Poignancy as human rights aesthetic

Feisal G. Mohamed

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This essay offers an aesthetic of "poignancy" as a potential theoretical ground of human rights, as opposed to Kantian formulations currently finding expression in the language of "cosmopolitanism." The lack of concern with health and life found in Immanuel Kant's definition of human freedom is reproduced in what the author calls "magisterial" human rights practice, which tends to emphasize civil proceduralism and is advanced by a global elite. An immanental aesthetic indebted to Theodor Adorno, by contrast, might coincide with an immanental justice responsive to the physical and spiritual demands of human subjects, thus advancing vital if underdeveloped impulses of the UDHR, namely those expressed in its recognition of freedom from want and freedom of worship. This aesthetic is described with reference to the Orpheus myth, to John Keats's odes, and to a January 2009 account of shelling in Gaza. It is furthermore deployed in response to the dismissal of human rights emerging from such leftist intellectuals as Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)143-160
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Human Rights
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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