Drawing a close to the introduction to his magnificent work, The Idea of Justice, Amartya Sen – the hugely influential Indian intellectual and Nobel laureate in economics – turns to the work of the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Quoting an extract from Heaney’s The Cure at Troy, at once a translation of Sophocles’ classic Greek play, Philoctetes, and a poetic contemplation on the conflict in his homeland, Northern Ireland, Sen seeks to articulate the transformative possibility of justice within social ecologies:
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the of the grave,
But then, once in a life-time
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
It was this moment of textual encounter that shaped my idea for a module on writing global justice. Sen’s inspiring, expansive and provocative meditations in the idea of justice as an anticipatory category towards which we can move closer through our identifications and contestations of injustice underlines the importance of an active and committed imagination. Heaney’s poetic soundings of an emotional landscape in which the persistent and embedded inequalities of history can be overturned and the conditions of possibility for optimism restored catches the humanizing privileges of a poetic form tuned to the frequencies of everyday struggle.
The question of how literature might do justice is a fascinating one that dates back at least as far as Sophocles and is no less relevant or compelling today. This module investigates the ways in which literature acts as a rich site for working through many of the persistent challenges that inform ‘the idea of justice’ today. It considers questions of human freedom and fulfillment as they relate to the politics of post- and neo-colonial states, questions of sexual citizenship, of migration and displacement, of intellectual and cultural property and of planetary co-belonging.
This blog represents our group’s collective thinking as well as individual efforts to research and engage with materials related to the literary works we are studying. We are keen to hear responses from others.
Professor Alison Donnell