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Registration for ArtPolitical: Margaret Atwood’s Aesthetics is open now! All conference panels are available via Zoom. Register online. We look forward to seeing you there at this international conference.
14-16 Oct 2021, hosted by University of Göttingen, Germany
Conveners: Dr. Dunja Mohr (Erfurt)
and Dr. Kirsten Sandrock (Göttingen)
About the conference:
For Margaret Atwood, politics and art inherently belong together. In the pioneering poetry collection Power Politics (1971), Atwood addresses the intertwining of the personal and the political, which has run through her oeuvre ever since; “Power is our environment. We live surrounded by it: it pervades everything we are and do, invisible and soundless, like air.” (1973, 7) For decades Atwood’s work has resonated as tales of and testaments to political, socio-economic, and (bio)technological concerns of our present times. While Atwood has been vocal about politics, an environmental activist, and keenly involved with the PEN association, her writings have recently acquired a new international impact that underlines the fusion of politics and aesthetics in her work. Her classic female dystopia The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) has gained momentum as a prophetic 20th-century allegory of 21st-century political developments in the US, seeing a 670% year-on-year increase in sales and firmly sitting on the Sunday Times bestseller list for sixteen weeks in 2017. Exceptionally popularized by the multi-Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning Hulu TV series adaptation (Miller 2017–), Atwood’s dystopian work has received a surprising fan following, including admonitory dress-ups in Handmaiden gowns. The publication of Atwood’s recent Booker-prize winning The Testaments (2019), a revisiting of The Handmaid’s Tale, came along with a global fanfare, midnight book store launches including staff in the signature Handmaiden gowns, live readings, and a ‘Margaret Atwood Live’ broadcast to cinemas around the world.
In Political Aesthetics (2010) Crispin Sartwell terms the conceptual “intimate” (11) relationship between politics and aesthetics “artpolitical,” arguing that all political systems, and politics of resistance, use aesthetics and an aesthetic system. With reference to the importance of aesthetics for a political philosophy, Ernst Bloch has emphasized the important political function of narration, “Stage and story can be either a protective park or a laboratory; sometimes they console or appease, sometimes they incite; they can be a flight from or a prefiguring of the future” (1968). In this sense, literary and media representations and cultural adaptation practices contain a significant transformative potential that reaches beyond the page. Although arguably not all literature is driven by a political impetus, literature that intentionally triangularly oscillates between reality, speculation, and fiction provides an exceptional imaginary laboratory—what John Gardner called a “moral laboratory” (1978)—for ethical, political, and personal choices and for concerns about resilience, responsibilities/respons-abilities, and vulnerabilities (cf. Johnson 1993; Nussbaum 1995, 1997, Butler 2016, Haraway 2016).
Our conference seeks to address this interaction between politics and aesthetics in Atwood’s oeuvre as well as its various transmedial adaptations. We seek to explore the various facets and layers of the artpolitical in her work, including for example the themes of social and environmental justice, Anthropocene, posthumanism, the role of religion or political satire as well as social control, and (biotech-)identity. While The Handmaid’s Tale and its adaptations have gained special attention in recent years, we also welcome papers that address different works by Margaret Atwood, including her poetic, fictional, and non-fictional work as well as her speculative fiction. We invite contributions from different fields of research and are particularly interested in interdisciplinary and intersectional approaches, including political sciences, cultural and media studies or sociology.
Our call for papers suggested such topics as:
- political and literary aesthetics
- Canadian literature and power politics
- genre politics
- narratological approaches to artpolitical
- prosumers, fan culture, and political organization
- gender, body, and (national) identities
- teaching artpolitical
- the politics of writing: testimony and witnessing, knowledge and power
- posthumanism and biotech
- transmedia adaptations
- serialization, sequels and re-visions
- environmental justice, Anthropocene
- totalitarianism, political systems, surveillance, corporatism
- vulnerabilities, response-abilities, acts of resistance
The Margaret Atwood Society is an international association of scholars, teachers, and students who share an interest in Atwood’s work. The main goal of the Society is to promote scholarly exchange of Atwood’s works and cultural contributions by providing opportunities for scholars to exchange information. To reach this goal, we publish a journal, Margaret Atwood Studies, and we host several panels each year on Atwood at various academic conferences, including at the Modern Language Association Convention (MLA), Association of Canadian College and University Teachers of English (ACCUTE), and the Midwest Modern Language Association (MMLA). (See the Calls for Papers tab to learn more). To let us know about current Atwood-scholarship-related news or events, please email us the appropriate information. We will include your news on this site and/or our Facebook page and Twitter feed. We welcome your friendship and comments on Facebook and Twitter, whether or not you join the Society. We also welcome you to interact with us on LinkedIn.
If you’d like to join the society, please see the Membership page.
Note: For contact information for Margaret Atwood, see the contact listings on her official website. (You might also have luck @ replying her on Twitter). We do not forward messages or materials to Ms. Atwood.