Tag Archives: Margaret Atwood

Being in the public eye

Publication on social media is in part a performance, as is everything “social” that human beings do; but what happens when that brightly lit arena expands so much that there is no green room in which the mascara can be removed, no cluttered, imperfect back stage where we can be ‘“ourselves”? What happens to us if we must be “on” all the time? Then we’re in the twenty-four-hour glare of the supervised prison. To live entirely in public is a form of solitary confinement.

Margaret Atwood: When Privacy is Theft, Margaret Atwood reviews The Circle by David Eggers, The New York Review of Books, Nov 21st 2013 (from here) 


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Meeting the author

I was in Copenhagen and just walking along, you know, window shopping in a crowded mall. Denmark has a historical relationship with Greenland where a lot of Inuit live. Along the street came some Inuit dancers done up in traditional Greenland dress. They had their faces painted and they had furry costumes on, impersonating beasts and monsters, spirits of some kind. They were spirit dancers, growling and making odd noises to the crowd. They had clawed hands and face-distorters in their mouths—pieces of wood that made their cheeks stick out in a funny way. One of these furry spirit-monsters came over to me, took his face-distorter out of his mouth, and said, Are you Margaret Atwood? I said yes. He said, I like your work. And then he put his face-distorter back in his mouth and went growling off into the crowd.

Margaret Atwood,  The Paris Review interview, Winter 1990 (from here)

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On being photographed by Japanese tourists

The narrator in the dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale has been abducted and kept as one of the concubines, handmaids, for reproductive purposes by the ruling class. The novel was first published in 1985.


‘The Japanese tourists come toward us, twittering, and we turn our heads away too late: our faces have been seen.

There’s an interpreter, in the standard blue suit and red –patterned tie, with the winged-eye tie pin. He’s the one who steps forward, out of the group, in front of us, blocking our way. The tourists bunch behind him; one of them raises a camera.

“Excuse me,” he says to both of us, politely enough.

“They’re asking if they can take your picture.”

I look down at the sidewalk. Shake my head for No. What they must see is the white wings only, a scrap of face, my chin and part of my mouth. Not the eyes. I know better than to look the interpreter in the face. Most of the interpreters are Eyes, or so it’s said.

I also know better than to say Yes. Modesty is invisibility, said Aunt Lydia. Never forget it. To be seen – to be seen – is to be- her voice trembled – penetrated. What you much be, girls, is impenetrable. She called us girls.

Beside me, Ofglen is also silent. She’s tucked her red-gloved hnds up into her sleeves, to hide them.

The interpreter turns back to the group, chatters at them in staccato. I know what he’ll be saying, I know the line. He’ll be telling them that the women here have different customs, that to stare at them through the lens of a camera is, for them, an experience of violation.

I’m looking down, at the sidewalk, mesmerized by the women’s feet. One of them is wearing open-toed sandals, the toenails painted pink. I remember the smell of nail polish, the way it wrinkled if you put the second coat on too soon, the satiny brushing of sheer pantyhose against the skin, the way the toes felt, pushed towards the opening in the shoe by the whole weight of the body. The woman with painted toes shifts from one foot to the other. I can feel her shoes, on my own feet. The smell of nail polish has made me hungry.

“Excuse me,” says the interpreter again, to catch our attention. I nod, to show I’ve heard him. “He asks, are you happy,” says the interpreter. I can imagine it, their curiosity: Are they happy? How can they be happy? I can feel their bright black eyes on us, the way they lean a little forward to catch our answers, the women especially, but the men too: we are secret, forbidden, we excite them.

Ofglen says nothing. There is a silence. But sometimes it’s as dangerous not to speak.

“Yes, we are very happy,” I murmur. I have to say something. What else can I say?”

Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)

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The allure of the villain

Interview with Margaret Atwood

Ann Heilmann: In “Spotty-Handed Villainesses’ you suggest that the allure of villains resides in their capacity to possess forbidden rooms. Do you have forbidden rooms?

Margaret Atwood: Everyone has. They transgress, and their transgressions are hidden in those rooms, and we all have within ourselves a little child-transgressor, that child who once took the forbidden cookie and either did or didn’t get caught. But the innocents who enter such rooms are also transgressing.

New and Selected Conversations with Margaret Atwood ed Earl G. Ingersoll (2006)

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fear and fascination with mortality

Writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing, is motivated deep down, by a fear or and fascination with mortality – by a desire to make the risky trip to the underworld and to bring something or someone back from the dead. Margaret Atwood Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing


Sometimes change comes not because we set out to fix ourselves, or repair our relation to the living; sometimes we change most when we repair our relation to the lost, the forgotten, the dead. Stephen Grosz The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves.

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