What should I ask Margaret Atwood?

Yes, there will be a public event at GMU Arlington on April 8, a Conversations with Tyler, you can register here.  So what should I ask her?


Ask her if she considers either historical or modern Islamic societies relations, culture and law regarding women to be an accurate non-fictional analogy to the fictional world in A Handmaid's Tale.

If she answers in the negative, ask her why.

Fantastic question. Would love to see her answer it.

My favorite thing about Western dystopian fiction is that the metaphorically worst case scenario is always imagined by us here while actually existing or 'landing' there.

This needs discussion. A Handmaid's Tale is real, it just doesn't involve privileged white women.

Not always 'there'. The epidemic of satanic ritual abuse was imagined happening here (in suburban households) while the real epidemic of abuse was happening here (in church and gym class).

+1, excellent question.

On a related note, ask if she think the actress Elizabeth Moss can credibly portray the protagonist given her personal faith as a scientologist.


Agree. And the show works much better as an allegory for ISIS, or maybe post-revolutionary Iran.

I thought it fit the mold of Calvin's Zurich, as well.

Edit: Geneva

I had no idea 14th century Geneva was polygamous.

*16th c. -1

Well, one assumes that it will attract the sort of attention that this event did - 'A capacity crowd of 650 filled Founders Hall Auditorium and an overflow room at George Mason University’s Arlington Campus to hear a conversation between U.S. Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) and Mason economist Tyler Cowen. It was the latest installment in the “Conversations with Tyler” series hosted by the Mercatus Center.' https://www2.gmu.edu/news/430516

-5 Gryffin_Clock: Off-topic and another example of your fanatical obsession about GMU.

Well, GMU and the fact that the Mercatus Center has absolutely nothing to do with the university, except, for example, needing to rent space from the university to hold public events.

What do you think about the politicization of your work in the context of trump derangement syndrome?

Her work was intended to be political. She was warning about the Moral Majority a couple of years after their decline in influence had become obvious.

She was warning about the Moral Majority

She didn't know suburban evangelicalism from tiddlywinks. People familiar with R J Rushdoony's work will tell you she knew nothing of the literature of theonomy either (to which Falwell never subscribed).

It's indicative of how ruined is faculty culture that this purveyor of lurid (and libelous) fantasies should be considered worth any attention. If Gary Allen is still alive, maybe Tyler interview him, right? We need to know more about how a secret conspiracy headquartered at the Council on Foreign Relations has directed American political life since 1921.

Nothing wrong with being political. My proposed question was in the context of Trump Derangement Syndrome, where a supreme court nominee who isn't 100% behind abortion becomes the symbol of oppression and the reason for women to wear red capes and white bonnets in protest AND (importantly) for that silliness to be covered as genuine, reasonable protest by mainstream news sources.

That's the modern political landscape though. Back when Obama Derangement Syndrome was a thing, men put on white wigs and tricorner hats in silly protests warning to 'keep your government hands off my Medicare'.

I tell you what, I never dreamed that millions of Democrats would suddenly decide that one girl losing an election was THE SAME THING as enslaving all of Earth's women into sexual slavery.

But my God, has it been profitable. Keep it coming, ladies!

Hey Transnational Pants Machine, you are many things but funny isn't one of them. Stick to your repeated ad nauseam posts about how Cowen is a filthy evil Democrat.

Her 70s interview with Hana Gartner is one of my favorite TV interviews, but perhaps it's best not to try to recreate that.

Perhaps this is too obvious, but ask her what she thinks of the TV series of the Handmaid's Tale.

Also ask her if she thinks it functions as an allegory to contemporary America or any other present-day society.

As a follow up, depending on her answer, you could ask her if she's a complete nutjob.

Sounds like you already have the answer you are looking for on that.

In the original The Handmaid's Tale, people are exiled to the Colonies to clean up radiation and toxins. Where did the radiation come from? Was there a limited nuclear war?

What do you think of Camille Paglia?

Atwood wrote wonderfully perceptive and appreciative reviews of John Updike's "Witches of Eastwick" and "Towards the End of Time". John Irving ("World According to Garp") once compared Atwood to Updike in terms of productivity and variety.

I would be interested to hear more from Atwood on Updike, especially "in this day and age".

I believe Updike was also fan of Atwood's work. Great suggestion for the Conversation.

ask her why Canadian authors (e.g. Michael gladwell) do so well in the US relative to British ones.

Their English doesn't sound as snooty? Their experiences are more similar to ours?

Can she get a book published in Canada right now in spite of her support for a falsely accused man in Vancouver?

I would like to hear her thoughts on the public ostracization of Steve Galloway in general.

