Thursday, July 26, 2007
Margaret Atwood (1939-)
A voice is a human gift; it should be cherished and used, to utter fully human speech as possible. Powerlessness and silence go together.
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Lecture: Handmaid's Tale
COPAC UK: Margaret Atwood
Library of Canada: Margaret Atwood
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Other Library Catalogs: Margaret Atwood
Canadian novelist, poet and critic. Her novels include: The Edible Woman (1972), Surfacing (1972), Lady Oracle (1976), Life Before Man (1979), Bodily Harm (1981), The Handmaid's Tale (1985) received the Governor General's Award, Cat's Eye (1988), The Robber Bride (1993); The Blind Assassin (2001); Oryx and Crake (2004) and The Year of the Flood (2009).
For a complete bio on Atwood, visit Anniina Jokinen's Atwood entry in the Contemporary Woman Writers pages. It's amazing work!
Russell McNeil, PhD (Copyright 2005)
Marshall McLuhan, writing in 1964, with some prescience, said that education - fragmented discipline based education, as practiced then, and now, virtually guaranteed that citizens would be unable to understand the cybernated world in which they live. McLuhan went on in his landmark work, Understanding Media to suggest that - understanding - or meaningful critical thinking - was possible only through liberal education. This transformation in traditional educational philosophy from the specialized approaches that characterized the industrial age to the integrated liberal approach of the information age - or electric age - as McLuhan describes it, was mandatory - for anything to make sense.
Gilead is everyone's worst nightmare. It slips up on us - in banal fashion - in the guise of doing the right thing; in the guise of humane justifications; and in the guise of ignorance and misread text; the memes in the world of Gilead aren't all that different from the memes in the time before. But of course they are different too - as different as night and day. Deliberate state fostered copying errors transform ancient wisdom into grotesque mutant maxims that serve the wands of this perverse theocracy. Eichmann too was able to mouth a Categorical Imperitive. Decontextualized and fragmented, these platitudes are meaningless slogans reverberating in a sea of ignorance. This is a culture unable to make connections. There are no books; there is no reflection; there is no critical thought.
Gilead is, because the time before - our time folks - became a time of ignorance. Not factual ignorance. The ship of state sailed on - but the boat was hijacked - as George W. Bush has hijacked now. There are parallels.
The Handmaid's Tale is work of art. It describes a nightmarish theocratic dystopia - ugly at every turn. Suicide really is the only option here - as it is for individuals who see no hope, no out, no cure, no escape. The Despair rises out of ignorance - I'd argue - in a population that had misread the signals; the signals concealed in the Trojan horses of the twisted memes. Christ I see that every time I listen George W. Bush's loathsome exhalations: animal grunting is all I hear: animal grunting disguised under the veneer of of fundamentalist fakery.
How is it we miss those signals - now - re: Iraq - and before - in 1934 - and here - in the book - in the time before???
Not everyone did - or does. In Germany Bertold Brecht, Thomas Mann, and others saw the signs - recognized the signs of the prophets - written on the Subway walls. They got out - condemned the regime. Most stay tho. The rationalizations look like this: I'll play their game; I'll do what they say; not because of fear; but to preserve what will need to be preserved after the fall of Germany in the 30's, or in Gilead here, or the United States of America, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year. Is it fear? Or is it stupidity? Perhaps it's just stupid fear? I can see it here - now - this morning - last night - in this room. Rationalize, rationalize, rationalize. Bush is not smart. It'll blow over. I'll just hunker down; let's make invisible; in the name of preservation; self-preservation? Cultural preservation?
Cowardice? Thank you Galileo - you set the standard for all of us. I didn't really mean that stuff about a moving earth - just kidding!
Hey, 1,000 of us showed up at Mafeo Sutton Park here in Nanaimo to protest the Iraq invasion. I'm sure many more of us will show up for the first salvaging; who will it be? Not me!!! No way; I'll keep my head low.
But 1,000 is but a tiny fraction of 75,000 (the population of Nanaimo as I write this) - where were the others?
Dystopian art is functional. It alerts - it offers a fanciful description of what could be. It's a vision of a artist. It is a nightmare - seen for us through the lens of her experience.
Marshall McLuhan's perspective on Liberal Education should be seen in the context of his attitude toward the role of art and the artist as society transforms. McLuhan sees the teacher as artist - the artist as teacher. And. And the student of Liberal Education as artist and teacher. This is what you commit to. You have no choice. This is what forced to be free really means. Oooppps!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
And it is the teacher/artist's role to anticipate and show us how to avoid the numbing effects of information overload.
McLuhan believes that the artist will play a critical role in this transition. It is the artist's role to anticipate and show us how to avoid media trauma and to prevent its numbing effects by producing what he calls immunity to the numbing effect of electric media - he means the WEB.
As teacher and artist we picks up the message of cultural and technological abuse first. We see it first because we train for it. Trees are cute but forests matter. (pause).
The artist/teacher' insight works thus:
"Art provides exact information of how to rearrange one's psyche. The artist/teacher, says McLuhan, 'shows us how to ride with the punch', rather than 'taking it on the chin.'"
McLuhan might call Liberal Education as education into total and integral field awareness. What we and the artist do - is we reject the values and approaches of specialized industrial training. We are not specialist because we recognize that the age of specialization is gone.
The artist and the liberally educated man must now move from the ivory tower, to the control tower of society in order to prevent the wreckage in society. The artist is the person in any field, scientific or humanistic. McLuhan places the artist right in the centre of the action. In a real sense McLuhan sees the artist as prophet - and himself and an Atwood as artist. The artist, says McLuhan, in the person who grasps the implications of actions and of new knowledge in our own time. The artist has integral awareness.
How likely is this Republic of Gilead?
How likely was the Third Reich? How likely is this unsanctioned pre-emptive action on Iraq? Salvaging Iraq? Let's tear Saddam to pieces! Rah, rah, cis boom bah! Rend, rend, yum , yum, yum. Salivate, salivate, sal-i-vate. Salivate, salivate, sal-i-vate.
Is this act, like Gilead, theocratically inspired?
Is this a crusade?
Is this unopposed?
Something is happening - something new. Something even Atwood did not anticipate. What's that? The message has been heard. Atwood's message…and the message of a thousand other artist/teachers here there and everywhere.
Eleven million people hit the streets a few weeks ago denouncing abuse of reason. It's big. It's dangerous. And it's new. They were there because they are aware. They are aware, because they are interconnected - electrically - on the web.
I am not claiming - am I - that the web is emerging on the planet as a sort of super consciousness or global brain with a mind of its own. It isn't too hard to develop a sci-fi scenario along those lines and it might be fun, but I don't really think that McLuhan has that in mind. In fact, that sort of fear that the web will become the Frankenstein monster of the 21stt century is a consequence of mechanical or industrial-age thinking. No human technology, including the web, should be seen as extrinsic to the human project. All technologies are extensions of us - not alien.
When McLuhan refers to extended nervous systems - which he does - as part of us he speak to a new tribalism based on the connectectivity, simultaneity, and action/reaction equivalencies of web based interactions. They are tribally friendly. The tribe - McLuhan's Global Village - is evolving a unique personality. The personality is as complex as the contributions of hundreds of millions of tribal members make it.
It is weirdly, anarchically, unpredictably, and abusively, democratic. How else do we explain those 11 million people on the street?
Dystopias and utopias are thought experiments - as was the Republic; Thomas More's Utopia; Francis Bacon's utopia in praise of science; the Matrix; Brave New World; 1984. Handmaid's Tale.
Books from Alibris: Margaret Atwood