British Journal of Canadian Studies

Analogies of harm: excess, expression, and obscenity in Margaret Atwood’s Bodily Harm and the Supreme Court of Canada decision R v Butler

British Journal of Canadian Studies (2020), 32, (1-2), 23–42.


Thinking through Margaret Atwood’s 1981 novel Bodily Harm and the 1992 Supreme Court of Canada case R v Butler, this article examines a Canadian discussion about the excessiveness of the freedom of expression to which obscenity has been key. For Atwood, expression is central to Bodily Harm’s narrative of personal, political revelation. Yet it is also at the root of a discourse of harm that Atwood elucidates throughout the novel as she incorporates pornography into an expansive analogic continuity of violence. In Butler, the Supreme Court curtails obscenity in the name of equality and collective well-being, even as it continues to view expression as a valuable individual freedom and a national good. In each text freedom of expression both is and is not safeguarded; in each, the freedom can be conceived of and celebrated, but its excessive possibilities must also be contained.

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Author details

Authers, Benjamin