Well, you might ask yourself why you're interviewing a woman best known for writing an absurd piece of dystopian fiction > 30 years ago.

Maybe you'd better do Barry Malzberg instead, if he's still lucid

If she agrees with the obviously true statement that despite their protestations, the left is far more dystopian and totalitarian than the right. The right is sometimes ridiculous and often mean -- but the left is 1984.

Yes, this. How is Atwood dealing her plummeting reputation in the eyes of the academic Left? Has she ever considered a novel skewering progressives or progressive view, something writers as vastly different as J. G. Ballard and Michael Crichton have done.

The financial crisis, "Payback," and the Massey Lectures. Garrison mentality and how her views on it have changed. If memory serves, she's a birder, so maybe something on Rachel Carson. My favorite books by her are Oryx and Crake and Year of the Flood; I'd be interested to hear anything she has to say on them, but I'm curious about the way those books are told from the POV of such different characters. In YotF, people are presented as predators and prey--how far can we get looking at people in these terms? Also: CRISPR. I like Cat's Eye by her a lot and would be curious to know if she views all art primarily through the authorial context (the paintings in that book are all personal and attempts to link it to larger, non-personal movements mostly seem satirical). I don't know how to say this delicately, but I'd be curious to know about her creative drive and how she has maintained it, even now that she is older than she once was. I am not sure she has anything new to say on Handmaid's Tale or on dystopian fiction, but if you see an angle, please do pursue it--the only angle that occurs to me is her view of Bregman's Utopia for Realists or KSR's Martian books. Overrated or underrated: Nobel Prize for Literature, Bob Dylan, YA novels, children's stories, Canadian sci-fi (Gibson, RCW, RJS), comics and the MCU, modern adaptations and translations of The Odyssey. She strikes me as a generalist in the same way you are, so perhaps something on that as well. Hopefully this conversation will be something of a rebound for the pod--good luck and I hope this helps.

Blood and Roses--the game that Jimmy and Crake play. I think there must be room for this game in a conversation between Atwood and an economist. Underrated: jealousy as a motivator. I'd love to hear about the way she wrote hymns for YotF--I believe you can find video of her singing them in an interview with George (pardon the spelling) "Strombodopalis."

Would she rather live in an indepedant Quebec with the right to have an abortion, or live in a united Canada without the right to have an abortion?

She has said that she prefers not to provide interpretations for her work, rather to allow the reader to find their own meaning in it. Has anyone mis-interpreted her work to the extent that she felt it necessary to correct the mis-interpretation?

Can she name an aspect of conservative religious communities that she admires?

Do you think anyone ever asked the scriptwriter of Jud Suss if there were aspects of Jewish communities he admired?

Because Atwood is precisely the same as a Nazi, right?

Atwood, Obama, Trump, Bush, Hillary, all literally Hitler.

Her famous dystopian novel focused on women. Is there anything about children's lives today that seems at all dystopian to her? Offer this musing: if you were to travel back in time, and hand a woman "The Handmaid's Tale" to read, there would be a far better chance a woman in the "Puritan" New England that inspired the book, and that Atwood purportedly continued to fear at the time she wrote it, would be able to read it than perhaps anywhere else in the world.

Also, ask her what vestiges she sees, of America's still being that "Puritan" nation, as intellectuals never tire of calling it. Ask her to trace the line of whatever her answer is, back to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

In the 4/17/17 profile of Atwood in the New Yorker, discussing Atwood's college years, Rebecca Mead quotes Atwood as follows: "In those days, Atwood said, there was no fear of rape on campus, as there seemed to be today. 'I am not saying that it didn’t happen, but you would never hear of it,' she said. 'And I would suspect that the chances of that happening were quite low, because what everybody was afraid of then was getting pregnant. The boys were afraid of getting pregnant, too, because you could end up married at an early age that way, and people didn’t particularly want that. But there was no Pill.'" I'd like you to give Atwood the opportunity to present a more nuanced view of the low perceived incidence of campus rape when she was a student.

Ask her to repent?

I'm allll about the bioengineering series Maddaddam Trillogy.

Does humanity need a restart? Was there something exciting about bioengineering she's looking forward to? What's the minimum requirement for a human to be a human? The sorta-protagonist engineers kind, blue rabbit-pellet pooping humans, more human in contrast to literally everyone else in the series, but are they human?

1) whether she thinks Conrad Black got an unfair sentence (I recall he kind of did)

2) whether she's made any money from her patent the "LongPen" (https://patents.google.com/patent/US8296832B2/en?inventor=Margaret+atwood&oq=Margaret+atwood) I suspect not, the claims are very detailed, you need to have video at both the signer and the receiver ends, which makes the patent claim pretty narrow. But it's a fun 'vanity' patent.

