Stewardship of the Earth and the body
On Sunday March 3, the distinguished, multi-award-winning Canadian writer Margaret Atwood spoke at the Sydney Opera House as part of the UNSW Centre for Ideas 2019 program of live talks.
Atwood’s talk was humorous, wide ranging and intellectually stimulating. Alluding to Dame Edna Everage, Atwood affectionately titled her talk “Possums in Peril” and challenged Australians to consider how they fitted into a world which has lost its way in so many respects but that nonetheless contains strong rays of hope. Taking a leaf out of Barry Lord’s 2014 book, Art & Energy: How Culture Changes, she hopes for a future where the culture of stewardship of the Earth and the body replaces the dominant culture of consumption.
Focusing on dystopian, speculative fiction, Atwood chiefly discussed her novels Oryx and Crake (2003) and The Handmaid’s Tale (1985).
The former novel, which tackles the themes of genetic modification and the alteration of humans and animals, has a connection to Australia because Atwood commenced writing the novel while she was birdwatching in the top end of Australia. Inspired by the red-necked crake waterbirds she put pen to paper.
As to The Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood, a strong advocate of the importance of women’s stories, has been pleasantly surprised by the book’s afterlife and the extraordinary success of the television series of the same name which has now gone into three seasons. Moreover, Atwood is particularly pleased that the series has continued to honour her wish that nothing be included in it which has not already happened somewhere in the world.
At nearly 80 years of age, Atwood sardonically concluded her talk by referring to her current preoccupation to source a sustainable, plastic-free coffin and quipped about the fact that she won’t have to worry about the world for much longer. Her admiring, or more accurately rapt “possum” audience hardly dared to “speculate” about such a possibility. Their focus, along with legions of other Atwood fans, will be firmly set on the future when The Testaments, the long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, comes out later this year.