village on the Padma River in Bangladesh in the early twentieth century, the slums of prewar Tokyo, Indonesia during the anti-leftist purge of the 1960s, and contemporary Tibet.

Even more varied are the voices these works bring to life, which serve as testimony to the lives of those adversely impacted by poverty, rapid social change, political suppression, and armed conflict. The works the anthology convey an attitude of spiritual and communal survival, and even of hope.
The anthology presents the complex dynamic between diverse Asian lives and the universalized concept of the individual “human” entitled to clearly specified “rights.” It also asks us to think about what standards of analysis befit historical periods in which universal human rights and civil liberties are considered secondary to the collective good, as has so often been the case when nation states are undergoing revolutionary change, waging war, or championing so-called Asian values.

Human Rights and the Arts in Global Asia’s use of the term “Global Asia” reflects an interest in rethinking Asia as more than an area determined by national borders and geography. Rather, this book portrays it as a space of movement and fluidity, where societies and individuals respond not only to their local frames of reference, but also to broader ideas and ideals. Many of the works anthologized here are the subject of scholarly analysis in Human Rights and the Arts: Perspectives on Global Asia, also published by Lexington Books.

Theodore Goossen
About the editors: Theodore W. Goossen is professor of humanities at York University and founding member of the Department of Contemporary Literary Studies at the University of Tokyo. Anindo Hazra is a PhD candidate in English at York University.
Anindo Hazra

In a brief email interview, the editors discuss the anthology.

Q: Please clarify: Does Asian mean the people who hail from the entire continent? Or are the editors of Human Rights and the Arts in Global Asia: An Anthology using the term Asian in the North American sense to only include East Asians (Chinese, Koreans, and Japanese).

A: With regard to the region, we the editors consider Asia and Asians as encompassing not merely “East Asia,” but the entire part of that world, including Indonesia, Japan, and Korea. But we must point out that our use of the term, “Global Asia” seeks to broaden further the scope of how “Asia” and “Asians” are understood. We do not limit our approach to Asia and its peoples to finite geo-political boundaries, whether regional or national. Rather, we seek to engage our readers with more fluid and/or porous representations of this region. The qualifier “Global” as we use it responds to the mobility of goods, services, peoples, and cultures effected (and affected) by complex social and economic processes brought into play in and by contemporary globalization. So, even as this anthology highlights the particular, daily contexts of living in different parts of Asia, it also seeks to make the point that neither Asia nor Asians are fixed in place. In this way, we seek to pluralize Asia. All this to say that our editorial aim has been to persuade our readers that there can be no one way of talking about “Asia."   

Q: Briefly describe the anthology, and especially, why does it includes works from both writers who are in Asia and Asian diaspora writers.

A: The following is taken from our introduction to the anthology, and works well as an answer to the first part of your question:

"This anthology of literary and dramatic works has a twofold purpose. The first is to enrich the experience of readers who have consulted its companion volume, Human Rights and the Arts in Global Asia, edited by Susan Henders and Lily Cho. Many of the selections in this volume are discussed in that collection of critical essays. Second, this anthology introduces writers from across Asia and the Asian diaspora, some appearing in English for the first time. The landscapes and time periods they describe are rich and varied: from a village on the steamy banks of the mighty Padma River in Bangladesh in the early twentieth century to the slums of prewar Tokyo, from Indonesia during the anti-leftist purge of the 1960s to contemporary Tibet—and a multitude of places and periods in between. Even more varied are the voices these works bring to life. Many of these voices are raised in anger or lament, testimony to the hard lives of common people who pay the price of poverty, conflict and rapid social change. There are songs of suffering and harrowing loss, tales of abuse and exclusion, accounts of human rights abrogated or cruelly neglected. Yet in the end, the works in this anthology convey an attitude not of defeat but of spiritual and communal survival and even of hope."

As to why we chose to collect works from writers based both in Asia and in the Asian diaspora, I would direct you back to our response to your first question. If we are to think of “Global Asia,” then we also have to consider the voices of those whose lives and histories have been conditioned by the experiences of travel and migration. There are, of course, significant differences in the perspectives of authors writing in the diaspora, but we do not agree with a binaristic opposition in which “Asian” authors and “diasporic” authors are cordoned-off from one another, as it were.

Q: As the largest continent, Asia is vast, varied and complex. Any attempt to club the multiplicities of ethnicity and cultures into a single unit may appear on the one hand to be an exercise in futility because of the immense diversity that the continent represents, but on the other hand a bold and radical attempt to bring together a whole range of different creative expressions and experiences into one volume. What motivated the editors to undertake such a daring project?

A: Our anthology was prepared as a collection of different texts representing a range of perspectives, histories, communities, and individual lives. If our anthology enables a forum in which readers can engage with some of the particular contexts in which the writing of human rights narratives occurs, that will be a gratifying experience for us.  

Q: In the Canadian context, Human Rights have a contextual relevance to the many Asian ethnicities that have made Canada their home. As immigrants, as newcomers, Asians (and people from all over the globe) face challenges as they struggle to settle in Canada. Violations of their Human Rights, while probably not as flagrant as in Asia, are a reality. Does the anthology take cognisance of this phenomenon?

A: This is certainly a noteworthy phenomenon, and, while our anthology focuses largely on continental Asia, the work of a poet like Bushra Rehman would arguably be a good starting-point for a discussion of how well settled (or not) the diasporic individual is in North American society. Our anthology is paired with a critical volume of essays also published by Lexington Books (Human Rights and the Arts: Perspectives on Global Asia, edited by our colleagues at York University, Professors Susan Henders and Lily Cho). Readers of that volume will find scholarly discussions of the issue you raise: a couple of places to begin would be Prof. Theodore (Ted) Goossen’s chapter as well as Prof. Cho’s Afterword.

Human Rights and the Arts in Global Asia: An Anthology is published by Lexington Books. To buy the book online, click herehttps://rowman.com/ISBN/9780739194133

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