Monday, August 1, 2011

I owe Margaret Atwood two apologies

Over the years I have had some rather harsh words to say about Margaret Atwood due to two things: some statements she made in 1996 about Bill C-32 (an amendment to the Copyright Act of Canada) and libraries; and what I considered to be the poor world-building in The Handmaid's Tale.

I have never had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Atwood and presume that unless she reads one of the blogs where I comment she is completely unaware of my opinions. Nevertheless I feel the need to offer her two apologies.

For those who are not aware of it, in recent days the Mayor of Toronto and some of his council (particularly his brother) have been signalling that they think that closing several branches of the Toronto library system would be a damn fine way to save the city money. Atwood has been among the most prominent of voices of those who are fighting to protect the libraries. Her spirited support of Toronto libraries has resulted in a grass roots "Atwood for Mayor" campaign. The next civic election is a long way away but the viral success of the pro-Atwood movement suggests that many people who love books, literacy and the City of Toronto (a group which includes me), would like to express their thanks to Ms. Atwood.

My second gripe with Atwood was with the world building that underlay The Handmaid's Tale. As a long-time lover of SF Atwood's repeated denial of the fact that this was a science fiction booked irked me since it seemed to suggest that "writing science fiction" was a lesser thing or something to be ashamed of. And, as a long time fan of the "dystopic future" story, I felt that Atwood had done a bad job of explaining how and why the United States could be transformed into an officially misogynist theocracy.

I should have taken Atwood at her word when she said she wasn't writing science fiction for what she did write was a chilling "what if we go down this road" story that identified elements of American culture and extrapolated from existing attitudes to possible future attitudes. When I first read The Handmaid's Tale I simply refused to believe that Americans would allow their personal freedoms to be so eroded. I refused to believe that Americans would not have rioted in the streets at the first sign of a looming theocracy.

Now, as I read my morning papers, I see bill after bill being passed into law in various American states that could have been included in the backstory Atwood provided for the dystopian America. Now, as I read my morning paper, I read about legal efforts to claw back from women the rights they have recently won. Now, as I read my morning paper, I read about official efforts to disenfranchise portions of the American population. Now, as I read my morning papers, I read about legal efforts to further entrench Christianity (and only certain flavours of Christianity at that) into American law.

In short, every day as I read my morning papers I realize that I should not read The Handmaid's Tale as a non-science fiction writer's attempt to write within an established genre but as chilling and insightful examination of the American political/social psyche.

So, Ms. Atwood, I owe you two apologies. All I ask in return is that you continue to be the writer and involved member of our community that you already are.

1 comment:

  1. Although I too have gotten annoyed with Margaret Atwood's comments about sci-fi, the Handmaid's Tale holds a very special place in my literary canon. I first read it when I was a tender 14 years old, having been introduced to it by a surprisingly well-written X-Files fan-fic set in that universe. It really set my bad experiences with miserable teenage boys in perspective with the fact that this misogyny was part of the American political psyche as a whole. I appreciated the book so much that I went back to it my senior year of H.S. and wrote a paper with the thesis that it was a warning. I'm glad I did it now - it was somewhat of a psychological preparation for handling our current politics. Sadly, it doesn't make the current situation any less scary.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.