The Macksey Journal


This paper uses Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed (2016) as a case study in the political implications of literary affect. The hypothesis, which combines Helen Small’s quest to prove the “value of the humanities” with Paolo Freire’s “critical consciousness” pedagogy, is that literary tone can have progressive political weight. With Sianne Ngai’s works as a blueprint, I offer readings for three tonal areas in Atwood’s text: disgust, sympathy, and cuteness. I suggest that Atwood achieves real political ends by complicating the reader’s emotional experience of the novel and by articulating a concrete problem: incarceration stigma. The original manuscript also evaluates Hag-Seed’s disruption of genre, but that work will only be summarized here. Interestingly, literary affect studies can never achieve the scientific rigor of the Enlightenment. In the introduction, I examine the limits and possibilities of humanities epistemology.

Atwood Presentation -- for JHU Macksey.mp4 (146451 kB)
Atwood Presentation -- for JHU Macksey.mp4