Nausicaä and the Subversion of Humanism

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08/02/20 Film Studies Reference this

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Nausicaä and the Subversion of Humanism

Are We Still Just Human?

Introduction

Humanism has served as a leghold trap for humanity since its conceptual advent — ensnaring all those who seek to defy its doctrinaire rhetoric. Central to its contrived notions is the idea of rationality, which was historically deemed a necessary prerequisite in order for an individual to qualify as human. Thus, humanism regularly threatened the agency of women, non-whites, and non-humans, for these groups were purported to lack this essential quality. However, the relevance of this restrictive doctrine has continually been eroded by the literature of posthuman scholars. This essay seeks to fulfil an analogous goal, for it critiques humanism’s preeminent outlook, which prizes excessive rationality as a supreme dogma, by using Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Cary Wolfe’s What is Humanism to expose the doctrine’s severe transgressions against females and non-human life.

Humanism’s Great Sinkhole

 A universal theory’s success hinges on the enduring cogency of its internal tenets, which are integral to upholding its meaning through the ages. As time moved from one millennium to the next, the universality of humanism espoused during the era of Greek ascendency was continually eroded by novel arguments posited by modern thinkers. However, none of these holes in humanism’s armor are as glaring as its doctrinaire adherence to the idea of rationality. Rationality constituted the instinctive bedrock of human agency, and this rationality was believed to manufacture humanity’s supreme cognition, which was treated as reliable and absolute. Those shown to lack this vital characteristic were inherently irrational, and consequently, their opinions, desires, and essential needs were deemed trivial compared to a human’s random interests. Thus, the merits of this trait authorized the absolute subjugation of all inferior life, including plants and non-human animals. Humanism created an abhorrent feedback look, in which humans perceived themselves as the supreme lifeform and the validity of any action could be justified according to this dogmatic axiom.

The dangers of such blind faith would soon go on to corrupt the elemental notions of what it means to be a human as well. The concept of ‘rationality’ soon become fundamentally irrational, for its tenets were perverted by the fact that this quality was often prescribed to specific groups instead of being recognized in all. Since the ability to delineate rationality lied in the hands of the establishment, humanism’s doctrinaire tenets imposed a specious sense of white hegemony over all other manifestations of human life — surrendering them to the dogmatic authority which the ruling whites emphatically adulated and viciously monopolized. The enigmatic concept of rational faculty was now only recognized in the dominant social class and wholly denied to other subservient classes, despite its commonality among all humans. Carrying the triumphant torch of humanism as their guiding light, the white males crowned only themselves with the prestige of being human — and with it, only bestowed universal human rights to themselves, for they truly perceived themselves to be the only group worthy of such a lofty privilege. Women and subordinate racial classes were purported to lack the civilized rationality necessary to be deemed human. With the advent of such beliefs, the enduring framework for systematic racism and sexism had been formally ratified, poised to actively disfigure female achievement for the next millennium.

Breaking the Curse: A Modern Example

Humanism cursed its creators with a specious understanding of equality, polarizing its players into the contrived camps of rational and irrational. As mankind lauded its own ingenuity, womankind was perpetually denied access to its own cognition. Despite this sad fate, such a trend would not survive. Historic traditions can only be subverted through the radiance of those individuals who fundamentally changed the human psyche. However, the stain left by humanism would take centuries of reexamination to scour. The brilliance of one such example shines through the work of Hayao Miyazaki in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which strikes back against the ghettoizing edicts of humanism with a feminist vigor. Miyazaki created a female protagonist whose character journey shattered the mold of traditional humanism by affirming her inherent humanity. The success of her character and her defiance of humanism manifests through three primary motifs — her gender, her choice of weaponry, and her kindly relationship with the toxic forest’s inhabitants, the source of humanity’s greatest woe.

Miyazaki sets his post-apocalyptic film in an alternate version Earth, ravaged by a destructive war, dubbed “the seven days of fire”.[1] Human populations have been systematically culled, leaving small pockets of civilizations scattered in the midst of a boundless toxic forest, populated by gargantuan insectoids and fatal fungal spores. Naturally, the humans inhabiting the Valley of the Wind are regularly threatened by the prospect of aggressive attrition from the forest’s many savage beasts.[2] It is here where we find our protagonist, Nausicaä, a valiant and altruistic warrior-princess, who is the heir to the kingdom’s throne. By virtue of Nausicaä’s female gender, Miyazaki creates his most immediate critique of the humanist agenda. Females have historically been denied the privilege of being deemed rational beings, wholly restricting their essential humanity. By presenting a female as the protagonist, Miyazaki affirms Nausicaä’s human agency as a natural and incorruptible element of the narrative. Furthermore, her status as the heir to the Valley’s throne foreshadows humanity’s imminent future. The symbol of the throne represents the concept of rationality itself since typical conceptions of governance necessitate rationality as a key prerequisite. By poising Nausicaä as the lone successor to the queenship, he vindicates her abilities as innately rational, and he frames the future in an inconvertibly feminist light.

