‘Artpolitical’ – Margaret Atwood's Aesthetics

International Conference, 14-16 October 2021 (Online)

Organisers: Dunja Mohr (Erfurt) and Kirsten Sandrock (Göttingen)

Conference Assistants: Lamia Berki, Lille Haase, Marie Rieske


The conference takes place via Zoom. You can register here:
‘Artpolitical’ – Margaret Atwood's Aesthetics

You can download the programme as a .pdf file. It is also available on the website (see below).
All abstracts are available in the conference booklet. The booklet also includes a time zone converter.

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.

Programme (ALL TIMES ARE CENTRAL EUROPEAN TIME; here you can find a time zone converter)


16.00-16.30 Conference opening: DUNJA M. MOHR (Erfurt) and KIRSTEN SANDROCK (Göttingen)
Welcome Addresses:
Prof. Dr. BARBARA SCHAFF (University of Göttingen),
Prof. Dr. BRIGITTE GLASER (University of Göttingen, President of the Association for Canadian Studies in German-speaking Countries)
Prof. Dr. LAUREN RULE MAXWELL (The Citadel, President Margaret Atwood Society)
Prof. Dr. KARMA WALTONEN (University of California, Past-President Margaret Atwood Society)

16.30-17.30 Keynote 1: WENDY ROY (University of Saskatchewan, Canada), “‘A word after a word after a word is power’: The Politics of Art in Margaret Atwood’s Writings”

17.30-18.00 Break

18.00-19.30 Parallel Panels 1 & 2

Panel 1 (room 1) Adaptation, Transmedia
JOYCE GOGGIN (Amsterdam, Netherlands), “The Handmaid’s Tale across Platforms”
ANNIKA McPHERSON (Augsburg, Germany), “Adaptation as ‘Artpolitical’ Remediation: From The Handmaid’s Tale to The Testaments
DUNJA M. MOHR (Erfurt, Germany), “The Art of Storytelling and Adaptation”
Panel 2 (room 2) Gender Politics I
EVA-SABINE ZEHELEIN (Bamberg, Germany), “Reproductive justice in The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments
THEODORE F. SHECKELS (Ashland, USA), “The Beginnings of Margaret Atwood’s Political Activism: Revisiting The Edible Woman and Surfacing after Fifty Years”

19.30-20.00 Break

20.00-21.00 Keynote 2: LYMAN TOWER SARGENT (University of Missouri-St. Louis, USA), “The Importance of Utopian Thinking in Dystopian Times”

21.00 Online Socializing & Atwood Games Night


10.00-11.30 Parallel Panels 3 & 4
Panel 3 (room 1) Resistance and Politics
ANNIKA GONNERMANN (Mannheim, Germany), “The Totalitarian Face of Neoliberalism: Forms of Critique in Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last
ALESSANDRA BOLLER (Siegen, Germany), “‘We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print’” – Storytelling, the Distribution of the Sensible, and Atwood’s Speculative Fiction”
AYCA BERNA GÖRMEZ (Ankara, Turkey), “Freedom Goes First”: The Dilemma of Freedom and Security in The Heart Goes Last
Panel 4 (room 2) Identity Politics: Nation, Photography, Affect
ANCA RADU (Göttingen, Germany), “Alias Grace: Imagining the Nation in the Victorian Age”
KATINKA KRAUSZ (Budapest, Hungary), “'Fit in without being known’: An analysis of a multidimensional photograph in Lady Oracle
MARYAM MOOSAVI MAJD (Isfahan, Iran), “The Study of Affect in Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam Trilogy”

11.30-12.00 Break

12.00-13.00 Parallel Panels 5 & 6
Panel 5 (room 1) Comparative Approaches I
WOLFGANG KLOOß (Trier, Germany), “Margaret Atwood's Retelling of The Tempest in Comparative Perspective”
ELEANORA RAO (Salerno, Italy), “Home and Homelessness in Margaret Atwood and Tony Morrison’s Poetry”
Panel 6 (room 2) Politics and Storytelling
KATARINA LABUDOVA (Ruzomberok, Slovakia), “Happy Endings: Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last and The Testaments
CARLA SCARANO D’ANTONIO (Reading, UK), “An Intertextual reading of the politics of storytelling in Margaret Atwood’s work”