How has entomology informed her work and world view?

I can barely get 3000 words down on paper before the sentences grow longer and longer.

What inspireda whole novel of sentences parsed down to a core?
How hard was it to maintain discipline throughout the creative process?
Is it just natural for her?


Best dystopian YA book ever.

Ask her what she thinks defines science fiction separately from literature and fantasy.

Ask her what she thinks of the crop of Chinese SF author's and where their work will stand in the history of SF.

Ask her what she thinks of the work of M. John Harrison.

Ask her to imagine a novel from an alternate universe entitled "A Conscript's Tale".

In this fanciful story young men are required to dedicate their bodies in service to the state. Some attempt to escape to Canada. The conscripts lose their freedom and must follow a strict dress code and social hierarchy. They are trained and indoctrinated to obey a ruling class known as "Commanders". Some die violently, others are severely damaged.

Could any circumstances ever justify such treatment? Maybe a threat to the very survival of a nation? In the fictional setting of our novel there is a nasty dispute with a certain Mr. Hitler across the pond.

So my question for Margaret Atwood would be: suppose you discard the fascistic theocratic dictatorship but retain the existential crisis of severe reproductive failure. Could she imagine a society, maybe even a progressive democracy, deciding to draft young women into a few years of service in a "maternity corps".

Very excited! Great guest!

Tyler about the #MeToo movement and whether it has gone too far. Atwood was critical of UBC’s treatment of a male prof accused of sexual misconduct.

Ask about Joseph Boyden and how he's handled his ancestry issues and what she makes of it.

Ask her a bunch of questions about economics.

Ask her why her name sounds familiar to me.

Ask her what her favorite movies involving strong female leads are.

Life or Death scenario: Do you accept an organ harvested from a pig?

Follow up on this
-from an intelligent not talking pig
-from an intelligent talking pig
-from a stupid talking pig

Why does she write so little poetry at this point in her career? I know that she's preparing a new collection of poems. But in the 1960s and 1970s, she had a new collection every year or two. Now a decade passes, or longer, between new collections. What's changed? Is writing poetry for the young? Has her interest in poetry diminished over the years? Or do financial incentives (bigger paychecks for prose) drive her writing choices?

You should be prepared to answer the questions she asks you...

Why does the TV version of Handmaids contain no Christian references -- no crosses or other icons, no clergy, no worship services, no New Testament references or quotations, no reference to Jesus or Son of God or Messiah, and only Old Testament quotations? We generally refer to people who follow these practices as "Jews." Is the theocracy in Handmaid's Tale Jewish? If it is Christian, why is that hidden? Maybe it is Islamic?

How's having a drama coach for a Prime Minister working out?

"In retrospect, did you overestimate the negative consequences of the Canada-US free trade agreement?"

That would be a very good question to ask.

Also, ask her whether Justin Trudeau is over- or under-rated.

And please do ask her about #MeToo and due process. UBC's treatment of Prof. Steven Galloway prompted Atwood to write an editorial about the need for due process in sexual misconduct cases in January 2018. She was denounced as a "bad feminist". Ask her how her thinking on the issue has evolved since then.

You might also ask her thoughts about the Salman Rushdie fatwa 30 years on. (Atwood was a major defender of Rushie at the time). Specifically, you might ask her whether Western governments would respond in the same resolute way in 2019.

Finally, ask her how immigration from India and other Commonwealth countries has changed English-Canadian literature.

Has Ms. Atwood's community survived the "brutal and arrogant assault" of moderate residential intensification?

Does she genuinely view the world of her novel to be a possible future of the USA, or did she engineer it from the ground up to be as oppressive to women as possible?

For example, the world of 1984 is hard to interpret as a a real-life end result of totalitarian communism or fascism, and it seems that Orwell, when he came up with it, purposefully tried to come up with the worst society he could imagine, as its leaders are cartoonishly evil and have little human motivation.

Ask her about urban development and NIMBY

She's lectured on how the the Franklin expedition looms in Canadian memory in music and literature, written the introduction to a book about the expedition, and has written a short story which involves the history of the expedition. What does she think about how The Terror, just recently turned into a tv show, engages with the history and memory of the expedition? Is it insufficiently Canadian?

Or: what would be different if it were made by Canadians rather than Americans?

You could ask her if she thinks literature can or should be judged on the political ideas it expresses or solely on techical merits.

Thoughts on housing policy in Toronto, particularly zoning regulations https://nationalpost.com/opinion/chris-selley-welcome-to-toronto-where-to-margaret-atwood-and-friends-an-eight-storey-condo-is-an-assault

Ms. Atwood is a regular user of Twitter. What is her view of Twitter and public discourse on it?

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