Nonhuman Agency within the Apocalypse

When we think of the apocalypse, we usually think of it as the end of the world as we humans know it. This perspective has been popularised by the humanist movements of the Renaissance period, when scholars and philosophers alike championed the Promethean beliefs of human progress and mankind at the centre of the universe. While apocalyptic texts have commonly followed these human-centric narratives, an emerging category of post-humanist narratives have sought to empower the nonhuman rather than humanity and to dethrone mankind as the central focus. In other words, the apocalypse can be thought of as a nonhuman story.

In this issue, the authors add to the ongoing post-humanist discussion on apocalyptic texts by exploring the different capacities for agency in nonhuman actors, which arise even despite the apocalyptic environment. While humanist texts center around human agency and power, we challenge these narratives by rewriting the apocalypse as a nonhuman story—thus bringing light to the potential for nonhuman power and agency. Nonhuman and even inanimate entities like nature, technology, and the train have now been reimagined as powerful, agentic figures in our articles. In a sense, the nonhuman is the main character. 

Firstly, Mah Xiao Yu explores in her article An infinite amount of hope, but not for us: posthumanism and beautiful post-apocalyptic landscapes in The Last of Us how, against expectations, beautiful natural landscapes in post-apocalyptic texts do not create a narrative that is friendly to the human. In fact, she argues that they deliver a message on the irrationality of humanity’s survival since, when juxtaposed against the beauty and resilience of post-apocalyptic landscapes, humanity is revealed to be transient, self-destructive, and ultimately insignificant.

Other than recognising nature’s inherent capacity for agency, we can also turn to the robotic or the technological to study the presence of agency in apocalyptic texts. In Chong Shin Ee’s Human and Nonhuman Agency in WALL-E: The Role of Posthumanism in the Resolution of the Post-Apocalyptic Crisis, robotic agency and its relationship with humanity is examined. Instead of robots being the technological slaves to humanity, we see that WALL-E recognises and encourages both human and nonhuman agencies to develop, in order to establish a sense of recuperation and recovery in the desolate, post-apocalyptic climate. In that sense, WALL-E suggests to us that all parties, the human and the nonhuman, have the responsibility to harness their individual agency to save themselves from an apocalypse of their own making.

Thereafter, Sum Hung Yee’s article The Passive Protagonist: Assessing the agency of trains as opposed to the human protagonist within the narrative of Train to Busan explores the nonhuman agency of the train, which appears throughout the zombie film and serves as the setting for most of the film.. In his essay, Hung Yee questions the seemingly unimportant role of the inanimate and nonhuman train in contrast to the human protagonist, arguing that this assumption is false. Indeed, he further argues that the importance of the human protagonist may even be usurped by that of the nonhuman train.

Lastly, we can question whether the human and nonhuman are necessarily distinct and separate entities. Could we uncover the nonhuman within the human? In Reimagining (Human) Nature in the Apocalypse: Negotiating Agency through Posthumanism in Mockingjay, Rachel Eng navigates how human agents are directed by deterministic forces of human nature, which does not entirely deprive the human of agency. Exploring Mockingjay through posthumanist analysis allows us to understand the interdependence between human and nonhuman agencies in the apocalypse.