“Nature-Other”: A Posthuman Feminist Reading of Jeanette Winterson’s The Stone Gods | Betsy Kwong

by Critical Asia

by Betsy Kwong, June 2022】

Renegotiate, recompose, and reform—indicative actions that prescribes an urgency to the current predicaments of society that calls for a reconstitution of power relations in the political arena, specifically in the space and discourse of the nonanthropomorphic. In Anthropocene Feminism, Rosi Braidotti proposes the need for revising humanism that is advanced by feminist and ecological critiques, with the objective to empower the “sexualized and racialized—but still human— “Others”” (26). By challenging historical and political associations of females with nature, Braidotti emphasizes on a relational ontology that leans on cross-species alliances and a geocentered approach (Braidotti, 690) to produce a “nature-culture continuum” instead of injurious binaries affiliated with biopolitics. In that regard, posthuman feminism, which refers to “a complex assemblage of human and nonhuman, planetary and cosmic, given and manufactured” (Braidotti, 29), becomes an aptly tool to navigate murky boundaries and dysfunctional categories sustained by the dominant, archaic “gender system” (30). Hence, the posthuman feminist body is neither “Nature” nor “Other” but a refraction of multispecies relationality that affects the fundamental understanding of human and the very structure of thinking. Reversing and reconfiguring the narrative centrality by focusing on the “Nature-Other” and shifting away from the anthropological in the political sphere provides a praxis for coming to terms with the complexities of the human condition and the inner workings of the Anthropocene.

In Jeanette Winterson’s genre-blending metafiction The Stone Gods, her ecofeminist ideals and posthuman vision echoes my interest in the interrogation of gender and the female body in the political discourse, and how posthuman feminism informs the development of praxes that aims to not only address the problems in this arena, but also promulgates an ideology that is centered on life beyond our conventional understanding of gender and the mere definition of what we know as “humanity.” To Winterson, the human civilization is deemed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again, and in structuring her story as an allegorical cycle of life, or “samsara” (214), she provides a materiality that coincides with the affirmation that humans and nonhumans “are in this together” (Braidotti, 40). To further inform and enhance the posthuman feminist discourse, this essay will draw on the ecological philosophy of Tanaka Shozo, a revered Japanese “conservationist” (Stolz, 1) who argues for “an active nature in motion” in terms of two processes: nagare (flow) and doku (poison) (Stolz, 3). Nagare refers to “an infinite material energy” and doku represents the flow of nature’s energy in “harmful, destructive ways” (Stolz, 4). In his search for resolutions to pollution, Tanaka argues for a remaking of politics, not nature (Stolz, 4). Intersecting Braidotti’s posthuman feminist praxes with Tanaka’s environmental activism provides a solid theoretical and practical approach to the reconstitution of the political sphere that opens space for conversation with the “Nature-Other” in its departure from anthropocentric confines of “normality” and advocates for a vision of the posthuman feminist body as an experimental site that foregrounds a complexity in the “feminist genealogy” (Braidotti, 690) to better produce effects of nagare and stun consequences of doku. Through the analysis of the repercussions of war and capitalism, Winterson demonstrates a new sociopolitical order in which homo sapiens becomes “naturalized” and the poignancy of the natural world is elevated. Imploring the need to rectify the dire consequences of habitual anthropocentrism and patriarchy on the “Nature-Other”, I argue that Winterson’s caution of the humans’ deep connection with the nonanthropomorphic extends the posthuman feminist praxes, allowing the decentralization of human exceptionalism to happen, which dissimilates the dichotomies of humans and nonhumans, thereby removing problematic power relations and archaic political structures from the Anthropocene and instilling an egalitarian approach that explores the complexity and relationality of the human condition.

