Margaret Atwood and Andrew O’Hagan on Trump, the Internet, and Our Dark Future

From Literary Hub:

John Freeman: The question I think all speculative fiction, and I think some of us who are politically active, want to know: Is now the time to be very, very worried?

Margaret Atwood: When was the time not to be very, very worried? Should we be more worried than ever before?

Andrew O’Hagan: Yes. Definitely.

JF: Maybe we should start when you both began as writers. Margaret, you in the early 1960s; Andy, you were, this was the early 1990s… What were the structural concerns that occupied you at the time, and how do they differ to some degree from what you see in front of you now as writers?

AO: Well, there was a basic reality that one could conjure with, certainly when I started. The situation now makes you feel slightly nostalgic for the Cold War, when the oppositions were pretty simple and almost charming, in fact quite delightful.

You know, one of the things that happened during the Cold War was that the CIA and the shape of the Council for Cultural Freedom decided the best way to tackle Russian ideology was to put money behind a literary magazine, Encounter, which it funded for some time thinking that, you know, somehow having an effect on the kinds of poets that would be published, and the way that F.R. Leavis would be handled as a critic, and the way that certain novelists would be discussed would be a decisive step forward in the war with Russia to rule humanity. And that makes me almost tickled pink to think that that was the level we operated on once upon a time, because now, of course, what’s happening is so deeply sinister, and it’s happening in the very basic units of veracity, of actuality, of what we can believe to be true.

Although there always was techniques and propaganda, of course, and lies—we always knew that—they were never operating at the level of everybody’s everyday life, I think, in the way that they are now. Everybody who opens a laptop and sits down for a mug of coffee in the morning is immediately confronted, I think, by a miasma of confected life and trying to separate out in order to have an opinion about what’s happening with the environmental crisis, or what’s happening in the election, or whether you can trust even the most basic reports.

Well, writers now, I think, are facing that every day, that you have got to see yourself, whether you want to or not, as having a responsibility, especially when it comes to nonfiction. You’ve got a responsibility to tackle that miasma and, if you like, the government institutional lying which is now an everyday reality for us.

More here.

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