13.00-14.30 Break

14.30-15.30 Keynote 3: BRIGITTE GLASER (University of Göttingen, Germany), “Margaret Atwood’s Venture into Graphic Novels: (Aesthetic) Form and (Political) Function of the Angel Catbird Trilogy and the War Bears Series”

15.30-16.30 Parallel Panels 7 & 8
Panel 7 (room 1) Politics and Ethics in Atwood’s Speculative Fiction
MANUEL J. SOUSA OLIVEIRA (Porto, Portugal), “Both Fox and Cat: The Politics of Ambiguity in The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments
TATIANA KONRAD (Vienna, Austria), “Veganism, Ecoethics, and Climate Change in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy”
Panel 8 (room 2) Comparative Approaches II
EWELINA FELDMAN-KOłODZIEJUK (Białystok, Poland), “When the Real Meets the Imagined: A Comparative Analysis of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Herta Müller's Essays”
TOM FRIEDMAN (Kamloops, Canada), “Margaret Atwood’s Bodily Harm and Joan Didion’s A Book of Common Prayer

16.30-17.00 Break

17.00-18.00 Keynote 4: KARMA WALTONEN (University of California, USA), “Beyond Didacticism: The Relationship between the Personal and the Political in Oryx and Crake

18.00-18.30 Announcement of the winner and runner-ups of the “Best Conference Paper Margaret Atwood Society Award”

18:30-20.00 Break

20.00 Margaret Atwood Reading (Special Recording for Conference)


14:00-15.30 Parallel Panels 9 & 10
Panel 9 (room 1) Gender and Politics II
JAYDE MARTIN and KATHERINE PARSONS (Birmingham, UK), “Re-reading Oryx’s Narrative: The Exploitation of Women of Colour Under Corporate Capitalism in Atwood’s Oryx and Crake
CHIARA FEDDECK (Aachen, Germany), “‘Just because there's a silence it doesn't mean that nothing is going on.’ – Objectification, Gendered Trauma, and Identity in Selected Novels by Margaret Atwood”
GABRIELLA COLOMBO MACHADO (Montréal, Canada), “Care-giving as Rebellion in Atwood’s Gilead”
Panel 10 (room 2) Ecocriticism, Post- und Nonhuman
DANETTE DIMARCO (Pennsylvania, USA), “Avian Aesthetics and Paratextual Practices in Atwood’s Bird Narratives”
LOREDANA FILIP (Munich, Germany), “Literary Synesthesia and Human-Nonhuman Interactions in Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam Trilogy”
SHRADDHA A. SINGH (New Delhi, India), “Prostibots and the Capitalocene: Feminism’s Posthuman Turn in Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last

15.30-16.00 Break

16.00-17.30 Panel 11 (room 1) Feminisms, Fiction, and In_Visibility
FIONA TOLAN (Liverpool John Moores, UK), “Twenty-first Century Gileads: Feminist Dystopian Fiction after Atwood”
CHLOE CARROLL (Limerick, Ireland), “Transmedia Resistance, Fourth wave Feminism, and The Handmaid’s Tale
SYLVIA MIESZKOWSKI (Vienna, Austria), "Tags, wings & uniforms: Ambivalent In_Visibilisations in Hulu’s The Handmaid's Tale

17.30-18.00 Break

18.00-19.00 Keynote 5: PILAR SOMACARRERA (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain), “Power and the Posthuman: Atwood's Recent Dystopias as Read in the (Post-)Pandemic Era”

19.00-19.30 Closing Remarks: DUNJA M. MOHR and KIRSTEN SANDROCK

Best conference paper Margaret Atwood Society Award
The international Margaret Atwood Society generously sponsors the conference with a “Best conference paper Margaret Atwood Society Award” (250 USD) and granting one-year free membership to the winner and the two runners up. For eligibility, please submit your full conference paper until 14 September 2021. Please send your final paper to the conference organizers.