Nausicaä’s choice of weaponry also constitutes a quandary for the humanists. Instead of brandishing an adorned bludgeon or a bloodied saber, Nausicaä’s most valuable tool is her bullroarer, an ancient musical instrument used for communicating across vast distances.[3] Indeed, this artifice saves her from the ohmus at various points throughout the film and manga series. The efficacy of this weapon represents Nausicaä’s attempts to communicate with these insectoids, instead of seeking to annihilate them. Furthermore, it represents a divergence from the stereotypical arcs of male characters. Traditionally, male protagonists seek to defeat their final enemy through excessive combat. For example, the knight seeks to kill the dragon and rescue the princess; never does he befriend the firedrake and return home with a new travel companion. However, Nausicaä’s story also diverges from this mold, for she does not seek to slay any of the brutish breasts she encounters. Instead, she lulls their rage with music. For many, music is an undeniably human artifact, and by using its efficacy, Miyazaki once again upholds Nausicaä’s humanity, while also setting the stage for reconciliation between the two species instead of aggressive conquest by one over the other.

Nausicaä, The Fictional Temple Grandin

Nausicaä’s usurpation of the humanist agenda is not confined solely to her gender or her unconventional weaponry, for there is something greater imbued in her constitution — a trait so powerful that it shatters the ancient precepts of humanism altogether. Miyazaki imbues his protagonist with a different and novel form of human rationality. Nausicaä’s rationality is not governed by unfeeling reason, rather it is ordained by uncompromising empathy — arguably humanity’s most powerful emotion. Unlike the majority of the film’s ensemble, Nausicaä’s contrastive compassion allows her to see the toxic forest, not as a source of desolation, rather as a site of possibility and a land of infinite beauty. Her divergent mentality allows her to interact with the insects in a revolutionary way, for she approaches these encounters with a firm sense of compassion, enabling her to empathize with these insectoids in a manner which no other character can. Her encounter with the Ohmus throughout the film crystallizes this sentiment. Her proclivity to seek reconciliation instead of rampage defines her success. This methodology is wholly discounted by her contemporaries, allowing her use of it to shine even more brilliantly. By the film’s conclusion, she is not worshipped as the vanquisher of a savage species, rather she is hailed as a peacemaker, who’s different experiences allowed her to formulate lasting peace with a lesser species, thought incapable of rational and peaceful conduct. 

The significance of Nausicaä’s method mirrors the successes of another conventionally irrational but fundamentally rational peacemaker — Temple Grandin, although her achievements are by no means fictional. Cary Wolfe chronicles Grandin’s story in her short piece, What is Humanism, in which she highlights how Grandin would go on to design humane livestock handling facilities throughout the United States, using the unique perspective granted by her autism. Indeed, Grandin’s lifelong struggle with the developmental disorder served as a boon instead of a curse, allowing her to gain a special understanding of how non-humans experience and interacted with the world. Grandin claims that she is a visual thinker, for her mental dialogue is expressed only through pictures, completely devoid of verbal communication. Wolfe writes that Since Grandin’s mental dialogue is far more visual than verbal, she is acutely aware how different the mental processes of a cow are compared to a human.

Grandin succeeded in life through visual prowess alone, rather than being expressive of the stereotypically humanist ability to survey, organize and master space. She has focused her insight through the specific animal sensorium of sight — one which is often not even the dominant sense in animals. Autism gave Grandin an exceptional perspective on the life and experiences of cattle, which she used to create a more humane and comforting slaughter system. She transcended the narrow humanism assigned to her and used her specific sensory experiences to create a positive change in the world. Thus, her different perspective granted by her condition served as a benefit to both humanity and non-human life.

The unconventional perspectives of Nausicaä and Temple Grandin are fundamentally posthuman. The actions taken by these individuals strike against the typical procedures of humanism and its various doctrines. Humanism’s strict preference of human rationality over other subservient life would demand a continued assault against the insectoids of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, since any consideration for their perspective should be of no value to the rational agency of humans. Similarly, the need for humane slaughterhouse should be minimal, since the suffering of these animals is disproportionate to the suffering of a rational being. However, the actions demanded by humanism are intuitively irrational, for they would never generate positive any form of change — they would only reinforce the status-quo. It is only by understanding the preferences of these non-human actors that Nausicaä and Grandin gain the knowledge necessary to revolutionize the world. In the conclusions of their respective stories, Nausicaä and Temple Grandin are championed as heroes, not for their defense of humans, rather for their vindication of non-human life, achieved only by a complete overthrow of the humanist agenda

Works Cited

  • Leeming, David. “Bullroarer.” The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, 2005, The Oxford Companion to World Mythology.
  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. Directed by Hayao Miyazaki. By Hayao Miyazaki, Hideshi
  • Kyonen, Jō Hisaishi, Naoki Kaneko, Tomoko Kida, and Shōji Saka. Produced by Isao
  • Takahata and Mitsuyoshi Nakamura. Performed by Sumi Shimamoto, Mahito Tsujimura,
  • Hisako Kyōda, Gorō Naya, Ichirō Nagai, and Kōhei Miyauchi. Japan: Toei, Inc., 1984,  Film.
  • Wolfe, Cary. What Is Posthumanism? Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

[1] Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, (Japan: Toei, Inc., 1984), Film.

[2] Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Directed by Hayao Miyazaki, (Japan: Toei, Inc., 1984), Film.

[3] David Leeming, “Bullroarer” in The Oxford Companion to World Mythology, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).

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