In recent years we have witnessed a hypertrophy of concepts around the
idea of the human, especially in literary and cultural theory. The three most
prominent of these are human rights, humanitarianism, and the posthuman.
These transdisciplinary rubrics, with their origins in law, moral philosophy,
and critical theory, respectively, have significantly shaped recent debates on
the moral purchase of literary genres.
The posthuman rubric questions the limits of the human in the wake of
late twentieth- century developments in gene technology, artificial intel-
ligence, robotics, reproductive cloning, and animal rights, not to mention
the imminent threat from anthropogenic climate change. Far from being the
natural sibling of the early modern idea of natural rights, and despite its un
enshrinement in 1948, the idea of human rights, as I discussed specifically
in my engagement with Samuel Moyn’s work in the introduction, actually
became a force in world history in the 1970s as late modernity’s “last uto-
pia,” when all other emancipatory models—nationalism, postcolonialism,
communism—appeared to be fraying. I also discussed the emergence of
the postliberal horizon of human rights that has fundamentally challenged
our understanding of the human as an inalienable subject of rights in mo-
dernity. The gap between the “institutional invisibility of the human race
as a political actor” and the global visibility of a human rights culture is all
too evident in our time.1 Radically different from the revolutionary model
of rights in liberal thought and its proactive inscription in the novels of the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, human rights offers a new challenge
to the grammar of self- making, sovereignty, and the sympathetic imagina-
Previous Page Next Page