It is important to note that doku does not only mean toxins that creates pollution, but it is also a positive affirmation that just happens to produce a compatibility that is no longer life-sustaining (Stolz, 5). Simply put, doku is a reaction to humans’ intervention and manipulation of nature, which often stems from political and social regimes that claim that certain destructions are necessary in the name of growth and economic health (Stolz, 8). Concept of doku is significant to the posthuman feminist discourse in that it positions humans as the contaminants to the natural world, which depicts a reciprocated dynamic in which the “Nature-Other” and by extension, nature itself, is at the center of the narrative. In Winterson’s “repeating world” (175) in which “everything is imprinted forever with what it once was” (246), humans rely on technology for the upkeep of their daily lives by consenting to the control and surveillance of a monopolizing conglomerate called MORE. This singular entity of domination represents an unstable governance rooted in normative and anthropocentric ideals. Through the assemblage of “residents” of the Dead Forest as a collective “they”, Winterson foregrounds a “us versus them” social order in which the “lucky” humans are pitched against “toxic radioactive mutants” (203), who are “re-evolving” humans and animals that poses as remnants of a nuclear war (188). The Dead Forest resembles a dramatized vision of an atomic hypocenter and by emphasizing on the shocking imagery and horrific details of how the war damaged and maimed the forest habitants, Winterson illuminates the “ugliness” of war (194) and unsettles the “clean shiny version” (203) of “truth” that was manipulated and told by MORE to its citizens. By branding these “incurables and freaks” as mere “enemy collateral” and compounding them in a “Red Zone” like a virus or pollutants (Winterson, 203), these epitomized forms of “Nature-Other” demonstrates a political and social decision of simply ignoring the repercussions of war in hope that the collective memory of an atomical disaster could solve itself eventually. MORE’s concealment of these “creatures on another planet” (234) from the media’s attention depicts an apathetic society that finds the “Nature-Other” repulsive and unassimilable. Furthermore, Winterson criticizes the hypocrisy of those in power, who declares that World War Two was “another war to end all wars…[to] Freedom” (156), by placing her characters in medias res of a “Post-3 War” (158), bringing a circularity back to her narrative and providing deeper resonance with her anti-war and conservation promulgation. By isolating and distancing residents of the Dead Forest, members of the “normative” society could indulge themselves with the illusion of a utopia that is devoid of doku, which accentuates the anthropocentric practices that plagues contemporary society and calls for a restructuring of how information is transmitted and received, and the contingencies that could affect the validity of the human experience.

Denouncing humans’ “monocultures of the mind” (Braidotti, 85), which indicates a persistent marginalization and “othering” of those of an unconventional nature with a singularity that dismisses positive collaboration and productive integration, Winterson depicts a posthuman feminist body in her novel as one that possesses “close-to-nature” subjectivity and rejects conventional notions of normativity. Spike, who is “…the world’s first Robo sapiens… looks amazing—clear skin, green eyes, dark hair. She has no body because she won’t need one. She is a perfect head on a titanium plate…she’s God” (Winterson, 158). Spike as a robot with artificial intelligence and a “Perfect Body” that invokes the divine expresses the humanistic fear of reverting back to ancient ways of being while simultaneously working to rationalize and mechanize the body, which renders human beings obsolete (Jeffrey, 141). Spike’s very constitution—a robot without a body and no distinctive racial features—embodies paradoxes that effectively counters notions of able-bodiedness, race, and beliefs as factors that allows accessibility to “humanity”. Furthermore, as Winterson denotes that Spike is a “she”, which we can assume is the female sex, her glorification of Spike’s “perfect” body also revokes society’s tendency to dehumanize women and marginalize nature. The contradicting nature of Spike’s body and existence and how MORE created her in hopes that she could lead human beings to making better decisions about their world, is precisely the posthuman feminist mindset that propels a dissolution of boundaries between human and nonhuman entities and reifies the importance of understanding the network relations between humans and nonhumans.

