"To See With Eyes Unclouded": Nonhuman Selves and Semiosis in "Princess Mononoke"


  • Cynthia Zhang University of Southern California




New Materialism, new animism, speculative fiction, multinaturalism, semiosis


Responding to a robust archive of ecocritical work on science fiction, this paper argues for fantasy as a genre that can offer powerful tools for ecological thinking. Focusing on Miyazaki Hayao’s 1997 film Princess Mononoke, I argue that fantasy’s portrayal of an animistic natural world provides a framework for recognizing and respecting the subjectivity of nonhuman persons.  Drawing on Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s concept of multinatural personhood, this paper analyzes the ways in which animistic fantasy allows Miyazaki to portray plants, animals, and other nonhumans as agential subjects that must be respected. Further, using Eduardo Kohn’s work on the materiality of semiosis to examine instances of cross-species communication in Princess Mononoke, I argue that the film’s expanded conceptions of personhood and language counter anthropocentric narratives of mastery by portraying human knowledge as necessarily limited and incomplete. In turn, the acknowledgement of epistemological limits encourages an ethical attitude which resonates with Michael Marder’s description of plant-thinking as a mode that acknowledges the importance of the unknown and the unknowable. Ultimately, this paper calls for a consideration of how modes of thought and aesthetic representation that have traditionally fallen outside the purview of the scientific can offer resources for imagining human-nonhuman relations.


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Author Biography

Cynthia Zhang, University of Southern California

Cynthia Zhang (she/they) is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Southern California. She received a B.A. in Comparative Literature and an M.A. in the Humanities from the University of Chicago, where her work focused on the intersections between new media technologies, reading practices, and fandom. At present, her research focuses on theorizing fantasy as a site for exploring the relationship between ideology and material realities. She writes creatively and has published a novel, After the Dragons, with Stelliform Press.






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