Being Out of Time: Animal Gods in Contemporary Extinction Fictions

Once viewed as signs of the oldest human cultures, animal gods in contemporary fictions are being depicted as dying. This pattern is significant in part because it is so widespread: examples range from bestsellers like Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys (2005) to critically acclaimed novels like Anubis (2002) by Ibrahim al-Koni, the most widely translated Arabic novelist today. Particularly in stories of extinction, the deaths of divine figures signal doom for the systems these creatures were once imagined as protecting. They become more curious for the ways in which they enable thinking about the status of species as something other than 'fundamentally compromised by the human, often western, deployment ofanimals and the animalistic to destroy or marginalise other human societies', the bleak situation into which Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin presently cast animal representations (135). Haunting, obstructing, even violently resisting the advance of consumerist society, nonhuman spectral beings anchor perspectives from which eco-cide, the deliberate and irrevocable rupturing of ecosystems, entails 'cultural extinctions' (Schiebinger), or erasures of knowledges and viewpoints along with communities of species.

This essay focuses on two of the most popularly as well as critically successful ofthese narratives that have emerged in the past decade or so in order to demonstrate why their representations of animal gods deliberately connect specific and historically underrepresented acts of genocide to species extinctions. More precisely, I examine the ways in which nonhwnan deities, in the form of animals, become involved in contemporary narratives of the historical demise of ecosystems and societies through a comparative analysis of Hayao Miyazaki's 1997 animated film Mononokehime, translated as Princess Mononoke, and Linda Hogan's 1998 novel Power. Partly historical fictions, these exemplary texts address systematic eradications of indigenous peoples- respectively, the Emishi of northwestern Japan, and the Seminole of the southeastern US - that paved the way for colonial and industrial states.

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Published 1 June 2010 in Volume 25 No. 2. Subjects: Animal Studies.

Cite as: McHugh, Susan. ‘Being Out of Time: Animal Gods in Contemporary Extinction Fictions.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 25, no. 2, 2010, doi: 10.20314/als.7c17d2f23d.