Culturally, those who lived near the atomic hypocenters of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are known as hibakusha in Japanese, which means “the blood of devil” and imbues them with a stigmatized identity (“Aftermath”). In an attempt to “purge” the city of pollutants and doku that resembles the hibakusha, with what can be regarded as a naïve belief in civil responsibility and accountability, Billie Crusoe, the protagonist of Winterson’s novel, encounters a group of Japanese wearing “pre-war Burberry hats and macs” (Winterson, 183) who travels around on golf carts and claims to be part of the “International Peace Delegation” that seeks to provide “Aid and Sanitation to War Refugees” (184). This capitalistic reference and ill-treated displacement of someone’s right to live in ones’ own hometown exudes an air of hypocrisy, favoritism, and entitlement that contradicts the “Humanitarian” relief they wish to provide (186). “Aid” insinuates a hierarchical structure in which one party becomes indebted to the one who is offering help, and “Sanitation” can be interpreted as simply unclean and in need of purification. Yet residents of the Dead Forest and Wreck City, which is a lawless place that operates with mechanics of “the past” while adapting to the repercussions of war, did not ask for help. This further engages with the posthuman feminist praxes that seeks to deconstruct the gender system by criticizing the futile post-war efforts as misdirected and adds to the ecological crisis—fans the fire, per se. While the “norm” holds onto the instructions of a broken and outdated system, these “War Refugees” have adapted to a new way of living in which they co-evolve with the changing landscape that they inhabit in, even if it looks as though it is filled with doku. This demonstrates that those who are more inclined toward nature has the “relational capacity of the posthuman subject” (Braidotti, 33), which signifies that “Nature-Other,” organic life, embodied human flesh, animals, and the earth are all interconnected. Humans as a compulsive interference in matters of nature and evolution is the root of environmental disasters, and thus, Winterson urges for a reevaluation of power relations, structural inequalities, and the utility of a hegemonic approach to decisions pertaining to the value of and sovereignty over life.

By promulgating “no more war” (234), Winterson establishes humans’ relationship with nature as one that is inextricably connected with potentially devastating consequences. Posthuman feminism addresses questions of anthropocentrism directly while “remaining committed to social justice and ethical accountability” (Braidotti, 85). Winterson proposes a lens to “recompose” the meaning of human beings in relation to nature (39) through her lucid but radical composition of posthuman feminist bodies, which attributes the destruction of nature to manmade initiatives. This foregrounds an ecocritical and anti-war position in which humans are not superior to nature, but a part of its interdependent evolution. Observing “samsara”, Winterson cautions the consequential effects of a chain reaction and calls for an affirming action from nature’s counterparts to break the vicious and toxic relationship humans have with nature by thinking beyond gender constraints. I proposed Tanaka Shozo’s environmental philosophy of nagare and doku as key vehicles in driving our understanding of the possible intentions of certain political and social regimes and the effects of a capitalistic society on such policy remaking. All in all, Winterson’s reorientation of narrative centrality contributes to the gender discourse in the advancement of our knowledge and practice of posthuman feminism regardless of culture, gender, race, and class, by deepening our comprehension and acceptance that we are, in an essence, “humanimals” (Braidotti, 86). Decisions are often socio-politically driven, and it is only through a conscious attempt to maintain a balanced relationship with all living matters and the “Nature-Other” on earth that we can relinquish the devastating forces of inhumanity and reshape the future of the Anthropocene.

Betsy Kwong, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong


Braidotti, Rosi. “Posthuman Feminist Theory.” The Oxford Handbook of Feminist Theory. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Braidotti, Rosi. “Critical Posthuman Knowledges.” The South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 116, no. 1, 2017, pp. 83-96.

Braidotti, Rosi. “Four Theses on Posthuman Feminism.” Anthropocene Feminism. University of Minnesota Press, 2016.

Normile, Dennis. “Aftermath.” Science.org, 23 Jul, 2020, https://www.science.org/content/article/how-atomic-bomb-survivors-have-transformed-our-understanding-radiation-s-impacts. Accessed on 13 June, 2022.

Stolz, Robert. “Remake Politics, Not Nature: Tanaka Shozo’s Philosophies of ‘Poison’ and ‘Flow’ and Japan’s Environment,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, vol 5, no 1, 2007, pp. 1-9.

Winterson, Jeanette. The Stone Gods. Penguin Books, 2007.

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