Presenter: Carolyn Shapiro

Title: Nature as Neighbour: Landscape’s Relation to the Human in Studio Ghibli Films

Abstract:  As a counterpoint to the Western notion of the Sublime, which represents Nature as a force that we, as humans, face only to be overwhelmed by its encompassing Oneness, the films produced by Studio Ghibli signify nature as a friendly neighbor. This Japanese relationality between nature and the human is illustrated lushly and with virtuosity in films such as *My Neighbor Totoro*, tapping into a rich and long-established system of aesthetics regarding landscape that is decidedly different from that put forth by Western metaphysical philosophy. Thematizing the interactive relation between nature and human beings can also be comprehended on a semiotic level in the sense that meaning takes place in the relationality itself between signifiers within any given system. This paper will explore the proposition that Studio Ghibli films foreground, through narrative techniques, a larger, more abstract philosophical investigation into relationality itself, whereas the Western Sublime seems to actively resist signification. The relationality put forth by Studio Ghibli films, characterized as “neighborliness,” offers an alternative model of human existence in relation to nature to that of Western philosophical assumptions.

In this film/performance, I use the East Anglian landscape as a starting point from which to propose the impossibility of the sublime as it is commonly thought of: a throwaway term suggesting a hybrid mish-mash of beauty and spirituality. Referring to Foucault, Solnit and Sebald as well as Burke, I consider the sublime in relation to anxiety and desire, wondering whether the physicality of the landscape is indeed irrelevant to what we consider to be the sublime. Do we rather seek out topographies which most closely mirror our own psychological states, making the landscape little more than a blank canvas?

With its emptiness and relentless wetness around the edges that makes the whole place seem poised on the edge of destruction (which in itself induces anxiety), I argue that it is here, in this ambiguous space where nothing is defined, that Anxious Subjects and Melancholy Romantics can project their own unfulfilled desires, discontents and anxieties allowing us the illusion of an encounter with the sublime.