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What I Learned in my Atwood Seminar
Dec 22nd, 2017 by Dr Karma

This quarter, I taught a seminar on Margaret Atwood–we read poetry and short fiction, but focused on The Handmaid’s Tale, Oryx and Crake, Alias Grace, and Hag-Seed. It was a great course, and my students were engaged.

A few observations:

  • the current socio-political climate came up during discussions of each book–they’re frighteningly apropos
  • I had to explain second wave feminism, female genital mutilation, the difference between r and x rated films, and many other fascinating things as they came up in discussion
  • my students think Alias is pronounced uh-lie-us
  • a couple of my students, prior to taking the course, thought “feminist” meant its opposite; when one kept saying the commander was being “so feminist,” we cleared it up

My favorite part of the course was on the last day, when we talked about what, if anything, we’d learned together. One of my students said that what all the texts had in common was a warning to pay attention–to wake up to the world around us and to do something about it.

Thank the universe for Atwood.

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Review of The Year of the Flood
Oct 25th, 2009 by Dr Karma

I actually finished this book a few weeks ago, but life has been even more busy than normal lately.

I didn’t want to let too much time go past, however, without mentioning it. (Bookgroup members: we will read this when Courtney returns, fear not).

The Year of the Flood does what no previous Atwood book has done before–it returns to pick up on another story. Oryx and Crake is a brillant piece of speculative fiction in which society’s trends (economic, entertainment, scientific, etc) come to a logical and frightening head. I’ve taught Oryx and Crake before, and my students are always surprised by how relevant the text is–once they start researching, they realize that many of the horrors Atwood seems to have invented are not fictional inventions at all.

Oryx and Crake ends at a crossroads after a cataclysmic event.

The Year of the Flood tells much the same story, but from other points of view. This story intersects with the Oryx and Crake tale in myriad ways, but only ends a short while after Oryx and Crake does (I’m happy to report that my pessimism about the end of Oryx and Crake was totally right!).

While I really enjoyed The Year of the Flood, it didn’t add much to the actual original story for me, with one exception–Atwood allows the new work to explore religion, cults, and community. I’m interested in these, but the world of science and the rise of corporations over governments explored in the earlier book were more intriguing.

The protagonist of the earlier book and one of the protagonists of this book were born about the year 2000, according to an Atwood interview. When you look at the “years” in the story, keep that in mind. Atwood is a great predictor of human behavior and social trends, and, as I’ve already noted, many of the scientific inventions have already come to pass. Luckily for us, however, we seem to be keeping our humanity for a little longer, at least in the developed world that we see from our privileged positions. This cautionary tale reminds us how much we stand to lose if we’re not careful.

Don’t misunderstand–I loved this book–I just love Oryx and Crake a little bit more.

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Jul 21st, 2009 by Dr Karma

The Matthew Shepard Act has passed. I’m of two minds about it. On the one hand, I want protection for those people who are attacked because of hate. On the other, it’s weird to persecute people because of the thoughts they had when hurting someone.

Of course, if we could count on people and police to protect people who were being attacked because of their nationality, race, sexuality, etc., we could all rest a bit better, but in too many places, people turn away from what their society and beliefs make abject.

At least all those senators who said the Matthew Shepard story was a “hoax” and who indicated that all homosexuals are pedophiles were voted down. In fact, can’t we get them for hate speech now?

In other news, I saw a new edition of ORYX AND CRAKE that indicated that it was the first in the MADADAM TRILOGY. So I guess we’re about to get something new going on in AFTER THE FLOOD, which comes out in September. Margaret Atwood fans, get ready!

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Banning The Handmaid’s Tale
Jan 19th, 2009 by Dr Karma

handmaidA parent in Canada has asked a school board to take The Handmaid’s Tale off the reading list for seventeen year olds. He doesn’t like the bad language, the brutality (esp against women), and its anti-Christian-ness.

Never mind that the book won The Governor’s General Award (Canada’s Pulitzer) or the fact that it remains one of the most taught books in the world. Let’s think through the three objections.

Bad language: if we took books with “bad” language out of the curriculum, we’d have to lose most of the curriculum. Even Shakespeare makes “cunt” jokes. (P.S.–you’d have to take the Bible out of Sunday School curriculum, too–it also contains “bad” words.) And if this guy thinks his kid hasn’t heard or said the word “fuck” before, he’s a moron.

Brutality: This guy can try to pass himself off as a sympathizer to women all he wants, but there is brutality against women in the world. This book talks about some of that. I’ve had students get upset at Oryx and Crake for similar reasons. One student said that because Atwood had a character who’d been victimized by being forced into prostitution as a child, Atwood was a pornographer. There is a difference between kiddie porn and a work that criticizes those who perpetuate it. (Unless reading about that poor girl gets you hard–and in that case, you shouldn’t be mad at the book, you should be thinking about yourself.) When I read The Handmaid’s Tale in high school (an event I consider one of the most important in my life), I remember a girl coming in and saying she didn’t like the book because it was disturbing. The teacher said it was supposed to be. There are bad things out there. How are we going to stop them and prevent them if we don’t know about them?

Anti-Christian: I am so sick of this argument. First, the rulers of Gilead are not Christian. Though they quote (and intentionally misquote) the Bible, there is no Jesus here. Salvation in this society comes not through Christ, but through accepting the new status quo of the theocracy. The “brutality” against women here all comes from the Old Testament (and is, by the way, sanctioned through a literal reading of that text–Old Testament “family values” leave much to be desired).  Even if you view the rulers as Christian, none of the rulers actually follow the rules–this is a critique of hypocrisy as much as anything else. Finally, it should not escape notice that all of the “good guys” in the book who are fighting this regime are Christian–they are Catholics and Quakers and Baptists–they are Christians.

Oh, and book banning is wrong, even if this guy’s claims were true.

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