Margaret Atwood Atwood, Margaret (Vol. 8)

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Atwood, Margaret (Vol. 8)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Atwood, Margaret 1939–

Canadian poet, novelist, and critic, Atwood utilizes a highly developed introspective technique in her exploration of self and country. (See also CLC, Vols. 2, 3, 4, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52.)

What is remarkable about [Power Politics] is not so much [its] highly distilled acid nastiness, nor even Atwood's controlled progress from relatively narrow personal bitterness to a broad and mythic view at the end which shows the lovers as part of a vast geological and then amphibian mass, but their humor in the face of it. The book is a tour de force, though that isn't all. To change metaphors as abruptly as Atwood, it is a murderously sharp weapon, cauterizing, not self-serving, and there is pleasure in the hefting of it. For one thing, she, the speaker, is a writer. Take that literally, take it metaphorically, what she seems to be saying is that it is not so much the deadly clinches that hurt as the distances: the irony, the incessant creation and revision of their images of each other, their attempts at control, their subtle, posturing self-victimization, its literary satisfaction. Killing him, no matter how deserving of murder he may be, she gives her performance self-consciously, and so despises herself as well…. [Those] moments in which she floats away from herself, decomposing, turning to water, or crystallizing at a grotesque distance from herself, will be familiar to anyone who has read Atwood before…. She has even made a novel, Surfacing, almost entirely out of [a] mythology of earth-air-water (now much fire in her, except that, as reader, you burn: she is at home in stone and coldness, not in heat)…. (pp. 149-51)

I find it remarkable that Atwood has been able to take those images, which must by now be comfortable to her, nearly domesticated by familiarity, and make them live so fiercely. It is the dynamic structure of the book that does it, the near-plot of the drama of dissolution, the illusion of specificity, done with mirrors (though he asks for the "One forbidden thing: love without mirrors"). In the end she has convinced us that

           In the room we will find nothing
           In the room we will find each other

which may sound like Merwin but comes out of a universe of killers and near-suicides much more dramatic, less metaphysical, than his. (pp. 151-52)

No man could take offense at the knives Atwood has so skillfully wielded (thrown?) in Power Politics. She may go for his private parts (which are not necessarily or solely sexual) with the blade of this book, but those mirrors she uses do not distort. Her poems are terribly fleshless, bony, as vulnerable as they are cutting. They show her naked and impaled, fiercely alone. The blood belongs to both of them, man and woman, and, by her hard and deadly skill, to anyone who touches it. (p. 152)

Rosellen Brown, in Parnassus: Poetry in Review (copyright © by Parnassus: Poetry in Review), Spring/Summer, 1974.

Quite simply, I cannot trust these poems [in You Are Happy], nor are they trustworthy in an exciting way. Poetry, after all, is a serious and dangerous game, playing with words, thoughts, feelings. I, for one, don't have much else. But the elements of Atwood's poetry and of her own predicament are carelessly squandered, and the reader is little convinced of the importance of caring when the poet clearly does not…. One's expectations are laughed at, one's imagination turned into fancy. Atwood plays cheap tricks, tricks with more than mirrors….

Atwood uses a wilful obscurity to pretend to profundity; her fashionably arcane invitations do not function as initiations; and the imperatives which she histrionically declares are facile—childish whimpers, adolescent moans, social anguish. (pp. 129-30)

J. E. Chamberlin, in The Hudson Review (copyright © 1975 by The Hudson Review, Inc.; reprinted by permission), Vol. XXVIII, No. 1, Spring, 1975.

Margaret Atwood continues to construct her guided missiles which have a deadly...

(The entire section is 6,113 words.)